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OurStage Chats with Swedish Indie Pop Band The Radio Dept.

Swedish trio The Radio Dept. recently played the States with a double-lineup in NYC. The pop princes return in 2011 with a compilation project (twenty-eight tracks comprising fourteen A-Sides and fourteen B-sides) as well as a full US tour. But forget the facts, these Swedes are all about presenting a perspective.

Stockholm-based threesome The Radio Dept. were flown overseas last week to play two sold out shows in New York City, at The Knitting Factory on Tuesday and Bowery Ballroom on Wednesday. Poised to release their comprehensive compilation of singles Passive Aggressive: 2002-2010 in January, as well as embark on a proper US tour beginning in February, The Radio Dept. seems to be sitting pretty. The band released its latest full length album, Clinging to a Scheme, in April, and is receiving critical praise the globe-over. The first single off the album, “Heaven’s on Fire,” was the No. 1 most popular tune on the Hype Machine, making them the fifth most blogged about band in the world earlier this fall—this on top of past accomplishments, which include three albums, eleven EPs, five singles and features in both a Gucci ad as well as on the soundtrack for Sofia Coppola‘s Marie Antoinette.

Photo by Aylin Güngör Dedeoglu

All of that said, the guys aren’t terribly keen on being in the spotlight. While they are humbled by the widespread recognition, they say having all eyes on them is unnerving. Explains lead singer and guitarist, Johan Duncanson, “If you want to see extremely scared people on stage who really don’t want to be there, that’s a Radio Department show.” RD’s main man harks back to an earlier experience, but the sentiment still stands; “To me it’s about challenging myself because I’m really shy. It’s a weird thing for me to walk up on stage and play guitar and sing to a lot of people. It’s not natural. It’s weird. But I push myself to do it anyway. And sometimes I [still] get sacred.”

Indeed, the threesome exuded a certain degree of distant nervousness in Brooklyn Tuesday night, but perhaps that was in part due to the entire system shutting down mid-show. Mics started squealing shrilly and the boys backed off, making way for the tech guys to glue the evening back together. In the end, the show went on, though not nearly long enough, given the impression I gathered from fans—and the early hour at which things seemed to wind down. This band’s been around since the mid-90s and the current lineup, which, in addition to Duncanson, includes Martin Larsson on second guitar and Daniel Tjäder on keyboards, is much revered. When they pass through, RD devotees crave a solid set. I’m afraid we didn’t get as much as we wanted. Be that as it may, many an audience member jammed out to the group’s dreamy pop songs, heads bobbing and feet shuffling the entire time.

Photo by Said Karlsson

On the topic of jamming, and almost assuredly in direct relation to their trepidation about being on stage , they made a point of confessing that they’re anything but a jam band. Well, that and a rock band. “We used to call ourselves ‘anti-rock,’” they tell me. “We don’t jam. We’re not that kind of band, really,” Duncanson says. “We hate jamming. Johan really hates jamming,” laughs Larsson. Duncanson affirms, “I hate jamming.” I ask them why that is and Duncanson doesn’t hesitate to illustrate: “When I was in my teens and going to parties, a couple people would take out acoustic guitars and start jamming. It kind of made me sick. So I promised myself never to do things like that. It’s just such a hippie thing to do. Posers.”

You would think Duncanson was an arrogant guy, given his statements, but the man behind Dept.’s vocals is absolutely sweet, articulating things in a sincere manner with zero affectation. In fact, none of them put on airs. “We’re not good musicians, really. We’re not that good of musicians. Like, technically. We’re not capable of doing any thing any day, just having concert. We need to train,” Larsson shares, the quintessential antithesis of a “hippie poser.”  Tjäder chimes in about something he terms the “rock and roll myth,” purporting, “You don’t have to be this self destructive, suffering artist.” While he isn’t necessarily intending to equate that to “hippie posers who jam a lot,” it rounds out the ever-evolving portrait of The Radio Dept., combating their tendency toward the elusive. “There [seemed to be] rules about bearded men playing sweaty, hairy music [that made it] more real than clean-shaven, young guys playing pop music. I’ve always thought there’s something really wrong there,” Duncanson states in defense of their sound and on behalf of all anti-rock outfits.

In the end though, which is nowhere in sight for these Swedes, it all comes down to one vital detail: the music itself. The Radio Dept. can be invited to do a double-header halfway around the world without asking and sell out twin shows without trying. They can come across like deer in headlights whilst performing (not perpetually, but occasionally) and make a subtle but successful comeback post-equipment malfunction. They can despise the stage, hate to jam and rail against rock-and-roll. Deduction: they’re pretty unbelievable in my book. Three early-thirties savants, who possess more lyrical acuity and instrumental prowess in their pinky fingers than half the GRAMMY nominees, are real, raw, genuine artists. Forget expectations of the industry. These guys are around to defy them. But not in some attention-seeking, deliberately rebellious way. In the real way.  Duncanson says it best, summing up; “We’ve never been into ‘making it’ or anything like that. We just wanna make music.” Play on, sweet Swedes, play on.

By Nell Alk

Nell Alk is a culture and entertainment reporter based in New York. Her work has appeared in Paper Magazine,, Zink Magazine and, among others. She also contributes to NBC’s Niteside blog

Noms and Snubs: 2011 Grammy Awards

This year was a curious one in GRAMMY world, with some heavy hitters being shut out and some less popular acts finally getting a chance to shine. The ‘Record of the Year’ category is dominated by urban pop, with just one band—CMT Artist of the Year Lady Antebellum (nominated in six categories)—bringing up the rear with their country album Need You Now. Eminem leads the pack with ten nominations for his smash success Recovery, landing on the list for ‘Best Rap Album,’ and “Love The Way You Lie”, featuring Rihanna, scoring nominations for ‘Record of The Year,’ ‘Song of The Year,’ ‘Best Rap Song’ and ‘Best Rap Collaboration.’

Other hip hop standouts include Cee-Lo’s three nominations for “[Forget] You” for ‘Record of The Year’ and ‘Song of The Year’ and ‘Best Urban Performance’.  Jay-Z made the list for ‘Best Rap Album’ with Blueprint 3 and again with newlyweds Alicia Keys (with “Empire State of Mind” up for ‘Best Rap Song’ and “Best Rap Collaboration”) and Swizz Beatz (with “Onto The Next One” contending for ‘Best Rap by Duo’ and ‘Best Rap Song’). Keys’ album, Elements of Freedom was shockingly snubbed from all categories, despite its heavy radio play.  Swizz Beats is also nominated for “Fancy,” his collaboration with Drake, whose debut album,  Thank Me Later earned him a nomination for ‘Best Rap Album,’ while his single “Over”scored him a bid for ‘Best Solo Rap Performance.’

On the pop front, Katy Perry is the front-runner with four nominations for her album, Teenage DreamKe$ha’s debut,  Animal, failed to garner any attention for the saucy newcomer and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” popped up on the shortlist for ‘Best Female Pop Vocal’ but was slighted in the categories of  ‘Song and Record of The Year.’  “Dance In The Dark” earned Gaga a ‘Best Dance Recording’ nom and “Telephone,” her duet with Beyoncé, earned her a nomination for ‘Best Pop Collaboration.’

B.o.B fared well with his debut album, The Adventures of Bobby Ray, earning him five nominations including ‘Record of The Year’ and ‘Best Rap Album’ while his single, “Nothin On You” featuring Bruno Mars is making a run for ‘Best Rap Song’,  ‘Best Rap Collaboration’ and ‘ Record of The Year’. B.o.B’s duet with Paramore front-woman, Hayley Williams is also up for ‘Best Pop Collaboration.’ Meanwhile, Mars came in with seven nominations for his work with B.o.B., his single, “Just The Way You Are” and his work as producer with The Smeezingtons who are up for the ‘Producer of The Year’ title.

‘The ‘Best New Artist’ category seems the most diverse with contender Justin Beiber going head to head with Florence and the Machine, Drake, Mumford & Sons, and Esperanza Spalding (who was curiously excluded for any noms in the Jazz category) for the honor. Usher’s, Raymond V Raymond will go against Chris Brown’s, Grafitti for ‘Best Contemporary R&B Album.’

This is the year of new beginnings. In addition to  Chris Brown’s nomination, fellow tabloid darlings Lee Ann Rimes and Fantasia, whose troubling private lives made very public headlines, end their year on a happier note with nods for the former in ‘Best Female Country Vocal Performance’ and the latter in ‘Best Female R&B Vocal Performance’ and ‘Best R&B Song’ for “Bittersweet.”

There’s a good chance we’ll see last year’s ‘Best New Artist’ winner Zac Brown Band on stage again this year, this time sans stick puppet—2009 addition Clay Cook was unable to accept the award with the band for their win last year because he did not have a credit on their first album. They’re nominated for ‘Best Country Performance,’ ‘Best Country Song’ and ‘Best Country Album.’ Other country favorites Keith Urban, Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood, Gretchen Wilson, Miranda Lambert, Jewel also received nominations.

No huge surprises found among artists in the rock categories, with multiple nominations for veterans Jeff Beck (‘Best Rock Album,’ ‘Best Rock Performance’ with Joss Stone and ‘Best Rock Instrumental’) and Neil Young (‘Best Rock Song,’ ‘Best Rock Album’ and Best Solo Rock Performance’) while Paul McCartney, Robert Plant, Eric Clapton, John Mayer earning one nom each.  Hard rock and metal showcased no new artist nominations either: Ozzy Osborne, Alice In Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Iron Maiden, Korn, Megadeth, Lamb of God and Slayer.

For the complete list of nominees across all 100 categories, visit

By Cortney Wills with additional reporting by Paula Gould

Cortney Wills is a pop culture journalist born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She has lived in LA, Chicago and NYC and enjoys all things entertainment.

The Death of the ‘Greatest Hits’ Album

How do you keep the music playing when you’re between new releases? What to do to fulfill that pesky final commitment of a multi-album recording contract with a label you’re no longer thrilled to call home? Traditionally, a greatest-hits compilation — in stores preferably around the end of the year — has been the best bet. Not only do they make great stocking stuffers, but they are an excellent way for artists to stay in retail circulation while they’re working on new material, or shopping for a new deal.
Past holiday seasons have seen the Billboard 200 album chart crowded with new best-ofs, but this year, the pickings are slim indeed.

Only Bon Jovi’s Greatest Hits and Pink’s Greatest Hits… So Far were in the Top 50 for the week ending December 4, with the latter missing the Top 10 entirely, a fate likely to befall Jay-Z: The Hits Collection, Volume One (out November 22). Why has the gift that used to keep giving — around Christmas and beyond — suddenly stopped? Here are a few possible reasons.

The rise and continued rise of iTunes. Back in the days when people bought music exclusively in record stores, superstar acts like Madonna and the Eagles were scoring the biggest albums of their careers with hits compilations. Now, for up to $1.29 a pop, fans can pick and choose which of their favorite artists’ hits they want without ever buying a complete album. So when the hits compilation is released, why not just download the one or two new tracks and call it a day? That might explain why Pink’s Greatest Hits has had such a lackluster chart showing — so far — while its single, “Raise Your Glass,” is No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and already one of the singer’s, well, greatest hits.

Repackaging of hit albums. More artists are keeping themselves in heavy rotation by putting out special-edition versions of their hit albums featuring multiple new tracks. It’s a holiday-season gambit that recently has paid handsome financial and chart dividends for Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and Rihanna, among others. On November 26th, Justin Bieber released My Worlds Acoustic, featuring reworked, stripped-down versions of songs from his My World EP and My World 2.0, his full-length debut, while Adam Lambert is dropping the five-song Acoustic Live on December 6th. These are like greatest-hits albums featuring only the hits from one album. By time the actual best-ofs come around, do fans really need a third version of the same old songs (fourth, if you count the in-decline-but-still-ticking Now That’s What I Call Music! series, currently on Volume 36).

The new definition of “single.” It’s harder to keep track of actual hit “singles,” with the term being used so loosely these days. Take Taylor Swift’s Speak Now, for example. All fourteen tracks on the original release have charted on Billboard’s Hot 100, and three already have entered the Top 10, but many might be hard pressed to name the “official” single. “Mine” has logged the most time on the chart, but due to the Hot 100 onslaught of other Speak Now tracks leading up to the album’s release, “Mine” hasn’t had the impact of past Swift hits like “Love Story” and “You Belong with Me.”

Rappers like Drake, Kanye West and Nicki Minaj as well as Usher have followed a similar staggered singles release scheme, diluting the impact of each one, while making each album a sort of self-contained greatest-hits collection. Usher, for example, landed seven chart hits in the last year, five from Raymond v. Raymond, and two from the recently released Versus EP, but only one song from each set went Top 10 on the Hot 100, compared to the five-for-five Top 10 tally of the singles from his Confessions album in 2004.

Another album, another half dozen cameos. With everyone popping up on everyone else’s album, many of music’s big stars, it seems, are never  MIA for long, making greatest hits albums less necessary as space holders between studio releases. Pitbull was just in the Top 10 on simultaneous hits by Enrique Iglesias and Usher. In 2010, newcomer Bruno Mars has mined platinum singles on his own and with B.o.B and Travie McCoy. Rihanna is on Eminem’s Recovery and Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday, and they are both on Rihanna’s Loud. Eminem is on Pink Friday, too, as is Kanye West, for whom Minaj returns the favor on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Got that?

Meanwhile, Drake is on pretty much every other R&B release these days, including Loud, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Pink Friday, which, incidentally, also features Natasha Bedingfield, whose Strip Me (out December 7th), amazingly, features none of the above. How’s that for a Christmas miracle?

By Jeremy Helligar

Jeremy Helligar is a former staff writer for People, Teen People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly, who now writes about celebrities and pop culture from his couch in Buenos Aires.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Call: The Perfect Holiday Playlist

Tomorrow is the first day of December, which means it’s time to amp up the holiday spirit!

If you’re sick of hearing Mariah Carey and the same old traditional holiday songs on repeat, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve assembled a playlist of holiday songs—some originals and some covers—courtesy of our amazing OurStage rock artists. You can listen to each song in the player below!

1. Gidgets Ga Ga, “Christmas Wish” Chicago powerpop trio Gidgets Ga Ga dons acoustic guitars, tambourines and sleigh bells for this Christmas original.

2. Eddie de Pool, “Greensleeves” Eddie de Pool shows off his shredding skills on this holiday classic.

3. Allred,“Start Over” This somber Christmas tune is about forgiveness, growing up and loneliness during the holidays, but it’s Owl City feel makes for a warm delivery.

4. Wormburner“(Christmas) Bells of St. Ignatius” In the style of Foxy Shazam, Wormburner brings us a shuffling Christmas song about the holidays in New York City.

5. Endway, “Leaves Fall On Christmas” Beginning like a traditional carol, this song soon explodes with electric guitar energy from one of Boston’s best upcoming rock bands.

6. Austin Renfroe, “Brand New Christmas” Singer-songwriter Austin Renfroe brings us a soulful and passionate pop rock Christmas song about appreciating the holidays.

7. WHY, “Can’t Everyday Be Like Xmas?” Canadian rockers WHY ponders the question every child asks during the holidays on this acoustic track.

8. The Hudson Branch, “White Christmas” The Chicago indie band’s acoustic spin on the Irving Berlin classic is perfect for a quiet December night.

9. Ryan LaPerle, “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home” Hailing from New Hampshire, singer-songwriter Ryan LaPerle gives another Christmas classic an impressive acoustic makeover.

10. My First Tooth, “Sleet & Snow” What would the holidays be without the hope for snow? Indie pop group My First Tooth ends our playlist with a beautiful original song dedicated to winter weather.

Make sure to leave us a comment and let us know what songs are on your holiday playlists! And don’t forget to check out more holiday songs in our Holiday Channel!

South Africa Rocks: The Parlotones

Starting a band is fairly simple, but building one into a success in Johannesburg, as The Parlotones have, took more legwork due in large part to the lack of a strong music scene. A household name in their homeland of South Africa—outselling bands like Oasis and The Killers in the country—The Parlotones still catch a “who?” outside of their homeland. But the Johannesburg-bred quartet are quickly permeating the global market with their rock, including the recent US debut of their release  Stardust Galaxies.

“It’s [Johannesburg] an eclectic mix of cultures, languages, makeshift venues, musical genres and DIY events that can be likened to running on a treadmill,” says vocalist Kahn Morbee, who like the rest of the band, covers up in black with some sprinkles of red, wrapping his eyes in spindly threads of noir liner like a new Tim Burton character. “A lot of effort goes into it, but it seems to go nowhere. It’s kind of like a genius kid—it shows a lot of promise but never quite taps into it effectively.” Still, a deficient music scene had little affect on the band’s love for their homeland. They’ve since relocated to London for easier access to Europe and the US but always consider Johannesburg home. In fact, Galaxies is a melodious homage to their hometown with its Nelson Mandela-inspired, synth-fused anthem, “Should We Fight Back,” stirred by the former president’s autobiography and “Long Walk to Freedom,” a more nostalgic ballad. “Remember When” wishes a real Batman would have come along during tough times.

All is not solemn but more reflective on Galaxies. It’s an echo of better times and worse days via South African upheavals and insidious epidemics—the relief of which is something the band thoroughly supports in their work as AIDS and malaria activists. Still, Galaxies is more than an indoctrinated call to the country’s socioeconomic issues. Pop-infused “Push Me to the Floor” leaves Morbee in a subtle Bryan Ferry moment of swoon while “Fly to the Moon”—perhaps The Parlotones’ own indie rendering of the Sinatra standard (“Fly Me to the Moon”)—about soaring into space with his Cinderella—is more love-bitten sentimentality. The title track is the perfect end to Galaxies, sweetly driven by Kate Bush-like vocals from South African colleague and Freshlyground’s vocalist Zohlani Mahola.

With a record officially out in the US and worldwide, 2010 has been quite an eventful year for The Parlotones.  They even launched their own wine (three debut bottles named after Parlotones’ songs) earlier this year. In 2011 they’ll return to the US, marking the second leg of their tour in support of Galaxies and including several SXSW dates. The band is also finishing work on a 3D film set for next spring; the idea for which was sparked by the band’s first 3D project with Sony 3D World in Nelson Mandela Square during the FIFA Kick off concert. “Coming from a territory that does not have a track record for producing global names in music, we have found we always need to be innovative and forward thinking,” says Morbee. “With the world being at the dawn of the 3D era it seemed like the perfect vehicle to present the band to a global audience. We cannot give away too much at this stage but we are going to bring our fans worldwide a new and unique experience.”

Even if The Parlotones are not a household name on every continent, they’re diligently working on getting there.

By Tina Benitez

Tina Benitez is a contributing writer, who covers music, wine and pop culture from her New York home office for publications like NY Press, Royal Flush, amNY, Men’s Fitness, Venus Zine and Wine Spectator.

Needle in the Haystack Follow Up: Cameron Rafati

It’s been a great week with Needle in the Haystack artist Cameron Rafati! Cameron was generous enough to allow us to give away the free download “xOx” from his new album! It’s definitely a great track to have on your holiday play list! Hope you had time to check out the interview on If not, no worries you can link to it here. We also conducted a phone interview with Cameron the other day that we’ve put together in a video below. Check it out and let us know what you think of this well respected OurStage artist!

The Life and Trying Times of Kanye West

There’s famous, there’s infamous and there’s Kanye West. The hip hop star embodies both while somehow transcending them, too. What other rapper in the history of the world can claim to have brought about the worst moment of a US President’s term as, according to George W. Bush, West did when he accused him of not caring about black people following the national government’s delayed response after Hurricane Katrina pummeled the US Gulf Coast in 2005.

Like Eminem and Jay-Z, West is a rap rarity, successfully negotiating the tightrope that connects commercial and critical success with street cred. Pop Star Kanye has sold millions of albums and in seven years, made a dozen trips to the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart, produced music for Brandy and Mariah Carey, and collaborated with Madonna and Maroon 5′s Adam Levine. Meanwhile, Critical Darling Kanye has won fourteen GRAMMYs and seen three of his first four albums nominated for Album of the Year. His fifth effort, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, released on November 22, has received unanimous praise, and Rolling Stone gave it a rare five-star review. And Street Kanye, as producer and/or performer, gets to keep company with the likes of Lil Wayne, Eminem and Jay-Z—with whom he’ll release Watch the Throne in 2011—on record.

Then there’s a fourth side to West, the one that too often overshadows all the others: Troublemaker Kanye. He’s the poor sport who doesn’t know how to lose gracefully, or silently, and stormed the stage at the 2006 MTV Europe Music Awards when Justice and Simian’s “We Are Your Friends” won Best Video over his “Touch the Sky.” The conspiracy theorist who screamed racism and threatened to never again attend the MTV Video Music Awards in 2007 when Britney Spears was chosen to open the show over him and he lost in all five categories for which he was nominated.

He’s the controversy-baiting narcissist who posed as Jesus Christ on the cover of Rolling Stone in January of 2006 (complete with a crown of thorns) and whose latest album cover features an animated nude West being straddled by a winged female, also naked. The outspoken challenger of authority who slammed President Bush on national television during the live broadcast of the Concert for Hurricane Relief benefit for victims of Katrina. The reportedly drunken fool who most famously (and infamously) interrupted Taylor Swift’s Best Female Video acceptance speech (for “You Belong With Me”) at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards to anoint competitor Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” clip “one of the best videos of all time.”

West wouldn’t be arguably the most complicated guy in hip hop if he could take it and dish it out in equal measures. He took his lumps after the 2009 VMAs when he was criticized by the likes of Adam Lambert, Kelly Clarkson, Pink and Katy Perry and called an “asshole” off the record by President Barack Obama. And even as the three singles released prior to Fantasy failed to make much of a chart impact, he kept his cool.

But on November 12, West finally lost it. The man who raised his blood pressure past boiling point?: Today show host Matt Lauer, who, during a sit down with West, dared to show clips of the Taylor Swift incident and the interview in which Bush declared being called a racist by West to be the “all-time low” point of his presidency. Complaining (via Twitter, of course) about the “very brutal” interview during which he admonished Lauer for running the clips, West pulled out of a Today performance scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving and tweeted, “I feel very alone very used very tortured very forced very misunderstood very hollow very very misused.”

It’s hard to pinpoint the source of West’s misconduct. Perhaps he’s one of those temperamental talents, capricious and unpredictable, a volcano always on the verge of erupting. Or maybe he’s just a bully with extremely thin skin, who screams and runs for cover when the tables are turned against him. There have been rumors of a drinking problem (which some say led to his antics at last year’s VMAs). He’s had to cope with the sudden death of his mother, Donda, in 2007 due to complications following cosmetic surgery. And after the Today show blow-up, he found himself without an official mouthpiece when his publicist resigned after just three days on the job.

Of course, there’s a new record to promote, so the Kanye West Show must go on, temper tantrums, contradictory behavior, brilliant music and all. “I don’t hate Matt Lauer. We don’t promote hate. That’s the whole point!!! I promote love and truth! … All positive energy … all smiles. Much love to Matt and the whole Today Show,” he tweeted after his showdown with Lauer. He might never practice what he preaches or do unto others as he would have them do unto him, but then if he did, his beautiful dark twisted fantasy wouldn’t be so compelling.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is in stores now.

By Jeremy Helligar

Jeremy Helligar is a former staff writer for People, Teen People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly, who now writes about celebrities and pop culture from his couch in Buenos Aires.

Pop Is a Battlefield

Musicians are an unruly bunch. They’re in constant competition on and off the charts, going for each others’ jugulars—talking first and thinking later. Rappers have been throwing stones back and forth since the ’80s days of LL Cool J vs. Kool Moe Dee and Roxanne Shanté vs. The Real Roxanne. From the Supremes and the Rolling Stones to the Verve, Oasis and Sugababes, infighting among groups is nothing new. Solo pop stars, in comparison, were relatively cordial for years, and then the steel claws came out.

In a 1998 Movieline interview, Jennifer Lopez asked that Madonna not “spit” on her acting craft, while also aiming her slingshot at then-non-singer Gwyneth Paltrow as well as Winona Ryder.  Elton John, perhaps the most outspoken guy in pop, not only criticized the quality of his former BFF George Michael’s 2004 Patience album, but he also went on the record to caution Michael on the evils of his substance-abusing lifestyle. John, who famously pitched a hissy fit directed at Tina Turner while the two were rehearsing for VHI Divas Live in 1999, also once called “Die Another Day” by Madonna “the worst [James] Bond tune of all time.”

The bigger you are, the harder they go after you, and these days, Taylor Swift aside (and more on her later), nobody’s bigger than Lady Gaga.

Former Spice Girl turned designer Victoria Beckham went to town on Gaga in an interview this month with Women’s Wear Daily. “If I’m being completely honest, is it fair to say she may have become a little bit of a parody of herself?” she asked. Maybe, maybe not, but it’s quite the turnaround from Beckham’s Gaga POV in a Daily Mirror interview this past July: “Bit by bit she is finding her image, and it’s nice to see it, as she is undoubtedly a talented girl.” I suppose it’s a pop star’s prerogative to change her mind—and it definitely makes for more interesting reading.

So does M.I.A.’s take on Gaga. She griped in NME last spring that Gaga was ripping off Madonna and Grace Jones and dismissed her as a “good mimic.” Then in June, Katy Perry took a thinly veiled swipe at Gaga’s controversial “Alejandro” video, tweeting that “Using blasphemy as entertainment is as cheap as a comedian telling a fart joke.”

Gaga isn’t the only one bringing out the beast in her fellow performers. Elaine Paige referred to her No. 1 fan Susan Boyle as a “virus” during an interview after the South Banks Show Awards in January. And depending on whom you believe, Lou Reed may have blocked Susan Boyle’s attempt to sing his “Perfect Day” on America’s Got Talent in September (his people say US licensing issues, not Reed, were to blame), but he made it up to her by directing the video for Boyle’s “Perfect Day” video.

All is forgiven. If only things had gone so smoothly for Kanye West.  After he dissed Taylor Swift last year at the MTV Video Music Awards, legions of stars, including Kelly Clarkson, Pink and Adam Lambert jumped to Swift’s defense. Of course, Katy Perry joined the anti-West brigade tweeting the following message to the rapper: “FUCK U KANYE. IT’S LIKE U STEPPED ON A KITTEN.” Meow!

When words fail them, some stars let their videos do the dissing. Pink lampooned Jessica Simpson, among other starlets, in her 2006 “Stupid Girls” video. Eminem has skewered Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, ‘N Sync, Moby and Michael Jackson in his videos, and he’s gone several rounds with his alleged (by him) ex-lover Mariah Carey, who retaliated by dressing in drag as Eminem and playing him as a stalker in her “Obsessed” video.

Over in the U.K., Lily Allen has stood in for Gaga as a favorite pop-star punching bag since she broke on to the global pop scene in 2006. Katy Perry, naturally, started a war of words with her a few years back when she described herself as being a “slimmer version of Lily Allen.” In retaliation, Allen called Perry “crass” and in a truly post-millenial move, threatened to post her telephone number on the internet. What happened to simply challenging her to a fist fight, as an irate Mary J. Blige did in the ’90s during an Interview magazine chat with model Veronica Webb?

Joss Stone also took aim at Allen last year, calling her “more of a personality than she is a singer,” and responded to her anti-filesharing stance by saying, “[Lily] needs to sell records because she’s not a singer, and that’s not an offence to her because I think that she knows that too.”

And on October 31, UK X Factor judges Cheryl Cole and Dannii Minogue gave Jamiroquai’s Jay Kay a rather frosty reception after his band performed on the show because of some expletive-laden comments Kay made about the show and the credibility of its judges shortly before his appearance. (The printable portion: “You’re useless. The pair of you.”) Cole won the war a week later when her second solo effort, Messy Little Raindrops, entered the UK album chart at No. 1, six notches above Jamiroquai’s new Rock Dust Light Star. Check. Mate.

By Jeremy Helligar

Jeremy Helligar is a former staff writer for People, Teen People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly, who now writes about celebrities and pop culture from his couch in Buenos Aires.

Needle in the Haystack: Cameron Rafati

This week’s winner of the Needle in the Haystack award is Cameron Rafati! Not only is Rafati a powerful singer and a fantastic songwriter, but he’s just an overall fun dude. In high school, 6’6’’ Rafati was always pressured out of his natural musicial aspirations to pursue sports. Eventually, his passion for music over powered his ability to dunk, and his music career began. Rafati was recently invited as an Official Artist to the Sundance Film Festival, playing 10 shows in 8 days. He then shared the stage with PRAS from the Fugees for their acoustic rendition of “Ghetto Superstar” for the official Haiti Relief Fundraiser at the festival.
Rafati’s entrepreneurial instincts have gotten him to where he is today, and we think that he has what it takes to really make it in this industry. Take a listen to his music and let us know what you think. There is much more of Rafati and his fun personality to come, so stay tuned!

Hollywood Stars Sing for Their Supper

From Justin Timberlake (The Social Network) and Tim McGraw (The Blind Side and Country Strong) to Janet Jackson (For Colored Girls) and Christina Aguilera (Burlesque), pop stars no longer act just to fill dead space between albums. And the career exchange is working the other way around, too. Charlie’s Angel Cheryl Ladd had a hit single in the ’70s; Bruce Willis, Patrick Swayze (may he rest in peace), Don Johnson and Eddie Murphy had one Top 10 apiece in the ’80s; and Jennifer Lopez spent the early ’00s as one of the hottest women in pop. But lately, what every actor (and reality TV star) seems to really want to do isn’t direct—it’s sing.
Leading the current musical parade is Gwyneth Paltrow, who scored a Billboard No. 1 Adult Contemporary hit in 2000 with a cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’,” a duet she mastered with Huey Lewis.  Now she’s targeting Nashville and possibly a second Oscar with her role as an alcoholic singer in Country Strong (opening December 22). She’s already getting country radio airplay with the title song and performed it live, to a standing ovation, at the Country Music Awards on November 10. She also just made her superstar guest appearance on Glee.

Meanwhile, Paltrow’s Country Strong costar Leighton Meester, who’s also a regular on Gossip Girl—which features moonlighting rocker Ed Westwick (Chuck Bass)—is releasing an album on the Universal Republic label, and already hit the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 last year as a featured artist on Cobra Starship’s “Good Girls Go Bad.”

Paltrow’s Iron Man costar Jeff Bridges won an Oscar in March for playing the male version of her Country Strong character in Crazy Heart (music from the film, by rising country star Ryan Bingham, who also acted in the film, received plenty of accolades as well). Iron Man 2‘s Scarlett Johansson released Anywhere I Lay My Head, an album of Tom Wait covers, in 2008 and Break Up, with Pete Yorn, in 2009. And Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr., has sung on the soundtracks to several of his films and onstage at the 2008 American Idol finale, appeared in an Elton John video and released a CD called The Futurist.

Joaquin Pheonix, Paltrow’s costar in last year’s Two Lovers, performed his own vocals for his Oscar-nominated performance as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line and spent the entire 2010 documentary I’m Still Here trying to make it as a rapper.

Maybe it’s the rebirth of the Hollywood musical—and/or the drive to hang on to fame by all means necessary—that’s convinced so many actors that they can make it in music, too (no, not you, David Hasselhoff). Phoenix’s Walk the Line costar Reese Witherspoon won an Oscar for her singing efforts as June Carter Cash. Catherine Zeta-Jones scored both an Oscar (Chicago) and a Tony (A Little Night Music) for musical performances. Penelope Cruz just got nominated for uncaging her inner songbird in Nine, alongside fellow Oscar winners Daniel Day-Lewis, Dame Judi Dench, Sophia Loren and Nicole Kidman, who—like Kate Winslet and the late Britanny Murphy (may she rest in peace)—has hit the Top 10 in the UK as a singer.

Even Oscar queen Meryl Streep has gotten into the song and dance, massacring the ABBA catalog in the 2008 musical Mamma Mia! And recent Academy honoree Mo’Nique delivered a song-stealing monologue on “Don’t Take Your Hat Off,” a track on Toni Braxton’s last album. Jamie Foxx, who won his Oscar for reincarnating music icon Ray Charles in Ray, has released two platinum albums and has a third set, Body, due on December 14. Kevin Bacon, Dennis Quaid, Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe, Zoey Deschanel, Adrian Grenier, Juliette Lewis, Keanu Reeves, Jason Schwartzman and Robert Pattinson all have moonlighted as musicians; Jared Leto’s band 30 Seconds to Mars seems to have become a bigger priority than acting; veteran actor Chris Mulkey (HBO’s The Boardwalk Empire) is also a well known country singer and Steve Martin’s The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo won a 2010 Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album.

Among the younger set, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez were all Disney stars before becoming successful recording artists (as were Fergie, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Jennifer Love Hewitt) and Aubrey Drake Graham spent eight years playing Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi: The Next Generation before becoming platinum-selling rapper Drake. Will and Jada Smith’s actor kids are also making musical noise. Son Jaden, 12, had a Top 40 hit earlier this year rapping with Justin Bieber on “Never Say Never,” and his 9-year-old sister Willow‘s “Whip My Hair” is a current pop smash that has some calling her a future Beyoncé. Then there’s, Josh Groban, who will release his fifth album, Illuminations, on November 15 and also costars with Steve Carell in the 2011 comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. He initially set out to be an actor, getting his big break in a 2001 episode of Ally McBeal, before detouring permanently into singing.

Since talent is optional in pop, and sometimes all you need is a good producer and auto-tune, reality stars are entering the mix, too. (No diss intended to Project Runway host Heidi Klum, who sang on “Wedding Day,” a track on her husband Seal’s 2007 album, System.) The Hills’ Heidi Montag and The Simple Life’s Paris Hilton, perhaps inspired by the pop careers of dueling starlets Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff in the mid ’00s, both released their own albums. Montag already tanked early this year (Earth to former reality star: If you want to be taken seriously in music, don’t call your debut album Superficial), but at least Hilton earned a Top 10 hit and decent reviews for Paris in 2006 and has a follow-up in the works.

Of course, Kim “I’ll do anything to stay in the spotlight” Kardashian is working with producer The-Dream (Rihanna, Beyoncé, Mariah Carey) on her debut album, and has said, “I would like the music to sound a bit like Lady GaGa, Britney Spears and J.Lo with a bit of an R ‘n’ B twist to it.” Such lofty ambitions!

Down south, The Real Housewives of Atlanta‘s Kandi Burruss, who had several hits with the girl group Xscape in the ’90s and co-wrote Destiny’s Child’s “Bills Bills Bills” and TLC’s “No Scrubs,” among other hits, is about to relaunch her music career with her second solo album, Kandi Koated, on December 14. And it’s probably only a matter of time before Hiltons’ The Simple Life costar, Nicole Richie, follows her dad, Lionel Richie, and her fiancé, Good Charlotte’s Joel Madden, into the family business.

But no Hollywood star has made as much of a recent dent in pop as the cast of Glee, who just surpassed the Beatles’ record for the most hits on Billboard’s Hot 100. Their schtick of taking other people’s songs for one-week spins on the chart is wearing thin—I never got the show and probably never will—but these days in life, Hollywood and pop, only a few things are certain: death, taxes, another actor-turned-singer, and a weekly barrage of Hot 100 entries by the cast of Glee.

Kandi – Leave U [Official Video]

By Jeremy Helligar

Jeremy Helligar is a former staff writer for People, Teen People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly, who now writes about celebrities and pop culture from his couch in Buenos Aires.


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