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GRAMMY Gossip

Last week, the 2012 GRAMMY Nominees album was released digitally and in stores with twenty-two classic hits from the past year. As we get closer to February 12 telecast, the anticipation has gotten us all on the soapbox. This morning, I caught the OurStage staff gossiping over coffee about their predicted winners of various categories. Here’s what they had to say…

Rebecca- “I think Nicki Minaj will win Best New Artist because I’m still not sick of “Super Bass”.”

Scott- “Who will win Record of the Year? I haven’t heard those other records in full… so I’m going to go with Adele.”

Milo- “For Song of the Year? I’ll be going with um… Adele.”

Jordan- “Adele will definitely win Album of the Year. By the time she’s done riding that album just about every song will have been a smash hit.”

Ashley- “Seriously though, I never heard of this Skrillex fellow until I started here and now every time I turn around I see that name.”

Kristin- “Guy… you just sounded like “nana”.”

Jordan- “Why is the Hard Rock/Metal performance category always so hilariously bad? Sum 41? Are they for real? Foo Figters are also in there, which is less embarrassing, but still not optimal.”

Wake- “Skrillex owns us all.”

Jordan- “WOMP WOMP… WUB WUB WUB WUB… WOMP SCREEEEEEEECH WUB WUB… WOOOMP.”

Martin- “The new generational divide: dubstep.”

So there you have it folks, the OurStage staff seems pretty confident that Adele and Skrillex will bring home a GRAMMY…or more. Adele’s talent has gotten her six nominations in total and Skrillex’s impressive two year career has completely set the trend for dubstep in America. Now it’s time to ask you, who do you think is going to bring home a GRAMMY? Leave your comments below…

Check out the nominations for each category here.

Is Adele “Black” Enough for the NAACP Image Awards?

According to the Web site for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), its mission is a simple yet noble one: “to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.’”

Elsewhere on the Web site, the NAACP offers a detailed description of its annual Image Awards: “the nation’s premier multi-cultural awards show celebrating the outstanding achievements and performances of people of color in the arts (television, recording, literature, motion picture and writing and directing), as well as those individuals or groups who promote social justice through their creative endeavors.”

Got that? Okay.

If those definitions hold, what, then, is a singer like Adele doing in a place like this, as a nominee at the 43rd Annual NAACP Image Awards?

She recently received two NAACP Image Award nominations—Oustanding Song and Video for her massive No. 1 hit “Someone Like You”—and, presumably, she will be on hand to win or lose when the prizes are handed out on February 17, live on NBC. Naturally, controversy—and publicity—ensued because unlike fellow multiple-nominee Beyoncé, Adele happens to be white.

But you already knew that. So what, exactly, does Adele or her music have to do with the advancement of “colored people”?

It makes one wonder who is on the NAACP’s nominating committee and what their motives might be? Maybe collecting more press attention by inviting the best-selling artist of 2011 to the ceremony as a double nominee and stirring the controversy pot while they’re at it.

Or perhaps the Adele is the behind-the-scenes key to why the ceremony, which is normally broadcast on the Fox network, found a home this year on the considerably whiter NBC. It will air five days after the GRAMMYs, and if Adele is that evening’s big winner—and we have every reason to expect her to be—she’ll be the best bait to lure viewers to the Image Awards short of raising Michael Jackson from the dead and giving him a ticket to the event.

NBC will win, but artists who are truly representative of music of color won’t. Unlike past British blue-eyed soul singers like George Michael and Lisa Stansfield, up to now, Adele hasn’t even displayed any particularly powerful affinity to American black music (it’s telling that the artists she covered on her first two albums, 19 and 21, were Bob Dylan and the Cure), and although she’s earned the respect of black performers (Jeremih, for one, has covered “Rumour Has It” live), it’s not like Adele’s singles have been big hits on R&B radio.

It’s a little absurd that she would make the Outstanding Video shortlist while Kelly Rowland, a black performer who had the best video of the year by anyone of any color, was left off for “Motivation.” Meanwhile, conspicuously absent from the list of nominees in the music categories: Rihanna, the top black female artist at the moment, whose music or whose, um, image, apparently, isn’t black enough for NAACP recognition.

So why is Adele’s? She’s a great singer, and she sings with great soul, but she’s not a “soul” singer. There is a distinction, you know, and it has less to do with being a certain color than sounding a certain color. The late Teena Marie may have been white, but she was a soul singer right down to her core. Every note that comes out of Adele’s mouth sounds like a gift from God, but there’s no mistaking the color of the wrapping paper.

While I’m not a genre purist, and I don’t support musical segregation based on race, by its very definition, the NAACP is a segregationist organization. Not in a way that screams, “Blacks only!” but in a way that is meant to promote and advance minorities, people of color (which would include 2012 Image acting nominees Sandra Oh and Sofia Vergara). There’s no getting around that aspect of the NAACP—it’s not written in stone,  just into its name.

Maybe it’s time to rethink the acronym and what it stands for (it hasn’t been okay to call blacks “colored people” in my lifetime), as well as defining the NAACP’s purpose when it comes to the Image Awards’s music categories and the need for them to begin with. It makes sense to honor minority actors in TV and film because they are largely overlooked at the Emmys and the Oscars. This year, the acting nominations for Emma Stone and Bryce Dallas Howard, both of whom are white, feel appropriate because The Help was a film that detailed the black-white experience in the Deep South of the 1960s, and of the principal cast, they’re the two who were left out of the Oscar discussion—and nominations.

But mainstream music award shows already do a pretty good job of honoring and featuring black talent. And it’s not like Adele isn’t going to get her due everywhere else. Do we need to add the Image Awards to the list of Adele-propping organizations? Aren’t all of those GRAMMYs she’s destined to win on February 12 enough?

One could argue that the NAACP Image Awards isn’t even seriously dedicated to advancing or celebrating black music. What else would explain the absence of a category to honor rap, the premiere black musical art form in 2012? This means Adele is nominated and not Nicki Minaj, a popular rapper who is possibly the best role model on the charts today.

If image were the primary concern, and one would expect it to be with an “Image” award, Minaj’s is more than worthy of merit. She has done as much as anyone to bridge genres and color-based demographics. Her biggest hit, “Super Bass,” received some of its earliest praise from Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez, and she’s collaborated with artists as varied—and white—as Eminem, Natasha Bedingfield, David Guetta, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Ke$ha, the Lonely Island and Madonna. Minaj also has been as much of an advocate for gay rights as Lady Gaga without being patronizing about it. Meanwhile, Adele collects accolade after accolade and basks in the glow of her spotlight.

I’m not saying that Adele doesn’t deserve everything she’s gotten. She does—with the exception of this. If she wins either of the Image awards she’s nominated for—and considering how weak the Outstanding Video category is, how could she not?—in what way will that be advancing people of color, or their music?

Kelly Clarkson’s Ron Paul Twitter Endorsement — Should Pop Stars and Politics Mix?

Affairs of the heart and affairs of state. The two have been intertwined in music—sometimes harmoniously , sometimes cacophonously—since around the time Bob Dylan declared that the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.

In the ’80s, pop stars added a humanitarian angle, which spawned Band-Aid, USA for Africa and, since 9/11, the occasional celebrity-studded telethon during which stoic actors and reverent musicians seek monetary relief for victims of international catastrophes. Pop stars pose with world leaders; political hopefuls adopt rock classics as campaign themes; Lady Gaga and Madonna stand up for gay rights; Sonny Bono even ran for Congress and won.

In recent years, the politics of dancing—of music, in general—have been less about policy and more about moving and feeling good. That hasn’t stopped top stars from making political stands onstage and off. But if you’re going to try to save the world in five minutes of song—as U2 has been doing for the better part of three decades—or publicly put your faith in a specific candidate on the eve of a Presidential election year, you’d better do it well.

Which is exactly what Kelly Clarkson didn’t do on December 29. The woman best known for being the first American Idol winner and scoring frothy hits like “Since You’ve Been Gone” and “My Life Would Suck Without You,” publicly endorsed US Presidential candidate Ron Paul for the Republican Party nomination on Twitter—of all places—and, unfortunately, with all the insight and depth of a high school student discussing student-council elections.

I love Ron Paul,” she tweeted via her WhoSay page. “I liked him a lot during the last republican nomination and no one gave him a chance. If he wins the nomination for the Republican party in 2012 he’s got my vote. Too bad he probably won’t.”

Newspapers, fellow politicians and even Hollywood stars endorse and support candidates every election cycle, and pop stars show up every four years to perform at Presidential inaugurations, regardless of their political affiliation. But when they enter the political ring with their ringing endorsements in 140 characters or less on Twitter, it can be dangerous for both parties—and not just the political ones.

The stars risk not only alienating fans who support the opposite side but sounding uninformed as well. (It’s hard to get coherent points across in Twitter’s tiny comment box.) The candidates risk guilt (and plummeting poll numbers) by association with shallow pop stars.

It’s hard to tell whether Paul’s subsequent placings in the Republican primaries—No. 3 in Iowa on January 3, No. 2 in New Hampshire on January 10—had anything to do with Clarkson, and his effect on her album sales are equally unclear. Her fifth album, Stronger, has racked up ho-hum sales since its release October, and while the first single , “Mr. Know It All,” reached No. 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100, overall, response to it has been tepid. For Katy Perry, it might be considered a flop.

Depending on how you interpret the numbers, Clarkson either flourished or faltered in the week following her Twitter alliance with Paul. According to Billboard.com, “Mr. Know It All” sold 123,000 downloads (it’s highest weekly tally in seventeen weeks of chart action), and jumped from No. 32 to No. 20 on the Hot 100, but Billboard credits the normal holiday sales surge for active singles. Though its 55 percent digital sales increase was the second largest in the Top 50, all but three titles in the Top 75 enjoyed a boost in sales.

Meanwhile, overall sales of the album actually dropped 40 percent for the week ending January 1 (41,000 to 25,000), while digital sales increased 232 percent (to 14,000). As Billboard sees it, however, that boost probably has more to do with iTunes’ heavy promotion and $7.99 sales-pricing of Stronger (which also may have influenced digital sales of the single) rather than the artist’s political stance, which, in the end, might damage her reputation among her more liberal Democratic-leaning fans.

She’s a formerly apolitical singer with a substantial gay fan base backing a candidate from a party that doesn’t support gay marriage. Does that mean she feels the same way? In the hours after her tweet, Clarkson engaged in a war of words with some of her “followers,” many of whom dubbed Paul racist and homophobic. (Incidentally, Clarkson’s fellow pop singer Michelle Branch, sided with Team Kelly, tweeting “I wholeheartedly agree” to her Paul endorsement. Luckily for Branch—in this context, at least—she’s not exactly tops of the pops anymore, so few seemed to notice.) Eventually, Clarkson took to WhoSay in her own defense.

“I am really sorry if I have offended anyone. Obviously that was not my intent. I do not support racism. I support gay rights, straight rights, women’s rights, men’s rights, white/black/purple/orange rights. I like Ron Paul because he believes in less government and letting the people (all of us) make the decisions and mold our country. That is all. Out of all of the Republican nominees, he’s my favorite.”

Too bad she didn’t say that in the first place. Pop singers are entitled to their political opinions like everybody else, but when they begin publicly endorsing controversial candidates like Paul, who has been targeted for racist newsletters sent out under his name in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s (which he’s disavowed), they should proceed with great caution.

In the Twitter age, when stars can interact directly with fans, it’s more important to be mindful of what you say and how you say it, which makes entering the political fray an even more slippery slope, especially for stars like Clarkson, Katy Perry, Rihanna and Adele, who are among the most influential people on the planet. Young people want to dress like them, act like them, be them, even many who are over the voting age of eighteen.

When fans start wanting to vote like them, too… Well, if they don’t have something insightful and enlightening to add to the political discussion, it’s probably best to stay out of it and just shut up and sing.

Vocal Points: A Few Words Of Advice

Over the course of writing this column, I’ve come across some pretty sensational vocalists, and I had the chance to pick many of their brains about the most important aspects of being a professional singer. I’ve also observed many of the biggest voices in music, and the way that their voices have developed and changed over time. Getting up and singing for an audience, whether you’re a professional singer or just someone who loves to sing, is not easy. So, here is a list of some of the advice I’ve encountered while writing Vocal Points that may help the aspiring singers out there:

  1. Everyone can sing. This is probably the most important piece of advice I’ve encountered because so often we feel that only certain people are blessed with a beautiful voice. As vocal therapist Mark Baxter said in his OurStage interview, “Singing came before speech. Humans are instinctively wired to send and receive melodic passages of emotional statements.” So if you love to sing, don’t let anyone else stand in your way.
  2. Nobody is perfect. Its important to remember that our favorite vocalists got to be so good because of hard work and practice. As Kevin Devine explained to me, “I think I’ve embraced my limitations as a singer and tried to re-frame them as strengths. “
  3. Continue reading ‘Vocal Points: A Few Words Of Advice’

Sound And Vision: What Will George Michael Do with His Second Chance at Life?

It’s been nearly eight years since George Michael released an entire album of new music, and three since he put out a single that wasn’t a cover of New Order’s “True Faith.” But in 2011, the singer-songwriter starred in what must have been one of the year’s most gripping YouTube videos, two minutes as gripping and heartfelt as anything on Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, his essential 1990 album.

There was no music, and Michael didn’t sing a note. In the clip, which was posted on December 23, Michael gave a press conference in which he discussed his recent near-death experience that began on November 21 on the Vienna stop of his forty-eight-date European tour and which he described as “the worst month of my life.” The normally robust singer, who had contracted a chest infection that was later diagnosed as life-threatening pneumonia and spent a month in hospital in Vienna (including ten days in the intensive-care unit), appeared gaunt and gray, often struggling to catch his breath.

In a year that took so many of music’s greats (R.I.P., Amy Winehouse, Nikolas Ashford, Phoebe Snow, Vesta Williams, Clarence Clemons, Dobie Gray, Billie Jo Spears), Michael is truly lucky to be alive —and he knows it. So what’s next? First, as he said in the interview, he will reschedule the cancelled dates on the Symphonica Tour that he was staging throughout Europe and the UK when his illness struck. The shows featured Michael performing his own hits and non-hits as well as select covers (including Winehouse’s “Love Is a Losing Game”) with a symphonic orchestra.

Continue reading ‘Sound And Vision: What Will George Michael Do with His Second Chance at Life?’

 


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