Thursday, October 27, 2011

Underrated Women of Pop 2011 - Rye Rye (20)

Quick, name all the current female rappers you can think of. Yes, that's one... Okay, so I'm going to go out on a limb and guess most of you who don't catch 106 & Park (and probably all of you who don't know what that is) came up with fewer than two. Pop music being in a time when collaborations are common and often great ways to help artists gain exposure or reach across genres, the fact is that for the foreseeable future, where there's pop, there will be rappers. Nowadays this basically means any song with a rap feature has a dude either talking about booty and ho's or making a big deal out of how he's not talking about booty and ho's, or Nicki Minaj. As tempting as it sometimes is to say "Oh, just put Nicki on everything!" this is sort of problematic. Nicki only has a certain amount of wig colors. But with Lil' Kim lusterless after her stint in the slammer and Missy Elliott taking her sweet time being amazing and fighting disease and such, we're in a place where if Nicki has to call in sick or something, we're fucked.

Enter Ryeisha Berrain, the 20 year old Baltimore rapper known as Rye Rye. She first came to many pop listeners' attention (mine included) when she released the single "Never Will Be Mine," which samples the hook of Robyn's all-time best song (IMHO) "Be Mine" and is themed accordingly. The single and its video, in which Robyn gamely appears and does a few of her by-now signature dance moves and looks generally fabulous as usual, are remarkable for the subtlety of its high-cult prowess: I mean, Robyn on a track is like lamb blood on the door, showing European listeners (and, more importantly, producers and djs), American hipsters and pop-leaning snobs you're in on what's up with popular music right now instead of embedded in an increasingly insular R&B scene. The video, which comes in both the main mix as well as the Krazy Kat dance remix (which is quite good - see video below - and the version I prefer), the R3hab remix (also good) isn't exactly action-packed, but it's a fashion and emotions video (and look! Robyn!).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Ke$ha Project: 'Run Devil Run' (From K-Dolla to K-Pop)

It's weird that people make such a thing about Ke$ha and AutoTune as though she was entirely devoid of singing ability when in fact she's done a good deal of background vocal and demo work, which requires an incredible amount of accuracy and cleanliness of vocals. One of the best demos she was asked to record is "Run Devil Run," a solid slice of prime pop merchandise with smoothly flowing verses, dramatic, supersized chorus and outro, and a glorious, very Ke$ha-esque spoken bridge.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Labrinth feat. Tinie Tempah - "Earthquake" (Single Review & Music Video)

I've been looking forward to the next move from UK producer Labrinth since I heard the beat drop for the first time on Yasmin's excellent single "Finish Line," a finalist for this year's Popjustice 20 Quid Prize. What was remarkable about "Finish Line" was how Labrinth's production was anything but transparent - I was moved to actively seek him out - while neither did that mean that Yasmin therefore became part of the production as a tool for his artistic project. Her vocal performance and his production played more as a duet, one pulling back whenever the other had the main, which they passed back and forth to one another like ball players.

First Listen: Luciana - "USA Let's Go Go Go!"

Songs about emigrating to America tend to be pretty grim, if you think about it. There were the woeful songs sung by Africans being shipped over as slaves that eventually evolved into the blues; the snarkily ironic West Side Story number is sung by Puerto Rican immigrants who aren't sure they're better off; even the Russian mice who naively chorus "No Cats in America" in An American Tail quickly discover their error. The only really positive "moving to the States" tune of any consequence was the Jessie J-penned "Party in the U.S.A.," but instead of getting to use it as her great introductory single, we took it off her hands and gave it to one of our silver spoon Disney daughters for her graduation. Yeah, the United States may be the ultimate ballgame for pop music, but it is also a collective asshole to almost anyone who wasn't born here, so if you want to get in from outside you must either charm, sneak, or fight your way in. We wouldn't let Amy Winehouse come to LA to get her fucking Grammys, after making a huge show of inviting her, too. Face it. America is a dick.

The real Luciana

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Britney Spears - "Criminal" (Music Video Review)

Are you ready for the most entertaining Britney Spears video since "Toxic?"

For Spears' newest video, for surprise fourth single "Criminal," the midtempo closer off Femme Fatale, Britney and "I Wanna Go" director Chris Marrs Piliero have gone back to the Oops!... I Did It Again era that comes rushing into the song's middle eight like a fond memory. Everything from the closeups of the lovelorn, raised-eyebrow Spears to the emphasis on the boobs (fake? real? Who cares anymore!?) to the acting (Britney is a great comic actor who should do more with it) to the hunkalicious, if slightly older-looking (with clothes on) man-candy, this time played by real boytoy Jason Trawick.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Underrated Women of Pop 2011: Neon Hitch (21)

21. Neon Hitch

When your parents name you "Neon Hitch" I suppose you're obligated to do something cool with your life, and if you're creative and intelligent and can sing and enjoy getting a little weird, so much the better. The British singer-songwriter has a lot going for her: kickass name, red hair, and the support and partnership of producer Benny Blanco, the Max Martin disciple behind many of Ke$ha and Britney Spears' recent hits. (Hitch co-wrote and sang backup vocals on Ke$ha's "Blah Blah Blah.")

Friday, October 14, 2011

Underrated Women of Pop 2011: Nervo (22)


Mim & Liv Nervo are a one-stop revolution in themselves merely by existing, although fortunately their talents don't stop at novelty. The blonde twins and former models from Australia wouldn't look out of place on any dance floor or in any music video, but the difference is these girls actually make music themselves - a rare enough feat in general but practically unheard of in their chosen genre of dance/electronica.

And don't let the blonde hair fool you: they are fully aware of their natural, physical talents as much as their artistic ones, and the two have leveraged these into a remarkably swift ascent from songwriting (for Ke$ha, Armin van Buuren and recently Rihanna) to producing to high-profile gigs opening for Britney Spears and in residency at the Wynn in Las Vegas, and now to their upcoming, all-encompassing debut album, on which Mim & Liv will write, produce, and perform themselves.

That complete artistic control is rare in electronica (Owl City and are among the few with such triple input) and all but unprecedented for women. Recent debut single "We're All No One" is a monumental bitchslap in the face of the old boys' club of techno, the only genre more institutionally sexist than country. That is at least, if NERVO have anything to say about it, for now.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Underrated Women of Pop 2011 - Lindsay Lohan (23)

23. Lindsay Lohan

All right, I know this one might have you suddenly reevaluating the merits of this list, but hear me out. It's actually pretty simple really. It's more than unnerving to realize that there is a notable and growing number of people who won't remember that once upon a time, before Lindsay Lohan was a Pitbull lyric/fingernail artist supreme, before the "misfiring" ankle bracelets and the "misunderstandings" over expensive jewelry, before the Disney alumna/mean girl revealed she was gay (and NO ONE GAVE A HERBIE'S HOOT), la Lohan actually had a successful film career and a succ... well, a music career as well, and oh by the way she wasn't half bad, either.

Sure, "Rumors" is no Mean Girls; it's a less deftly executed "Piece of Me" and even I can't defend the abuse of AutoTune, but a. the vocal producxtion on the dance break is pretty 2011 for 2002 (see "Swagger Jagger," etc.); b. the music video has a dance sequence atop an LA skyscraper; and c. I still like it a decade later, so it must have done something right.

But it's not "Rumors" making me pine for Lindsay's return. No, it's "Bossy," of course! Imagine this: Ne-Yo is approached to write a kick-ass song not for Mary J. Blige or Rihanna but for Lindsay Locked-Up Lesbian Lush Lohan, and he does, and Stargate produces it. And LINDSAY KILLS IT. Ne-Yo later told Billboard "we gave her a quality record and she did a ridiculously fabulous job. I was so shocked I had to call her and apologize for what I was thinking because she did so good." It's an awesome song that hit the top of the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart in 2008, the first and so far only Lohan tune to reach that peak, and deservedly so. It's amazing.

Look, we need Lindsay Lohan back, for her sake and ours. There are many reasons this is so. But take a listen to "Bossy" and let me know afterward if you still need me to give you more of them. La la la la, la la la la...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Underrated Women of Pop 2011 - Frenchie Davis (24)

24. Frenchie Davis

America sure is one damned Puritan country in some ways. Does it bother anyone else that thanks to this country's vehement opposition to sex, the enormously talented Frenchie Davis is still looking for a job? Does it bother anyone else much more that Simon Rex (note: white male)  now does cameos in Ke$ha videos, so successful was his career in the music industry, while Frenchie Davis (black female) has yet to land a record deal or sign with a label? It should.

Davis was ousted from the second season of American Idol after five-year-old topless photos of her turned up online (Rex became a popular VH1 "vee-jay" and television actor despite some hardcore solo adult videos in his past). She then landed a gig as the soloist in "Seasons of Love" in the Broadway company of Rent, which she held, off and on, for four years. Finally, Davis resurfaced earlier this year on the premiere season of NBC's hit Idol competitor The Voice, where she was a finalist on Team Christina Aguilera, who clearly didn't give a hoot about Frenchie's hooters. After impressing the judges and audiences alike with her renditions of "I Kissed a Girl," "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)," and the especially amazing "When Love Takes Over," Davis was ultimately felled by rocker Beverly McLellan in the semifinals.

Normally I'm of the "if you were really cut out for this stuff you wouldn't need a reality show" school of thought, but Frenchie Davis is the real deal. She's terribly cool (big, black and bald, muthafuckaaas), she's a fat black woman and still had folks paying to see her in the nude (bitches...she's that fierce), she's now been in and around the entertainment business for a decade, and most of all the girl can SANG. I don't mean "oh, she has a very nice voice, which is so rarely true of black women, isn't it," I mean Frenchie Davis sings very well with a voice that's quite nice to hear and, most importantly, doesn't sound like anyone else's voice. Oh, I want to loan her my apartment and let her use the iMac microphone and a bootleg version of GarageBand for PC just so I can finally hear an entire album of Frenchie Davis singing songs. It really should not have to come down to that.

Frenchie Davis - "When Love Takes Over (Studio Version)"
The Voice
Frenchie Davis' Official Site

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Underrated Women of Pop 2011 - Beth Ditto (25)

25. Beth Ditto

The journey to electro-pop has been an unlikely one for Beth Ditto. Born in the South, Ditto and bandmates Brace Paine, Kathy Mendonoca and Hannah Billie found indie success as the band Gossip, whose "Standing in the Way of Control" was both a 2007 hit and a theme song for the alternative movement. Then Ditto struck out on her own, journeying into the electonic realm. From there she churned out "I Wrote the Book," a skilled, understated bit of grade-A electronic dance-pop that doubled as a master class in effective Madonna homage right at the time a certain overzealous megastar was getting it all very very wrong. In fact, Ditto was so open about her references (not least in the music video, an unabashed "Justify My Love" shoutout) freeing her and her work to be seen and admired for her own style and originality. Perhaps the most striking thing about Ditto doing electronic dance is her voice, at once high and deep, feminine and powerful, light and controlled, with a timbre that had a great deal to do with Gossip's appeal.

We're still waiting to hear about further solo projects, though "I Wrote the Book" took a while before finally impacting the Billboard Dance Chart, though it peaked outside the top ten. Ditto didn't win any friends in pop circles when she picked an unfair and icky fight with Katy Perry in 2009, but she seems smart enough to avoid repeating such missteps, and, for that matter, to be the kind of knowing, super-skilled outsider pop artist a la Kelis or Gwen Stefani.

The 25 Most Underrated Women of Pop 2011

I'll be honest. Every time I see a new Rihanna single shoot effortlessly to the top of every chart, hurdling over dozens of often far worthier songs that have struggled to make whatever impact they've managed far more than their merit ought to require, it upsets me. "We Found Love" is a fine song, possibly even a good one, but in no infinitesimal way is it superior to at least a dozen other singles currently out that I could name on demand from the top of my head, and a couple dozen more of which I might need to be reminded a bit. I've made known my strong disagreement with the current practices of mainstream radio stations, the vast majority of which are owned by Clear Channel Communications, and I won't detail them here, but I'm getting awfully close to the "mad as hell/not going to take it anymore" platform and Rihanna and Calvin Harris aren't helping things.

Now, I have also stated my belief that popular music is not a limited industry wherein one act's success by definition reduces that of the rest. In general, I stand firmly by this view, but I wish to amend it slightly from this point forward. While the music industry in general is in theory an industry of limitless potential for success, mainstream radio is operated in such a way that space is in fact limited - and, I would argue, tremendously and excessively limited - by the policies and practices of Clear Channel et. al. (to be fair, airtime is technically limited by the laws of nature, but those limits don't come close to affecting anything in the current practice). Therefore insofar as mainstream pop radio is concerned, any one single's success limits that of any others, or in layman's terms, when Rihanna, Adele, Katy Perry or Lil Wayne releases a single that is actively promoted by radio stations, people like Robyn, Kylie Minogue, and, often, even Britney Spears get told to take a hike and the public gets to be bombarded with an endless deluge of the same four or five songs ad nauseum and also a fairy dies. "We found love in a hopeless place?" Rihanna hasn't seen a hopeless place in years and wouldn't know one if it bit her in the behind.

The latest Rihanna riddle got me thinking about all of the good female pop and dance artists out there right now who have gotten a fraction of the attention and opportunity they deserve, if that at all. Then I remembered that unlike Clear Channel subsidiary stations, or corporation-owned music media outlets, or supposedly "independent" producers of entertainment journalism whose objectivity is compromised by the for-profit conglomerate to which they belong (cough cough),* I don't have to play along if I don't want to because...well, lots of reasons, but the point is I do have this platform of my creation, however modest, from which I can (and doth) protest as much as methinks necessary. That all sounds really annoying and Lyndon LaRouche-y, I know, but what it all boils down to (my friends) is that even if everyone else and their mother's hamster is talking about Rihanna and Adele and...that's kind of it, really, I get to talk about whoever and whatever songs I damn well please. So I started making a list of these underrated women of pop, and my original idea of ten grew to the countdown that will be rolled out over the next few weeks and revised annually henceforth.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby present the inaugural Underrated Women of Pop countdown, featuring 25 ladies who ought to be much bigger than they are. Comment, argue, suggest your own, and most importantly, spread the word!!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fresh Air - Dev, Alexandra Stan and Selena Gomez Hit Mainstream Radio

Along with a lovable band of fellow chart junkies, I have been following the daily mainstream radio airplay updates for some time through the new forums at, and though there's plenty about the data that aggravates me to pieces, it sure is a lot less infuriating than actually listening to the radio, and at least this way I'm still informed. I've learned a few things in the relatively short period I've been receiving these daily numbers, some of them rather fascinating. For one thing, even I was taken aback at first by how short the list is of tracks receiving enough airplay to earn a significant number of audience impressions: it's rarely as long as forty, and the artists are either predictable A-listers or newcomers with a huge digital hit (usually the former). Another disturbing factoid is that the songs at the very top of the list tend to have nearly if not over twice the impressions as the tenth highest track, nearly three times as many as the twentieth, and so forth. And because unlike digital charts the airplay numbers move like molasses (+/- .500 is an average daily movement; a big movement up or down is anything over 1.0 and nothing moves more than 3.0 in a day) it can take forever for a track at the peak to fall. A final interesting note is that since I've been watching there have usually been more tracks falling than rising of those in the top 20; currently four of the top ten and eight of the top 22 are on the way down.

Dev Alexandra Stan Selena Gomez
Newcomers (l-r) Dev, Alexandra Stan and Selena Gomez are breaking into mainstream radio.
It's enormous fun when a newcomer appears on the board, especially one that isn't a gimme, and watching the little saplings fighting their way up amongst the giant redwoods is incredibly rewarding (we even have a cheerleading emoticon that gets a good deal of use). There are a few chart junkie favorites too, namely Britney Spears, Lady Gaga (this is the only place that fans of the two don't bicker, actually), Kelly Clarkson, and Nicki Minaj, while we all tend to just kind of look on at Adele with dazed amazement and treat Katy Perry and Rihanna (if at all) as sort of necessary evils. Nobody ever badmouths anyone - it's like a modeling agency, really, where everyone is nice and every statement is a positive one. It's incredibly refreshing, really.

Right now there are three such underdogs my forum friends and I cheer on from the sidelines, and each represents a different kind of coup, each one as exciting as the last. These three songs have a few things in common: they are all by solo(ish) female artists; these artists are (relatively) new; all three are dance-infused and could easily span into dance airplay and club play (and, in most cases, have already); finally, all three of them are excellent records, and immensely deserving of airplay and the associated renown and popularity, both for the track and especially for the artists. These common traits are actually among the things that separate them from the rest of the tracks getting airplay alongside them at present, which I find fascinating and, if I may be bold, promising. So what's so great about Dev, Alexandra Stan and Selena Gomez or their respective singles that have allowed them to break through the imposing barrier to mainstream radio rotations?
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