Saturday, March 7, 2015

"Can See Can Do" and the Politics of M.I.A.

Sometimes, when I need to check myself, I put on M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes." Popularized by the trailer to the stoner film Pineapple Express, it was the first big hit for the British dance artist (and for her producer and then-beau, Diplo), peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earning a Record of the Year nomination at the 2009 Grammys (she performed at the ceremony, nine months pregnant). And I was baffled, and perhaps a little offended; "She can't even sing!" was my general response. I didn't get it. A year later, I launched this blog, as a reaction to, and toward, the people who "don't get it." Thus often goes the story of the evangelized.

Of course, whether M.I.A. can even sing is irrelevant, because it's not really the point. M.I.A.'s music isn't about tuneful warbling, it's about rebellion and radicalism, in the lyrics and in the beats. At it best, it stows social commentary away within benignly appealing thematic frameworks, transparently enough that even if you notice it you don't feel like you've been tricked. Even when the topic is directly political, as on her new song "Can See Can Do," released this morning on Soundcloud, she tends to hew more to the broadly applicable style of 60s protest songs than the expressive specificity of rap.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Let's Rate Some iTunes New Artist Spotlight Singles with Emoji

The Billboard Hot 100 is in one of its regular ruts at the moment. Seven of the current top ten singles are stagnant or on the decline, and the other three aren't much more inspired (Maroon 5, Taylor Swift, and barrel-bottom Pitbull); meanwhile, Mark Ronson's Bruno Mars single "Uptown Funk" spends a ninth week at #1, Ed Sheeran holds a seventh week at #2 and Ellie Goudling's 50 Shades of Grey song clocks a fourth atop the UK Singles Chart, a sales- and streaming-based chart where turnover at the summit is usually high. It'd be one thing if any of these singles were making some sort of imprint on the societal moment beyond themselves, but as a non-radio listener, I've barely been aware of them. From the look of the charts, you'd think we were in a real post-Grammys, pre-Spring Break creative drought, like we often are early in the year.

Australian band Sheppard say "Geronimo"
Except, for once, we're not. After a real snooze of a year, 2015 has come front-loaded with more good new music released in the first two months than 2014 had put out by about October. We've gotten great albums from Jazmine Sullivan, Fifth Harmony, and Drake, with promising releases from Madonna and Marina and the Diamonds imminent and monster returns by Kanye West, Rihanna, and Adele on the horizon. And the spate of exciting rookie acts that kicked off last year hasn't let up, with solid big-label introductions from Eden xo, Rae Sremmurd, Tori Kelly, and Ella Henderson making impact on radio and streaming.

In fact, it looks like the major labels are starting to show willingness to put some real budgetary and promotional support behind new artists on their rosters (following the huge success of Iggy Azalea and ClearChannel's "On the Verge" new artist program). Even iTunes is getting into it, offering "New Artist Spotlights" on its main page and genre main pages. So why is everyone still just listening to the same ol' Bruno Mars song?

Maybe you're like me, and this whole "new artists being promoted" thing is still a little foreign to you and you don't really know how or where to even start with all these weirdly named new acts on your iTunes page or Spotify playlist. Back in the day we used to have these things to help with this sort of dilemma, called "blogs." Maybe you've heard of them? Anyway, I'll get to work on that for y'all. Here's a starter batch for the weekend.

1. "Shut Up and Dance" - Walk the Moon (Talking is Hard)
2. "Geronimo" - Sheppard (Geronimo)
3. "Goodbye" - Who Is Fancy (Single)
4. "Budapest" - George Ezra (Wanted on a Voyage)
5. "I'm An Albatraoz" - AronChupa (Single)
6. "Reflections" - MisterWives (Our Own House)
7. "Cheerleader (Feliz Jaehn Remix)" - Omi (Single)
8. "Roll Up Your Sleeves" - Meg Mac (Single)
9. "You Know You Like It" - DJ Snake feat. AlunaGeorge (Single)
10. "Electric Love" - BØRNS (Candy)
11. "We'll Be The Stars" - Sabrina Carpenter (Single)
12. "Real Love" - Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne (New Eyes)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

57th Grammys Have Actually Made Some Good Choices (So Far)

The Grammy Awards are...problematic. NEWS FLASH. Peer awards for an intensely conservative, artistically sprawling industry about ten years behind the times, with baffling voting procedures and no guild or critics' awards to act as a check and counterpoint? What could go wrong?

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga win Best Traditional Pop Album
Complaining about the Grammy Awards is a familiar trope (Why are there so few awards during the telecast? Hey, that's not a New Artist! What's the difference between a record and an album? Best Polka Album hahahaha oh they got rid of that one.), and for those of us who care about good music, this can be an aggravating event.

But with most of the awards having been presented during the pre-telecast "Premiere Ceremony," it looks like the Recording Academy has made some decent selections within the imperfect framework they've given themselves with variously shambolic nominations.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Top 10 Katy Perry Songs of All Time

The Super Bowl is coming up, and Katy Perry is playing the halftime show. Maybe you've heard? It'll be her biggest audience ever, and while she's no Madonna or Beyonce, she's still done a few good things in her short career.

Here is the definitive list of the ten (okay, eleven) best Katy Perry songs out there - and yes, I listened to them all to make sure. Argue if you dare.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Katy Perry Kissed A Girl - Should We Like It?

.This piece was originally published on June 4, 2008 on the once wondrous but now defunct, which was owned, as presumably this piece still is, by Regent Media, now Here Media. It is reprinted here without express permission because it's relevant and you can't find it anywhere, but if the folks at Here Media should have any objections I invite them to get in touch - I'd like to write for you again.

It's not what good girls do

This week saw the coronation of a new head-bopper hitting Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart: a catchy song entitled “I Kissed a Girl,” made even more interesting because the singer is 23-year-old brunette bombshell Katy Perry.

Critical reaction to this upstart single has been decidedly mixed, as much for its social context as its musical construction. called it "a lesbian-friendly tune that's sure to cut a swath through...Pride events,” and a review of Perry's album One of the Boys, which features “I Kissed a Girl,” says the singer is “appealing as skinny-dipping in August - I guess we can't resist a tease.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Vertigo Shtick Top 40 Pop Singles of 2014, Part Three

The best pop singles of 2014 were a motley crew, but slowly and surely we're getting to the best of them. The second tier is a collection of ten powerhouse jams from ten powerhouse women, some new, some shedding an old skin, some returning, and some legendary. There are several great singles from not so great artists, and discussions about what that could mean for each one. One's explicitly about sex, another implicitly about masturbation, and another about sex clubs, weed, and DILF hookups, and one of the others mentions menstruation. Three times.

Sound of a Woman
Kiesza keeps on dancin'.
Read on for #20-11 of the VS Top 40 Pop Singles of 2014!

Part One: #31-40                Part Two: #21-30

Honorable Mentions


Friday, January 16, 2015

That New New: Erica Gibson's Charming Debut Single, "Out of My Mind"

It's been a good week for new music, especially considering how desolate the first few months of the year tend to be. There's a lot worth sifting through at one time, but if you're in the mood for some new new over the weekend, I recommend checking out the charming official solo debut single by Philadelphia songwriter Erica Gibson, "Out of My Mind."

Out of My Mind

Produced and co-written by frequent collaborator Scott Stallone, "Out of My Mind" is a format-savvy, sonically playful record about overthinking that voicemail from that guy, which I'm sure hasn't happened to anyone ever. There's a neat tonal shift on the pre-chorus I always find "ooh ahh"-y, and a big old chorus that, and don't hate me for this, has actually proven difficult to get out of my mind. Ooh whoa ohhhh, whoa ah ohh ohhhhh!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Anjulie's "Love Sick", Continues to Make Music That's Better Than You

Look, the streets of Los Angeles are paved with the broken dreams and unreleased music of many thousands of pop stars, also-rans, and would-be pop stars. It's just that some of these streets are nicer than others. If you're Canadian dance-pop philosopher Anjulie, it's more like Melrose Place.

Anjulie is love sick! (Haahh.) (Hooo!)
Like many artists before her, Anjulie spent the better part of the current decade working on a brilliant yet challenging pop project for her sophomore album, one that messed with both the typical label-artist career path and the genre boundaries and definitions to which label marketing teams cling fearfully, and I'm betting you can guess how that went.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Vertigo Shtick Top 40 Pop Singles of 2014, Part Two

The best pop singles of 2014 were a motley crew. The third tier is populated mostly by established or major-label acts (not as true in the lowest tier, and, you will find, remarkably untrue as we get closer to the top), some of them dialing down the star power for lower-profile work and others making big career-launching smashes often as problematic as they are massive. Throw in two standout tracks from heroic final albums from differently but undeniably pop career victors and some uniquely British pop sensitivities and you've got ten more of the best tunes of 2014.

McBusted's "Air Guitar"
 Read on for #21-30 of the VS Top 40 Pop Singles of 2014

Part One: #31-40                                    Honorable Mentions

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Vertigo Shtick Top 40 Pop Singles of 2014, Part One

The best pop singles of 2014 were a motley crew. The lowest tier at the top included intelligent songs and brilliantly stupid songs, by thrilling debuting rookies, much anticipated returning stars of old, current A-listers, and legends of past pop eras; some maximized the potential of electronic sound while others nodded back to the studio sessions of Phil Spector and his contemporaries. Some were by men, most by women, and all of them better than almost anything else out there this year.

Alexandra Stan dances with the boys
Read on for #31-40 of the VS Top 40 Pop Singles of 2014, and check out the Honorable Mentions here.

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