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.

*   *   *   *   The Popologist Panel   *   *   *   *
  • The Pop Messiah - Dean Boudreau is our lone Canadian panelist, which means he's pretty much like us but can't get Spotify and you can't send him iTunes gifts. That doesn't stop him, and his witty but wise blog, from getting it right when it comes to pop music (if not Ke$ha, who is in fact the pop Messiah). (@thepopmessiah)
  • SmartPopScott - Scott Interrante is a music student who grew so tired of the blogging world that he decided to join it. Wanting to counter the satanically emblemed music site's preference for fashion and scene over musical content, he focuses his writing on the music and theory of Pop. His writing can be found at Dear Song In My Head (@SmartPopScott)
  • Vertigo Shtick - The spark that grew into Vertigo Shtick came when one overly critical-thinking arts writer named David Kenniston noticed that there were almost no pop songs on Pitchfork's Best of the 2000s list, nor most other outlets either; it now exists to question, decipher, explicate and dispense the critical and artistic elements of mainstream pop, down to the nitty gritty details. (@vertigo_shtick)
  • Popledge - Sarah runs one of the hardest-working respectable pop music news blogs around; follow her on Twitter and you can get top-notch critical thought in betwixt posts like "One Direction – full webcam video from their Hasbro chat, plus Niall Horan eats head!" (v.g.) (@popledge)

*   *   *   *   Albums   *   *   *   *

Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience

Pop Messiah: On his first album in seven years, Timberlake says that making "music you can see" inspired the name The 20/20 Experience. While it's certainly possible, given several lyrical drug references, that he may have swung by the psychedelicatessen before his recording sessions with Timbaland, a completely sober listen of the album can put that comment into context. 20/20 is sweeping and cinematic. Every one of the tracks has a distinct personality about it, which the listener experiences as the tracks are constructed and de-constructed in a series of build-ups and breakdowns. It's almost as if the album was meant to be enjoyed with your media player visualizations turned on.

While many criticize the self-indulgence of each track being extended to nearly twice that of a typical radio single, I admit that I never find myself bored at any point in the listening experience. Though he took a risk in trying to change trends instead of following them (What!? No four on the floor!?), there are still plenty of great singles here, and 10 more tracks coming our way later this year. (That's right! There will be a part 2!) 

My personal stand outs are "Blue Ocean Floor" (the album's only ballad, but an unconventional one) and second single "Mirrors," which has such an N'Sync vibe  that I swear I can hear J.C. ad libbing over those beautifully layered chorus vocals! I was a little concerned about the mini backlash that accompanied the superior Justin's return to pop music, but I was quickly soothed when "20/20" sold nearly a million copies in it's first week of release. Many had claimed it arrogant of Timberlake to assume the crown to the Pop throne was still his. Anything to say now, haters?

Popledge: Hot damn I love a bit of JT in my life! I am really pleased he is back on the pop scene and extra extra pleased he has found some strong hair relaxant (I was never a fan of the brillo pad look back in his N*Sync days!) But enough about his smoking looks what about the music? Well luckily for me his music is as good as his face, lots of catchy tunes, some fantastic production from Timbaland and the sound of a man enjoying making music he likes rather than pleasing the masses.

Highlights for me are the epic ‘Mirrors’ (the video always makes me cry) alongside ‘Tunnel Vision’ which manages to mix violins, beat boxing and electro into one song successfully. I also picked out ‘That Girl’ as a potential single for it’s cute and uplifting lyrics and vibe, it was the first song I started singing along to on only the first listen. ‘Let the Groove In’ I also would like to receive the single treatment, it has no agenda except dancing and I think would please the long-term JT fans.

The only negative for me was the length of transitions between songs, not all of them deserved an epic outro in my opinion. It sometimes interfered with the pacing of the album and reduced a B+ song down to a D by the time the mixing was into the next track. This is a minor quibble though, I am really pleased that this is an album rather than a collection of songs with a couple of singles on it. It is the best album of 2013 so far and I can’t wait to hear part 2 in September.

Vertigo Shtick: Around the halfway mark of "Strawberry Bubblegum," I decided I didn't care how long The 20/20 Experience was, I was in. I love immersing myself in the sound Justin Timberlake and Timbaland made on this engrossing, beautiful album - all 70 minutes of it. It helps not to think of it as a collection of songs and outros: most of the tracks on here have multiple movements, like a symphony, and that keeps it going. The songs I return to, however, are entirely from the first half, and I don't know if that's because they're superior (although "Don't Hold the Wall" is an absolutely hypnotic work of genius) if I just stopped paying as much attention after "Spaceship Coupe." The second act of "Pusher Love Girl" reminds me a bit of the latter part of "What Goes Around/Comes Around" in its darker feel, and I enjoy the Stevie Wonder second half of "Strawberry Bubblegum" as much as the ethereal first half. My favorite two songs, though, are the two bonus tracks: the thrilling "Body Count" and the breathtaking "Dress On," which is one of the only songs I can think of where a guy encourages his girl NOT to get nekkid because he just loves her so much. Timberlake's greatest asset is his ability to choreograph gorgeous, deep vocal harmonies, and Timbaland's work hasn't been this good in years. I think "Mirrors" is a bit out of place for single sales' sake, and "Suit & Tie" doesn't work for me, nor does the endlessly glum "Blue Ocean Floor," which is the only overlong song that reminded me of Frank Ocean's self-indulgent "Pyramids." But on the whole, when the Mad Men girl asks "Well, how do you like it?" I have to echo Timbaland: "I love it."

SmartPopScott: Undoubtedly the biggest release of the year so far, The 20/20 Experience is a huge album both in size and scope. Matthew Perpetua of Buzzfeed probably said it best when he described Timberlake as a luxury brand, or at least attempting to market himself that way. These songs are big, they’re long, and they’re, for the most part, pretty great. Perpetua suggests that Timberlake feels ‘above’ radio hits, and crafts his songs accordingly, knowing he doesn’t need the help of radio to sell big numbers because he has positioned himself as pop royalty. But I feel that this, and many other people complaining about the length of the album and it’s lack of traditional song structure, might be missing the point. This isn’t a pop album at all. This is a groove record. It’s not about songs, it’s about beats. It’s not to sing along to, it’s to dance to. Each track explores itself to its fullest potential, letting the grooves build and transform and keep going long past they’re welcome. But that’s the point. It’s a dance record, and although Timberlake’s voice is fantastic, it’s not about him. It’s about those productions. The string arrangements, the horns. I like to describe it like this: if Off The Wall could have been 70 minutes long, it would have been. The lyrics are forgettable at best and laughable at their worst (I’m looking at you, "Spaceship Coupe"), but it’s all part of the ‘vintage’ vibe. I’ve seen a ludicrous argument that the lyrics are bullshit because Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel’s relationship isn’t Iconic the way some other celebrity relationships are (yes, that’s a real review that a high-profile music site posted, not that I’ll name names). But the lack of specificity and detail, the vague metaphors and simple word play is all part of the Motown/Soul tradition.

What I’m saying is that, despite my edits of this album to more ‘manageable’ sizes, I really love this record. And I think that it is an important reminder that art needs to be taken on its own terms. It’s not fair to criticize this album, or any album, for not being something it’s not trying to be. It’s important to evaluate what something is, not what you want it to be. Ok, I’m done with my critical philosophy rant. Let’s just let the groove get in (there there, right there).

*   *   *   *   EPs   *   *   *   *

Erin Willett - Erin Willett

Pop Messiah: Whenever I watch The Voice, it always feels like it's much more about the judges antics than the contestant's performance. For that reason, I didn't tune in to any of season 2, so this is my first significant exposure to the powerhouse that is Erin Willett. The tracks on this, her debut, self-titled EP, exist somewhere between soulful pop-rock and alt-country. Lead single "Can't Take My Soul" starts off with a throbbing bassline like Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" but explodes with electric guitars on the chorus in a declaration of strength and independence. Willett has a rather powerful vocal presence, but always shows just the right amount of softness where it's needed. (see: "Those Blue Eyes" and "Everything I Want.") This EP shows a lot of promise and she may have a new fan in me!

Popledge: My google research led me to discover that Erin is a past contestant from the US version of The Voice who finished second on the show. Over here The Voice is no way as popular as Simon Cowell’s X Factor but in the US the model seems to be flipped. I have never seen or heard any of her performances before listening to this EP. Erin definitely has ‘the voice’ but I found the songs to be quite generic, her voice has an interesting tone to it and plenty of strength at times reminding me of Christina Aguilera. None of the songs stuck with me though and I found that between listens I would forget everything about the songs, everything reminded me of a generic soft rock/pop track but with no punch or spice to it…it was just bland. ‘Tired of Waiting’ I would pick out as my ‘best of a bad bunch’ track, it was elevated by the inclusion of Riella whose guest rap I really enjoyed. I have also never seen Erin apart from on the front of her EP cover, she looks really pretty but on the cover they have made her into a goth version of Khloe Kardashian – never a good thing. Unfortunately Erin’s style of music is not what I’m looking for in emerging artists for 2013.

Vertigo Shtick: Erin Willett was one of the most likable also-rans on the excellent second season of The Voice, and it's great to see her converting that exposure into a solid debut EP that showcases her powerful instrument and represents a cohesive artistic vision. Early EP releases by developing acts are often jumbled, inconsistent affairs, as artists try on different styles and sounds with varying success, so it is rewarding to hear a debut set that is this confident and comfortable in its own shoes. Willett's brand of Motown-influenced soul pop isn't always my cup of tea, and the songs are competent if largely forgettable. Still, listening to her letting rip with her steamroller of a voice instills a certain awed and slightly frightened admiration – kind of like hearing Ethel Merman plow through Gypsy when you're generally more of a Bernadette Peters sort of guy. The highlight is the single-worthy opener “Can't Take My Soul,” and featured rapper Riella delivering her best Salt N Pepa impression on “Tired of Waiting” made me wanna shoop, shoop, shoop. Willett has a lot of talent and I can see her becoming a formidable performer who truly loves what she does, which at the end of the day matters more than anything.

SmartPopScott: There’s no point denying that Erin Willett can sing. Her voice is huge and powerful and precise. But similarly, her music is overblown and much less than interesting. Her voice adds an urgency to the music that is unnerving and uncalled for and makes for rather unpleasant listening experience. All of the songs on her self-titled EP are good, but they feel overstuffed and are ultimately forgettable. With different material, I think she could be really great, but I think this isn’t the kind of music for her.

Neon Hitch - Happy Neon

Pop Messiah: Neon Hitch represents many signed artists, whom we see more and more of in today's music industry. She has been on the scene for a while without seeing an actual album release, only a few singles and buzz tracks. Aside from the gorgeous Robyn-esque "Get Over U," her singles to date have mainly been sassy bangers (see: "Bad Dog" and "Fuck U Betta") but on her recent mixtape Happy Neon we see a moodier, darker and more introspective side.

The title refers to the set's producer: Happy Perez, but also adds some irony as happiness is rather scarce in the EP's lyrical content. In fact, much like long-time label-prisoner JoJo, it seems that Neon Hitch is trying to vent her frustrations about her career-in-limbo, in song. In first single "Pink Fields" she explores the fear of losing freedom ("I never found religion but I was born with freedom, that's the one thing I pray will not be taken..") and potentially addiction ("Finding ways to kill pain, shiny things go deeper, if I go much further, Amy soon I'll see you." I'm working on the assumption that this is a reference to fellow-Brit, Amy Winehouse.) Most blatant is "Jailhouse," in which she sings "Locked up and they lost the key, I'm mad as fuck 'cause, by now I'd be on album three, I keep begging but no, they won't let me go." Rounding out the EP are "Midnight Sun," which explores the pain that can come with a loveless, sexual relationship and "Born to be Remembered," which seems to end the set on a semi-optimistic vibe as Neon laments that all things happen for a reason and that in the end, none of our experiences are wasted. While it's unlikely that label project Beg, Steal & Borrow will carry this level of artistry and lyricism, Happy Neon has fully cemented my appreciation for Hitch's talents. Let's hope the jailers set her free sometime soon!

Popledge: I found this EP to be a very ‘arresting’ listening experience, the sound filled up the whole room and it was very easy to switch off from the world and get immersed into the Happy Neon feeling. Neon has a very sweet voice despite sometimes singing about darker feelings, in ‘Midnight Sun’ she channels Marilyn Monroe in seeking the true love of a man. The EP has shades of Ellie Goulding for me in its ethereal moments mixed in with a diluted version of Nicki Minaj, alternative pop with a sprinkling of trance and electro combined with some intelligent lyrics.I found ‘Believe in Happy’ to be a bit repetitive until the hand-clapping moment stepped in, with a bit more ‘punchy’ production and some more texture this could be good but at the moment I would call this track average. 'Jailhouse' featured the darker side of Neon and headed more into the rap/trance/heavy beats genre, again interesting to listen to but outside the EP I don’t think it would hold up on its own merit. My favourite track was ‘Born to be Remembered’ I think people might lump it into the ‘Lady Gaga’ style of empowerment tracks, telling people to accept who they are and welcoming their kookiness as something that will stand them apart from the rest. I am a sucker for songs with this sort of message especially when they are sang by a female and I enjoyed this different take on this genre of song. ‘We were born to be loved, to be free’ sings Neon and even the occasion swear word can’t put me off the general feeling of this song. I liked the theme and overall production of the EP, it had a story-line to it rather like a movie and each track connected in a sensible way. I didn’t get that tingle in my stomach from the 22 minute EP but it has picked up my interest in the Londoner and has made me vow to review her album which is due out in 2013.

Vertigo Shtick: I think Neon Hitch is super talented and occasionally brilliant & unusual, and while it's nice that she's no longer bouncing chaotically from style to style (see above) and sticking to one musical concept for twenty minutes, if this is where she's decided to land that's cool but I guess we are probably just no gonna work out, Neon and me. Because I have supportive affections for her I want to say something like “it's really good for what it is, it's just not my kind of thing,” but honestly I don't have any idea how to adjudicate this kind of stuff – and I can usually bullshit at least a basic critical response to music within broad range of my understanding. Despite its misleading title, Happy Neon just made me really depressed, to the extent that I can barely recall specifics because the mood was so effective it drowned them out. I know there are people who will be like “It's a mood piece, that's a thing, it's supposed to be that way,” and they're probably right. I know there are alcoves of the musical world where the name of the game is music you want to slit your wrists to and I know how much the people who love that sort of stuff really LOVE that sort of stuff and passionately adore the musicians who make it. If that's the case, then bravo, Neon, you definitely made me want to hurl myself from a bridge, and I think you'll be a great success and I wish you well, but I will not. Keep. Wal. King. On broken glass. For yoooou-uuu.

SmartPopScott: Put out to hold us over until her debut comes out, Happy Neon feels like exactly what it is. The five songs are good, not great. Her voice is interesting and the music is promising, if a bit stale. If nothing else, it’s a sign of better things to come, embracing more of a chilled out indie-pop style as opposed to her big single last year, “Gold”, which suggested more of the same middle-of-the-road pop. I’ll be interested to see her full album later this year, and hopefully these were the tracks that just weren’t good enough for that.

*   *   *   *   Music Videos   *   *   *   *

Pitbull feat. Christina Aguilera - "Feel This Moment"

Pop Messiah: Pitbull makes my skin crawl. Something about him is so undeniably sleazy that I can't warm up to him despite my knowing that he's a huge hitmaker and radio can't get enough of him. I haven't liked any of his previous music or any tracks he has guested on. Still, I find myself singing along to the hook of "Feel This Moment" regularly, or simply revelling in the sample of A-ha's "Take On Me" and silently resenting that it's a Pitbull song. The video is a bit of a dud, splicing clips of Pitbull on the road with shots of Xtina and her surprisingly gentle wind-machine. Multiple split-screen moments give me a migraine from over-stimulation. My cranky old man visual sensitivities aside, it must be said that since "Feel This Moment" is already destined to be Christina's biggest hit in years, her label would be smart to re-package "Lotus" with this as a bonus track and try to salvage a rather good album that no one, even Christina, seems all that interested in promoting.

Popledge: Why have you made me watch a video with Pitbull in it? Sigh. Pitbull brings his usual D-grade generic pop to the video and relies heavily on a sample of ‘Take on Me’ to make the song half listenable. It saddens me to say that this feature is likely to be one of XTina’s biggest chart hits of the year, it is easy to laugh at the scenes in the video, Pitbull is flying round the world in private jets, picking up the ladies and playing huge gigs whilst Christina is confined to watching it from a box room singing ‘I just wanna feel this moment’. One thinks she might not get that moment for herself again.

Vertigo Shtick: Let's think about the moments Pitbull and Xtina are "feeling" in this video. Pitbull obviously loves all the attention, the adoring fans, the performing, so I buy that. Christina is in a room by herself, posing like a drag queen and imagining her adoring fans eating it up with a spoon. What about that moment doesn't feel like something she would love?

SmartPopScott: Full disclosure: we do this song in my Zumba class. It’s where I first heard it and I dance to it weekly. Also, I really really love “Take On Me”.  To contrast those points, I generally don’t like Christina Aguilera and I’ve never thought about Pitbull ever. But this song is pretty ok. It’s a fun pop song with a good dance beat and it’s perfect for Zumba. I don’t know how much function it serves outside of embarrassing aerobics classes though. The video is fine, but pretty uninteresting. I enjoy the allusions to the Aha video, but outside of that, there’s nothing really great going on here.

Kelly Rowland - "Kisses Down Low"

Pop Messiah: While the beyhive would surely dare to sting me en masse for saying so, I have to admit that despite Beyoncé's immense talent, I have almost always preferred Kelly Rowland's voice and personality. Unfortunately, Kelly seems to get less and less "Kelly" with each new project.  This video's biggest drawback is that while it contains nothing but shots of Rowland, it manages to not show us much of Kelly at all! The song is sort-of catchy but doesn't show off Rowland's vocal chops; it could really be any female R&B artist who can carry a tune. As for the multiple ensembles, as smoothly as Ms. Kelly changed her face and her bust size to try and fit into the industry, here we see her trying on a little of every R&B lady out there in the game; giving us some Keyshia Cole, Kelis, Keri Hilson, Brandy, etc. and not enough of herself. I love you Kelly, but I'm afraid you're getting a bit lost. Come back to us!

Popledge: There is one thing I am certain of in this video, that Kelly Rowland is gorgeous, she even manages to pull of that horrible red wig in several scenes. The video is full of colour and the different looks keep me interested throughout, the one thing I can’t understand is how the images relate to the meaning of the song. I am all for songs that promote cunnilingus for women and Kelly is known for having some sexy videos ("Motivation") so why isn’t this sexier! It’s all too cute looking for a song the promotes ‘Kisses Down Low’!

Vertigo Shtick: I wish Kelly would decide to be the new generation's Donna Summer instead of continuing to rough it in R&B. She seems to be the B group girl who tries to get ahead by being willing to do anal. At least for once she seems to be in on the joke here, making a conscious effort to avoid the humorless raunch of “Motivation” (which was still amazing). Is it just me, or is she playing roles based on other artists in this video? I saw Elle Varner, Janelle Monáe, Kelis, Mary J. Blige, Nicki Minaj and best of all, Katy Perry and Carly Rae Jepsen. If that's what she meant to do then this is awesome.

SmartPopScott: Do you get it? It’s about getting her pussy eaten. Sometimes I like to think of pop songs as all belonging to the same universe, and I imagine that this song comes (cums) after Azealia Banks sings “I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten.”  The song is good though. It’s very catchy and Rowland is a totally competent RnB singer. She said that she wanted the video to be flirty instead of racy to bring out something different in the song, and I have to agree with the decision. I was surprised at first at all the bright colors and cute dance moves, because I was expecting something dark and sexy, but ultimately it’s a fun video and brings some much needed levity to the track. I especially love that Rowland is the only person in the video.

It should be noted that four guys wrote this song. For whatever that’s worth.

*   *   *   *   Singles   *   *   *   *

Bridgit Mendler - "Hurricane"

Pop Messiah: I don't necessarily intend this to be a criticism, but "Hurricane" sounds like it's trying hard to bite Cher Lloyd's style to the tune of a Jessie J jam. The first time I listened, I actually watched an acoustic performance on YouTube. Mendler displayed interesting vocal tone and style, while the song felt relatively organic. For some reason the studio version (despite mostly subtle differences) sounds like a lesser-than version of Miley Cyrus' "Party in the U.S.A" and doesn't have the same effect on me that it does as an acoustic number. Overall, I know I like it, but I'm not quite sure if I love it. 

Popledge: I am informed by google that this is some kind of Disney star? The song is pleasant enough for younger listeners. It’s not terrible by any means; moments of the song remind me of a mix of Cher Lloyd and Miley Cyrus (especially her "Party in the USA" song). The beat is also quite endearing to listen to but it doesn’t cut it for me as an older female listener. Put it on Pop Princesses 2013 and move onto the next. The only Disney stars I am concerned about this year is the battle between Gomez, Lovato and Cyrus. I’m backing Cyrus btw.

Vertigo Shtick: There's so much that could send this single careening into the ditch - the Cher Lloyd rap, the Miley-in-the-USA vibe, the teenage chorus at the end - that the fact that it holds together is probably what makes this so ecstatic an experience for me. I LOVE this song. I sing it at the top of my lungs walking down the street. More imporantly, I checked out her debut album on the strength of "Hurricane" as a followup to "Ready or Not," which made my unpublished Best of 2012 list, and it's not bad! I mean, it's not great, but it has some great moments (I recommend "Blonde" and "Top of the World"). But Selena Gomez didn't make a great album until her third try, so in my book Bridgit is already ahead of the curve.

SmartPopScott: Good Luck, Charlie is pretty funny. I was watching a few episodes last weekend and I laughed out loud multiple times. Bridgit Mendler as a singer, though, is really nothing special. Her album Hello My Name Is… is a very fine pop record, and “Hurricane” is one of the stronger songs from it, but it’s also nothing to write home about. She’ll probably have a harder time shaking her Disney ties than someone like Lovato or Gomez, but I’d love to be surprised.

The-Dream feat. Fabolous - "Slow It Down"

Pop Messiah: Wait a second... Didn't this Akon track come out in 2007? Is this an April Fool's Joke? Nice one, David! Really nice! Ok, I'm mostly kidding but as I listen to "Slow it Down" I find myself singing the irritating hook to Akon's "Don't Matter" on loop. The two likely wouldn't work thematically as a mash-up, but melodically they definitely would! My favorite part of this track, is the line that leads into the chorus "enough with them motherfuckin' dance songs, you gotta slow it down" because I think we're all feeling a bit worn out with dance music. Luckily, this sentiment extends beyond the audience and it seems like popular music at large is heading in a different direction. Otherwise, I think the track is a little bit dull, but it has good intentions.

Popledge: I’m a fan of The-Dream’s writing, especially his hits for Beyoncé and Britney Spears; unfortunately I’m not a big fan of his solo work. I do not really listen to RnB and find the subject matter of ogling at women pretty crappy. If I was being kind then I would say it is a very smooth track all about getting the DJ to slow down the groove so a guy can get a better lap dance. Worst lyric of the moment ‘pants on her slim fit.’ Not my kinda groove.

Vertigo Shtick: This song is an anti-EDM rant, and not a very subtle one at that. The premise is a dude in a club telling the dj to play something slower than dance music so he can take his time enjoying his girl working her booty for him (or on him, whatever). The subtext is everything wrong with hip hop: “dude, turn off this gay-ass dance music because a. it's gay and b. girls like dancing to it too much and that means they're not shaking their ass for me.” Barf.

SmartPopScott: I haven’t completely given up on The-Dream, but I’m pretty close. It’s hard to write off the guy who wrote “Single Ladies”, but if he keeps putting out mediocre tracks, teasing an album that seems like it will never come out, I’ll be forced to stop caring. “Slow It Down” is predictable in all ways. Even though his best work has always been for other people, a lot of his solo material has been truly incredible RnB. This isn’t any of that.

Demi Lovato - "Heart Attack"

Pop Messiah: I've been rather hooked on this song lately! "Heart Attack" is a slickly-produced, unapologetic, POP song (Like what I did there Gregory/Minna? Miss y'all!) and it's about time that real POP makes a comeback. This being the third Lovato track in the last two years to latch on to my music-loving brain (if you count Glee's superior version of "Give Your Heart a Break"), then I suppose it's time for me to declare my fan-status. More and more, I find myself impressed with the strength and expression in Demi's vocals. There's something very raw and gritty that comes out when she sings a certain way; an animalistic, throaty snarl. Highlights within this track are the pre-choruses, with their ridiculous but somehow adorable reinforcing of gender roles ("But you, make me wanna act like a girl, paint my nails and wear perfume, for you..") and the climax of both the hook ("I think I'd have a heart atta-aaa-aaa-aaaaaaa-aa-aack") and the bridge, where Lovato sings "and I burst into flaa-aa-aa-aa-aa-aa-aa-aa-aa-aa-aa-aa-aaaames" into the stratosphere in four-part harmony. While Glee managed to overshadow "Give Your Heart a Break" with their cover, Demi's set the bar pretty high on this one, should they even dare to try.

Popledge:Yes! This song has been on repeat for me since I first heard it, I really think this could be Demi’s year. I love songs that you feel relate personally to the singer and with all of Demi’s problems I feel like this nervousness in relationships is probably something she has experienced. It’s textbook pop done to perfection and stays with you all day. Her X Factor USA job is also helping raise her profile in the UK so I am crossing everything for this single.

Vertigo Shtick: I admit I assigned this under the suspicion it was being overrated. I was wrong. “Heart Attack” is an interesting followup to Lovato's last single, “Give Your Heart a Break,” in that she's essentially playing the exact sort of gun-shy romantic conscientious objector she'd been exhorting to give love a chance the last time around. But such character continuity issues are the nature of the interpretive pop performer (as when, on Funhouse, Pink blithely follows “Sober” up a few tracks later with a drinking song). As a performer and persona, Demi Lovato falls somewhere between the cooly disaffected Selena Gomez and personality-heavy Bridgit Mendler. What she lacks in personality she makes up for in passion; whatever she's singing about is a matter of life and death. Her melodramatization of often pretty benign stuff can be amusing, but it is fitting to the way in which everything seems like the end of the world at the age of her core audience, and I'm sure it's why she is more passionately beloved of said audience than Gomez or post-Hannah Montana Miley Cyrus. And even those of us who are older and jaded can't help but grow concerned, given the intensity of her performance – 'Oh dear...that horrible boy...someone should do something. She could have a heart attack!' Whether it's genuine or has to be tricked out of you, “Heart Attack” will win your affection whether or not you intend to let it (there is one particularly sublime moment, at the end of the bridge), so you may as well not even bother putting your defenses up.

SmartPopScott: I’ve been a huge fan of Demi for a few years now. Her first two albums are two of my favorite Pop records and I think she’s unbelievably talented. When her third album, Unbroken, came out, he moved from her pop-rock beginnings to a more mature RnB inflected radio pop. But she still didn’t get very much attention until it was announced that she was going to become a judge on the X-factor. Then, all of a sudden, her single “Give Your Heart A Break”, which had already been out for months, started getting a ton of radio play. “Heart Attack” is the first release since she became popular via the X Factor, and the first single from her upcoming album, Demi. It’s also really great. It shows off her huge range and powerful voice, it’s insanely catchy, and it’s got a bit of an edge that made me fall in love with her initially. Hopefully it will be a big hit on the radio this summer!

Ke$ha - "Supernatural"

Pop Messiah: In the process of promoting the release of her admittedly-good sophomore album Warrior, Ke$ha - Pop's ambassador of various bodily fluids & glitter, has pulled a lot of extra-weird stories out of her tickle trunk. The most repulsive of these involves her drinking her own urine on an upcoming MTV reality series (No, thanks!) however, an odd, but not terribly off-putting one involves her claim that she has had sex with a ghost. This song is about the latter experience, and despite its strange origins (and it following similar chord progressions on the verses and pre-chorus to previous hit "Take it Off") it's actually got some really nice elements. On the verse, it's a bit sinister and aggressive, but the chorus goes into more of an emotional and melodic place that gives me a glimmer of a pop singer I wouldn't have resisted for so long back in my days of irrationally hating and lashing out at the mere mention of waking up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy

Popledge: I was disappointed that ‘Die Young’ didn’t become the worldwide smash hit it deserved to me and also that Warrior wasn’t a very successful album in general. I am also not really sure what has turned people off from Ke$ha, I think she brings something different to the pop scene and this era has shown progression, especially in her live performances. Having said that I am sad to say that ‘Supernatural’ isn’t the song to rescue the sinking SS Ke$ha, it’s an average pop song, the chorus is catchy but it doesn’t recapture the early days of ‘Tik Tok’ in its craziness. At least she has her Flaming Lips co-album to fall back on.

Vertigo Shtick: I'd like to buy Ke$ha's line about this song's origin story, but doing the nasty with a ghost must not be all that otherworldly if all it inspires is a shameless rewrite of “E.T.” I mean, really? At least “California Gurls” changed up the words. “Supernatural” is representative of the album from which it comes, and my reaction to it mirrored that of the album, in that the derivative things that initially bothered me have faded over time and I've become more willing to appreciate the overall experience. I'm still annoyed by that stuff, but I've accepted that Warrior is a flawed work of non-genius that is nevertheless better than most albums. One thing I'll give Ke$ha and Dr. Luke and company is that this song goes hard and doesn't let up, in the time-honored tradition of “if you can't do it well, do it loud.” I do hope that we can now officially say goodbye to the techno breakdown – if this is the last one it can make a graceful exit before lapsing into the totally pathetic.

SmartPopScott: I love Ke$ha, and Warrior was one of my favorite albums last year. I even wrote a stodgy academic essay about it. “Supernatural” was actually the first bit of the album that we heard when Dr. Luke posted a snippet of the drop (THE DROP) on twitter. It was a little underwhelming at first, actually. As is the full song. With Ke$ha, I’ve come to expect nothing but the best. The craziest, most wild pop music out there. And Warrior delivers on that expectation for the most part. But "Supernatural," supposedly about an actual sexual relationship with a ghost, is a bit tame and uninteresting. Her voice sounds great, and it’s always great to hear her sing, but the production is a bit stock and the songwriting is just alright.

Prince - "Screwdriver" 

Pop Messiah: I'm fairly certain that there is an unspoken rule in the world at large that you really can't say anything legitimately bad about Prince. Sure, it's okay to poke fun at his eccentricities over the years (changing his name to a symbol, changing it back, a variety of flamboyant ensembles, talking about himself in first person, etc.) but the fact remains that the man has written some spectacular, classic songs and has basically arranged and played all of the instruments on every one of them. "Screwdriver" seems to take from the canon of 70's rock & roll and while this song is not entirely my cup of tea in the scheme of his career's work, I can't deny that his voice still sounds distinctive and iconic, the musicianship is solid, it's memorable lyrically and musically and he's still an untouchable legend.

Popledge: Prince is somewhat of a mystery to me, all I know is that he is tiny but has produced some amazing pop songs and can also put on a hell of a concert. I actually purchased his album 3121 back in 2006 but since then haven’t particularly followed his career. There is a lot to enjoy with this song, the lyrics are humorous but it is backed up with some amazing electric guitar playing and vocals from the main man. I watched a video of him performing this live and his whole band seemed to be enjoying playing the song with him, the meaning of the song I take to be a one night stand but I guess it could relate to any sexual experience or just a spot of DIY!

Vertigo Shtick:I'm your driver, you're my screw.” I wonder what that means.

SmartPopScott: Prince is really just great at doing anything. This is not typically the kind of song I enjoy. It’s a simplistic rock song filled with sexual innuendo. But with Prince’s deft hand, it’s pretty irresistible. The subtle things he does with structure and arrangement brings the song to a different level and even though it’s not the best single I’ve ever heard, it makes me pretty excited for his new album to come out.

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