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.

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