Monday, December 9, 2013

I Have Something to Say About the "Say Something" Video

Although I decided to sit out this season of The Voice (I'm discovering that skipping a season in between allows me to keep up with it better and care about it more) I do love me some Christina Aguilera, even though she's the Fatburger of pop divas - no better for you than any other fast food joint and you spend way more than you should, but you can't resist going in when you stumble across it. While not nearly as much as the other way around, The Voice has been good for Xtina, if just from the opportunity for that #1 single with Maroon 5. I think it was a mistake to leave The Voice to promote Lotus (if that is the real story), although I'm not sure it was as clear when the decision was made as it is now how powerful the show can be to the charts (don't forget, it's The Voice you have to thank for a summer full of "Blurred Lines"). But I've been particularly pleased with the story around "Say Something," the song by ultra-obscure indie duo A Great Big World that Aguilera has done more for than any of her contestants on the show, for a couple reasons.

First of all, "Say Something" is a really solid tune. It's no secret that thousands of solid tunes miss out on a chance for fame, but it's definitely reassuring when one does get a one-in-a-million lucky shot and is worth the acknowledgement. Secondly, I'm still jazzed about the power of The Voice in influencing the music industry, partly because the whole inter-entertainment medium relationship will make interesting fodder for a chapter in the History of Pop textbook I'm sure to write somewhere down the line. But mostly, I'm pleased with the agency Christina Aguilera has in the story (she heard it after it was used on Dancing With the Stars and asked to meet with A Great Big World to lay down a harmony track). She may have taken her lumps lately, but it's great to see she still has some sway - and that she could pull off something like this with the humility and subtlety that she has.

Given all this, it might seem like A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera have created a work of art above reproach, and we should all bow down and praise them as pop gods. Not quite. There's the matter of the single's music video (directed by Christopher Sims), which premiered a couple weeks ago. I couldn't get halfway through it without collapsing into fits of laughter. It is one hot mess.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Disney's "Frozen" Isn't Pop Music But Here's Why You Should See It Anyway

I went to see the new Disney movie Frozen yesterday (I believe that makes a grand total of two movies I've seen in theaters in 2013...thank you LA Live $7 Tuesdays!) and I was more than moderately pleased with it.

The character design alone is worth the admission price, in both the animation and the writing. Plus, it's got a healthy feminist twist that is long overdue for Disney.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Popjustice £20 Music Prize: A Guide to the 2013 Shortlist

Every year since 2003, a panel of judges bestow the Popjustice £20 Music Prize to the artist behind the best British pop single of the year. The debate takes place in a pub in London on the same night as the Mercury Prize, which pompously purports to honor the best album of the year from the UK and Ireland. It’s not unlike the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, except that the UK already has one of those in the BRIT Awards; the Mercury Prize is really more like the Golden Globes of the UK music awards circuit: just another group of music snobs whose opinion matters because it comes with £20,000 and a heck of a jump in album sales. Popjustice’s £20 Music Prize is the Razzie Award, except instead of honoring the worst (see, we do that enough ourselves on the charts) the award goes to the best of an overlooked genre. The last time a pop album won the Mercury Prize was… ha, fooled you! A pop album has never won the Mercury Prize, come on.

I can see Robbie Williams' halo!
Here, for the third year in a row, is a comprehensive guide (tailored for American audiences but useful for all) to the twelve (mostly) excellent singles from which this year’s winner will be selected on Wednesday, October 30.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Live Review: Ke$ha at the L.A. County Fair (with Semi Precious Weapons)

The Los Angeles County Fair is a symphony of runway noises, marble-mouthed barkers ("ouinnah, ouinnah, chickedinnah"), and screams from patrons atop remarkably vertical loopy rides, and, last Saturday, the roaring synths and electric guitars at Ke$ha's all-live and all-fun solo concert as part of the Toyota End of Summer Concert Series and the pop star's ongoing Warrior Tour.

The LA County Fair is an overpriced substitute for Disneyland that runs the month of September at the historic fairgrounds in Pomona, but it does drag a lot of folks in; it was easy to spot fellow Animals in their glitter and ripped stockings. After a burger-and-fries meal for two ($28) and a small cotton candy ($4), a friend and I made our way via the table-setting competition (sample judges' notes: "tablecloth too small for table"; "dessert fork on left placement facing wrong direction") to the racetrack grandstands where a small stage was set up for two hours of rock and fun ($25 apiece, plus $10 for Fair admission since we bought through Ralph's).

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Anjulie Has Finally Released "White Lights" And Now We Need To Talk About Her Career

Look, I don't really know what's going on with Anjulie's career right now, but it's not like talented artists making excellent music have never wallowed in label purgatory before. It could almost be seen as a badge of honor if not for the pesky issue of "money," as in "not making any," and I'm sure that attempt at looking on the bright side is much more soothing to those of us fans, critics, and other wagon passengers than it is to the artist.

Anjulie took a pretty big risk by deciding to explore the popular dance genre as the followup project to her acclaimed and indie-embraced pop/R&B/soul debut, in 2009; fans of the two musical styles tend to be mutually exclusive, meaning the Canadian singer would be plowing ahead without a good chunk of her fan base at her back and all but starting from scratch presenting herself to a new crowd of listeners to whom she was all but unknown.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Icona Pop Immortalized in Sesame Street Sketch Starring Cookie Monster

The slow but sweet surprise success of Swedish girl DJ/production team Icona Pop's breakout single, "I Love It," officially reached its cultural zenith this week after peaking in the top ten on the US charts back in May. The critically and commercially adored party/breakup anthem, written by and featuring British pop upstart Charli XCX, was co-opted as a Sesame Street musical sketch called "Me Want It (But Me Wait)," starring Cookie Monster.

Though the voracious, grammatically challenged blue monster is known for his hysterical passion for that most ubiquitous of American baked dessert treats (which the Brits call "biscuits"), Cookie Monster's shtick has always been as much about his constant, often unsuccessful efforts to control his compulsive behavior. The best Sesame Street sketches entertain while also (at times surreptitiously) presenting a lesson, be it specific (the letter "U"; how peanut butter is made) or broad (race, individuality and self-acceptance; keep Christmas with you - all through the year), and this one depicts an earnest struggle for self control in the face of - let's face it - addiction.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Vertigo Shtick Ultimate Pop Breakup Playlist

I had my first big breakup ten years ago this summer. I had my first soul-crushing, earth-shattering, end-of-the-world breakup two years ago this summer. Neither one was much fun, nor especially brief. One left little to no long-term damage or scarring; with the other I was not so lucky. The thing they have in common, however, is that I got through them, largely with the help of that supposedly frivolous cultural element to which I now devote much of my intellectual energy: pop music.

If anyone knows that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, it's Kelly Clarkson.
I received a tweet the other day from a good, music-related friend who ended a major relationship a month or two ago, and in just four and a half words ("dude breakups suck #stillrecovering) it definitely evoked sympathetic memories of my own relatively recent breakup experience. I remember being both exceedingly grateful to all the artists who have contributed to the vast library of breakup pop and pleasantly surprised at the comprehensive variety of coverage down to specific details in circumstance and emotional experience I was only just learning could exist. So many breakup songs for so many moods, situations, and goals - someone should really catalogue these things someday, I remember thinking (often).

My friend's little cry for help (at least I choose to receive it that way) inspired me to put together a rough collection of songs I found useful in my most recent breakup process, although ultimately I couldn't resist including a few main categories not technically applicable to my friend's specific situation. The list, limited at this time to music available in the US on Spotify and available as a Spotify playlist, is by no means exhaustive; indeed, these 150 tracks barely scrape the surface. But for now, I think they'll do. Of course, I'd be very interested to hear about some of your favorite breakup songs in the comments!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Here's Why Beyoncé's "Grown Woman" is the Best Pop Single of 2013

Beyoncé's newest single, "Grown Woman," isn't actually a single: in fact, it hasn't even had an official release in full outside of the snippets that appear in the pop star and American royal's Pepsi commercial and the live version she performs on her current tour. How is it that I happen to find this ragtag creation to be the most exciting pop music of the year?

Here's what we do know: "Grown Woman" was produced by the blazing hot comeback story of the year, Timbaland, who also produced Justin Timberlake's recent blockbuster The 20/20 Experience and portions of Jay-Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail, two of the biggest-selling albums of 2013. It's the music used in the Pepsi television ad, "Mirrors," part of Beyoncé's $50 million endorsement deal with the company. Beyoncé has been performing "Grown Woman" on the current worldwide tour, The Mrs. Carter Show, since April 24 - this despite the fact that "Grown Woman" has not, as yet, been officially released for purchase or streaming, even after leaking in full on May 20. (You could say it's pretty damn baller when your music leaks and not only do you not give a shit but you don't even bother to put it out for sale)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Popologist Panel: Little Boots, Betty Who, Annie, Becky G., Gatsby

June is busting out all over, and music is getting good again! So before we get started on the summer of 2013, the Popologist Panel takes a look at some of the last of the spring pop to see if there's anything - ANYTHING - that's still in bloom.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Voice: Season 4 Live Playoffs / Top 8 Contestants

After an overstuffed and underwhelming third season, rushed to air in the fall a mere couple of months after the second season finale so as to compete with The Britney Factor, NBC's singing competition show The Voice has regained its footing in its current fourth season, thanks in part to the fresh blood Shakira and Usher brought to the coaching staff and in part to a solid crop of contestants. The Battle Rounds no longer stretch tediously across the better part of a month, and the matchups in the Battle and Knockout Rounds have grown less arbitrary and more understandably strategic, with the addition of the Save option proving a useful safeguard against the occasional (albeit less frequent) bum call from the judges.

Oh, and Adam Levine, who famously overruled the viewer vote to send Tony Lucca to the Season 2 final over Katrina Parker in one of the more stomach-churning application of the "bros before hos" doctrine, entered this week's first live playoff rounds with arguably the strongest team of the four, made up entirely of X chromosomes. Cast off the shackles of yesterday; shoulder to shoulder into the fray!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

'Ke$ha: My Crazy Beautiful Life' Recap: Kiss N Tell

When last we saw our heroine on MTV's documentary series Ke$ha: My Crazy Beautiful Life, she was losing her voice the night before the famed Glastonbury Festival, in 2011. Detractors may consider this no great tragedy, but for Ke$ha, who calls the festival a "rock and roll rite of passage," it's as terrifying as producing the next Britney record.

As if things couldn't look worse, one of her tour buses breaks down en route. All "non-essentials" are left behind, including her mother, who sits on the side of the road with a wine bottle and confesses she has brought no pants.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ke$ha's 'My Crazy Beautiful Life' Premiere Recap: Dancing With Tears in Their Eyes

Those who bemoan the crisis of Ke$ha's lackluster campaign for the pop-rap-rocker's sophomore album Warrior, take heart: the glitterbombing chart-topper debuted her MTV docu-reality series My Crazy Beautiful Life last night, and it's not bad at all. In fact, it's good.

The premiere episode of the six-part show, lovingly and fairly shot by Ke$ha's brother Lagan Sebert, starts with the singer botching a cartwheel during a New York date on her first headlining tour, in 2011, then barreling into some luggage when she recounts the foible backstage, drenched in sweat.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Popologist Panel: Justin Timberlake, Demi Lovato, Kelly Rowland, Prince and more

It's April, and pop music is finally picking up! This month the Popologist Panel discusses Justin Timberlake's epic opus The 20/20 Experience, EPs from new artists Erin Willett and Neon Hitch, videos from Kelly Rowland and Pitbull/Christina Aguilera, and singles from Disney artists Demi Lovato and Bridgit Mendler, superstars Prince and Ke$ha, and "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" scribe The-Dream.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Selena Gomez Channels Britney, Rihanna at MTV Movie Awards with 'Come and Get It'

Selena Gomez performed her new single "Come & Get It" at the MTV Movie "Awards" last night and it was rather nice to see something musical on MTV for a change. I'm happy that everyone seems to be jumping on the Gomez bandwagon but I wonder where they all were when her surprising, excellent third album, When the Sun Goes Down, arrived, led by its brilliant single "Love You Like a Love Song," which if I'd ever posted my list you'd know was my pick for the best pop song of 2011. Selena Gomez has struck me as purveyor of remarkably adult dance pop since "A Year Without Rain," and it's also interesting to hear people now beginning to comment that she's sounding more "adult."

In short, I got Selena Gomez before it was cool.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Florrie Drops Brassy New Song & Video "Live A Little," Remains Exceptional

Three months in and 2013 has been an utter wasteland in American music, but fortunately a relief effort is underway from a hardy band of Brits. The latest care package from across the pond comes from one of the country's best and most exciting developing acts, Florrie. Today the singer released her new song and video, "Live A Little," created for the Sony XBA-C10 In-ear headphones ad campaign (hence the product placement-y headphone shots), a brassy, upbeat, perfectly hip consumer electronics ad campaign-style number that recalls the best of her independent work and is sure to put a swing in your step.

Florrie Live A Little Sony Headphones

A former house drummer for UK pop production house Xenomania, Florrie Arnold has been brewing her solo act over the past couple years and released three EPs of her experimentation, a conscious effort to develop herself as an act before signing with a major label, sharing with her fans about the process and her artistic and professional philosophy on her blog and offering much of her music for free. "Live A Little" is her first new material since her final independent release, the EP Late, which came out in May 2012 (and was reviewed on the inaugual Popologist Panel). Its liberal use of horns, lalalalas, huge choruses, and, of course, plenty of drums most noticeably recall her second and greatest EP, Experiments,* but it's infused as well with some of the less bombastic, percussive elements from Late (especially that clappity clap-and-guitar-lick in the middle). Basically it's the best possible outcome, proving that Florrie wasn't just dicking around aimlessly but actually creating what has grown to be a sound and style uniquely her own using the best of her apparently multitudinous talents. Sky Ferreira and Neon Hitch, take note.

Little Boots - "Broken Record" (Single Review)

Little Boots has been taking her sweet-ass time revving up for the eventual followup to her 2009 debut album, Hands, one which is now finally just over the horizon. To her credit, the UK-based electronic pop singer (née Victoria Hesketh) has kept her fans appraised of things by releasing samples of what she's been working on over the past year and a half - some in official final form and some at various stages of incompleteness, in a canny balance of transparency and wizardry expected of today's best pop stars. The latest of these is the sleek and mesmerizing "Broken Record," which may or may not be the lead single from the new album depending on how you define the term.*

Little Boots Broken Record Nocturnes

"Broken Record" is reminiscent of the house-influenced dance pop that Madonna and the Minogues (i.e. Kylie and Dannii, separately, although I may have just found the name for my cover band) were doing at the turn of the century. Synths of diverse array (and, briefly, strings) create a lush electronic landscape speckled with percussive effects of the clicking, clapping, and church bell variety, which add a touch of menace. The gimmick potential of a loop-heavy dance track called "Broken Record" is rich, of course, but certain moments veer toward the obvious: "I hear your voice like a brokenrokenrokenrokenroken record" doesn't so much evoke the skipping of a broken record as it just sounds like Little Boots singing "brokenrokenrokenrokenroken record" - even more so because of all the vocal chopping and splicing going on around it that really does create a broken record sort of vibe. But at least she doesn't try too hard to sell it on this point, and aside from one early instance she has the wisdom to avoid poaching "repe-pe-pe-pe-peat" from Selena Gomez and the deftness to avoid poaching from her own song called "Stuck on Repeat" apart from a quick name-drop that does however poach a bit from David Guetta/Jessie J's song called "Repeat." (This is not a subtle record.)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Beyoncé: 'Bow Down' - Look Out, It's a Trap!

As expected, Beyoncé has released the first musical statement of her anticipated fifth studio album, following her well-received Super Bowl halftime performance, and the announcement of her upcoming world tour, which begins in Europe next month. Good old perfect and predictable Beyoncé, predictably being perfect just like always. Ho hum.

Unexpectedly, the single (? buzz track, at least) that debuted on Soundcloud this afternoon, "Bow Down/I Been On," is totally bonkers and is entirely unlike what you would expect Beyoncé's music, much less pop music, to be. That's because it's not really pop music at all - it's trap, which is by all accounts going to be the big new thing this year, so pay attention. Nicki Minaj and Rihanna have spiced some of their recent music with pop-friendly trap the way Britney dusted her single with "dubstep" (oh, and there's a little trap single called "Harlem Shake" at #1 as we speak) but Beyoncé goes all in on "Bow Down," no pop anywhere in sight except for the woman singing (and, later, talking, her voice pitched electronically to sound like a dude). She manages to cram a lot into that minute, too, managing to assert her dominion in the face of encroaching younger women, defend her decision to take time off and have a baby, and assert that, despite the title of her upcoming world tour she is not going to be simply Mrs. Carter, and give a shout-out to her hometown of Houston before undergoing her little digital sex change. See, even on her whack trap-pop buzz track she's like a supermom.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Popologist Panel: The Best of 2012

Last year I pulled some of my favorite pop bloggers together to discuss the best (and, sometimes, worst) of the new releases in pop music in a monthly series called the Popologist Panel. It's been a success, inspiring lots of conversation and argument. We fought amongst each other over Taylor Swift, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj and the Biebs, and started unexpected ire on Adam Lambert fansites; we reveled in PSY, Carly Rae Jepsen, Katy Perry, Marina and the Diamonds, and Christina Aguilera, and lambasted Mariah Carey, Jessie J, and Madonna. We found fun newcomers like Brittany McDonald, Daley, and Luke Christopher, and hidden gems like Esthero and Anjulie. We talked about Ke$ha a lot, even when she wasn't on the panel.

To close out our debut year and start off 2013 (I know it's March), I asked each panelist to select his or her favorite picks from panels past as well as some favorites we didn't mention. Here's what we came up with. Enjoy!

Monday, February 18, 2013

New Artist to Watch: Elle Ball - "Inferno"

It's not the least bit clear whether the increasing democratization of music industry success is a reaction to the simultaneously growing exclusivity of both the major label system and FM radio as each becomes more and more of an oligarchy, or the other way around, or unrelated coincidence. As with so much else, this advancement is primarily a product of the internet, although Simon Fuller shrewdly anticipated its potential when he created Pop Idol, the television singing competition (based on the New Zealand show Popstars) that aired in the UK in 2001, and which revolutionized the television talent show format - and the music industry - by allowing viewers to vote on the outcome by phone or online. Over a decade later, pop stars championed by the major labels (Ke$ha, Rihanna) mingle with reality television alums (Kelly Clarkson, Girls Aloud) and internet discoveries (Justin Bieber, Lily Allen) - not to mention the ease and minimal startup cost of digital music has allowed vastly more musicians to become players in the arena in which consumers directly affect the charts.

Of course, given the newly enormous playing field, this is where music journalists and especially bloggers come in handy. Because most (or at least many) of us spend a great chunk of our time trolling the web for music content, and, ideally, have developed some sort of reliable sense of musical taste from interest and sheer exposure, we can be useful in helping to point the more casual music fan toward certain acts online we feel worthy of notice. In this vein, the Recording Academy (the ones behind those Grammy Awards we love so) and Hyundai have created a new online competition for amateur musicians called Center Stage, with the prize of a recording session with a "leading Grammy producer," a music video shoot with a "noted producer and/or director" with a $25,000 budget, and a slot as an opening act on a major tour or music festival. The competition ends tomorrow night, but I thought I'd recommend checking out one of the contestants, the pop/R&B singer Elle Ball, and her beautiful new song, "Inferno."

Thursday, February 14, 2013

14 Things That Didn't Suck At the 2013 Grammys (Plus, A Tribute to Boobs)

The Grammy Awards went down last Sunday night, and for the first time ever I managed to endure the entire telecast from Swifty's start to Mumford & Sons' triumphant finish being upstaged by the trainwreck/masterpiece of fashion that was Adele's dress. I will admit that I didn't hang around for LL Cool J's closing number because frankly I'm only human, but coupled with having watched (with at least one eye) the entirety of the pre-telecast ceremony that afternoon I consider this a major accomplishment, like running a marathon or getting through an entire Christina Aguilera album without a bathroom break. Also like those things, I have exactly zero desire to ever do it again, but since this is the life I've chosen I know deep down that I'm stuck with it as a yearly challenge wherein I must reaffirm my commitment to my occupation of choice. (Teachers enduring parent-teacher conferences or couples on Valentine's Day will undoubtedly sympathize.)

After leering at Beyoncé on stage during the show, Ellen Degeneres undresses another chesty star with her eyes.
In case you're just joining us and didn't gather it from the previous paragraph, I loathe the Grammy Awards, far more than any other aspect related to the music industry except possibly Chris Brown, Clear Channel, and the term "real music." There's very little I tend to unequivocally abhor, so when I encounter an apparent exception I spend a good deal of thought and consideration in order to make certain I haven't missed some fundamental point (e.g. M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes") or been misguided by some hidden internal prejudice I've yet to snuff out (e.g. Lance Bass' coming out), and in the rare event no such redemption can be found I get to enjoy the dubious pleasure of pure, solid, and fully defensible enmity, which I think is quite healthy in very small doses. (Hence traffic, in-laws and Kim Kardashian.) My general disrelish for Taylor Swift or Rihanna (which I have explored in depth on several occasions) is, critically speaking at least, on an entirely different plane from my thoroughly researched and justified scorn for Ticketmaster fees or Glee. I gave up trying to come up with an excuse to casually slip in a couple more examples, like Diane Warren's songs on Beyoncé's 4 and the Silver Linings Playbook soundtrack (to name but two) or TMZ, but I hope you'll forgive me.

I explored some of the reasons for and ultimate futility of my objections to the Grammy Awards, and looking back a year later I find I don't really have anything to add nor subtract to my arguments, which just underlines the "futility" aspect I resigned to a year ago. This year I've called to mind the old trope about certain things so objectionable that it's easier just to tally the short list of elements that didn't suck, and perhaps reach some broad analytical conclusion tying them together and therefore indicating that there remains yet some hope for the institution after all. Then again, we're talking about the Grammy Awards here... so I promise nothing.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Five Spoken Interludes in Pop That Are Better Than Taylor Swift's

I gave my begrudging (and qualified) approval to Taylor Swift's 2012 hit single "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" on this blog when it was released last summer. I had decided the end result was effective enough to ultimately outweigh my critical objections, which I kept to myself at the time. I figured someone out there in the wide world of music journalism would surely address them at some point anyway, right? Not so much. I don't want to hail on the Taylor parade just for the fun of it, but the Swift-worship is really beginning to get out of control and someone needs to provide a little sanity and perspective. The way some folks are carrying on you'd think Taylor Swift was the first person who ever made a witty pop song about a breakup with Max Martin.

"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" is simply a musical Frankenstein's monster built from pieces of other successful singles from the producers' catalogue: echoes of the acoustic bits on Katy Perry's One of the Boys here, big Kelly Clarkson chorus there, some Ke$ha-inspired attitude, and, for the pièce de résistance, the staged "un-staged" spoken interlude of Pink's "Raise Your Glass." Voila! Instant hit. It's not hard to get the same result when you use the same building material, even if you take one piece from the purple tower, one from the green, one from the blue, and so forth. You can always repaint it Red.
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