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Sound And Vision: Fake Pop Stars — The Rise and Continued Rise of Rebecca Black

Paris Hilton.

Kim Kardashian.

Heidi Montag.

Julianne Hough.

In a world where making a record is as easy as starring on reality TV, and even easier when you have your own show, Rebecca Black was bound to happen.

Don’t worry. Black, the fourteen-year-old from Anaheim, California, who made us wonder if she was making fun of shallow pop stars or being one herself in her viral YouTube video “Friday,” hasn’t gotten her own reality show. Yet. But isn’t it only just a matter of time?

What she does have is a level of fame—or infamy, depending on how you want to look at it—without having any discernible singing talent. Before it was yanked from YouTube in June over a dispute between Black and her former record label, Ark Music Factory, her “Friday” video had logged some 161 million views. Black became an Internet favorite, with article after online article devoted to her and her music—well, her song. Some people loved her; some people hated her; everyone was talking about her. Everybody’s still talking. Katy Perry even invited Black to costar in her “T.G.I.F. (Last Friday Night)” video.

Yes, Rebecca Black is a huge hit. Ironically, though, she has yet to have one. For all of the hoopla surrounding it, “Friday” was never a commercial success as a single. It peaked at No. 58 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and didn’t fare much better anywhere it was released.

Australia, one of the few places where “Friday” made it to the Top 40, is about to launch its own fourteen-year-old star, Jack Vidgen, recent winner of Australia’s Got Talent. Sadly, it’s gonna take a miracle—or maybe a Black cameo in his video—to give Vidgen’s career any momentum in the US, which Justin Bieber aside, has been resistant to young male solo pop (i.e., white) stars since Justin Timberlake went Hollywood.

Continue reading ‘Sound And Vision: Fake Pop Stars — The Rise and Continued Rise of Rebecca Black’

Sound And Vision: Five Music Stars With Family Members You Didn’t Know Were (Almost) Famous

For many an aspiring singer, having the right last name can provide a considerable career boost. Though the pop flames of many celebrity offspring and siblings burn out after a handful of hits, if that many (poor Julian Lennon, Jakob Dylan, Lisa-Marie Presley, Wilson Phillips, Nelson, Lalah Hathaway, Louise Mandrell, Stella Parton and Ashlee Simpson), a precious few have managed to sustain significant music careers. (Natalie Cole and Liza Minnelli come immediately to mind, as do Rosanne Cash, Pam Tillis and Nancy Sinatra.) Meanwhile, Sean Ono Lennon has never troubled himself with the pursuit of mainstream success, and the jury is still out on Miley Cyrus and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith‘s brood.
Francis Bean Cobain, your move.
While we’re waiting for the daughter of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love to claim what would seem to be her birthright, we’ve got plenty of big names from musical families to entertain us—though many fans might not even realize their impressive lineages. Family value may have given these performers opportunities early on, but in the end, like Nancy Sinatra’s dad, they did it their way—not because of their surnames. Yes, nepotism is alive and well in pop—and it probably will continue to be—but these brothers and sisters (and sons and daughters) are doing it, for the most part, for better and worse, for themselves.

Ke$ha

The woman who is responsible for some of the trendiest pop hits this side of Katy Perry’s breasts is actually a little bit country. Seriously. Though I wouldn’t expect her to break out into yodeling mid-song, in-between swigs of Jack, I also never say never. Her mom Pebe Sebert cowrote “Old Flames Can’t Hold a Candle To You,” which was  No. 1 country hit for Dolly Parton in 1980. I once interviewed Parton, and when I told her that “Old Flames” was one of my favorite of her songs growing up, she feigned indignation and snapped, “Oh, and it just happens to be one I didn’t write!” So not only is Ke$ha responsible for throwing “Tik Tok” on an unsuspecting world, but thanks to her mom, I incited the ire of Dolly.
Albert Hammond Jr.
I didn’t think it was possible, but the dad and namesake of the Strokes guitarist might be even cooler than his little boy— if you happen to be a fan of ’70s and ’80s soft-rock. I saw an infomercial for his most recent album, Legend, on Australian TV recently, and I was shocked by all of the major hits the singer and producer has written (from his own “It Never Rains in Southern California” and the Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe” to Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias’s “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” and Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”). His most recent high-profile production: Endlessly, the sophomore album by Welsh singer Duffy, who, contrary to popular belief, is not the daughter of Shakin’ Stevens.
Chord Overstreet
Why don’t the Glee kids give more props to country music? After all, one of their very own, Overstreet, the blond-haired, pout-lipped actor who plays the blond-haired, pout-lipped Sam Evans, is directly descended from Paul Overstreet, one of the biggest country stars of the late ’80s and early ’90s, with nine straight Top 10 hits, including two No. 1s. Though the cast of Glee have yet to make it to Billboard’s country singles chart, Overstreet the elder must be proud that over on the Hot 100, his Nashville-born son is part of the act that’s now had more hits than Elvis.
Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum
Speaking of country, Lady Antebellum has two members who are part of the family business. Hillary Scott’s mom, Linda Davis, had a No. 1 GRAMMY-winning hit duet with Reba McEntire in 1993 called “Does He Love You.” Charles Kelly’s big brother Josh is a singer-songwriter who’s married to former Grey’s Anatomy star and current rom-com regular Katherine Heigl. Thanksgiving dinner at the Kelley’s house must be some star-studded affair. I wonder if there’s a red carpet leading to the turkey?

FINE TUNINGS: THE XY FACTOR

osblog_finetunings_07I’ll admit it, I’m a little bit obsessed with Mad Men, the hit series that impeccably recreates the decadence, repression and cherished “family values” of the early ‘60s. The story of the upscale Draper family, who appear to have everything, is viewed through the lens of patriarch, Don Draper, an up-and-coming but mysterious Madison Avenue advertising agency executive.

The show drips with authenticity through a prism of what was and is no longer socially acceptable (drinking, smoking, littering, talking). What I have found especially fascinating about the show, are the three lead female characters. There’s Betty, the beautiful but depressed dutiful wife and mother; Peggy, the ambitious career woman struggling to be taken seriously by the men in the office; and Joan, the head secretary/sexpot who sleeps with her married boss, but keeps all the other “girls” in the office in their place.

In the Mad Men era, women were seen but not heard. Betty, Peggy and Joan lived their fictitious lives with feelings hidden under wraps (it wouldn’t be ladylike to do otherwise) and numerous disappointments —mostly caused by the men in their lives—to themselves. A woman’s place was in the home and her role was as confining as her corset.

Last week on my blog, I interviewed writer Jessica Hopper. When I asked her to name the most challenging aspect of writing her book, “The Girls’ Guide to Rocking,” she said:

“The careers of many women, before the women’s lib era often had a similar trajectory that involved being robbed of their royalties by a bad pimp-like boyfriend/manager figure.”

Maybe I have seen one too many episodes of Mad Men, but that line really stuck with me. I wondered, are women more musically independent now or are most still overshadowed by a more powerful and occasionally nefarious male authority?

I posed this question up to a friend of mine who has a successful male trifecta on her resume: a famous father, a famous ex-husband and a famous cut on a famous male musician’s famous debut album. That’s a whole lotta famous. But it’s a sticky wicket if you want to be taken seriously as an artist on your own terms. “I don’t want people to think I’m just a groupie, like Pamela DesBarres,” she says.

These days, Miss Pamela teaches writing classes, but even though she was a member of the band, the GTOs, everyone knows her for the classic memoir I’m with the Band, which details her numerous sexual dalliances with famous rock stars.

Once you become known for the famous male company you keep, is it possible to surpass that public perception and be your own woman?

Courtney Love will forever be associated with Kurt Cobain, an identity she realizes puts her in a league she wouldn’t be in otherwise, and a role she nurtures. There’s no doubt that marriage to Kurt raised Courtney’s profile. Yet, this bonus neutralizes a significant amount of her own artistic integrity because his name will forever be attached to hers.

Yoko Ono has always been demonized by the perception that she was responsible for the break-up of the Beatles. No matter how many albums she records, she will forever be overshadowed by John Lennon’s legacy.

Drummer Meg White inspired an entire generation of young girls to play drums. But when The White Stripes started out, Meg and Jack, formerly married, were coy about the nature of their relationship and pretended to be siblings. Meg has taken a lot of heat for not being as musically savvy as Jack and will likely always be associated with him.

Alanis Morissette? It is often argued that her success belongs to songwriter, Glen Ballard, who wrote the songs on her breakout album, Jagged Little Pill.

Joan Jett defers business decisions to her long-time producer, Kenny Laguna. But long before Kenny, Joan’s first band, The Runaways, was heavily influenced by male producer and limelight stealer, Kim Fowley.

No matter what she does musically, Shania Twain will forever be entwained with her ex-husband, producer Mutt Lange.

Ronnie Spector? Some people believe that producer and husband Phil Spector was entirely responsible for the hits. “Anyone could have sung those songs,” a pro-Phil journalist once told me.

And once you have divorced your musical partner, can you ever go back to being just yourself? Carole King? Gerry Goffin. Ellie Greenwich? Jeff Barry. Cher? Sonny. Carly Simon? James Taylor.

Fleetwood Mac? The material culled from two couple break-ups within the band proved to be more than just Rumors.

Even one-time tough gal Pat Benatar co-bills her husband, guitarist Neil Geraldo on the marquis.

Janet Jackson owes her career to the five male Jacksons that came before.

Miley Cyrus long-ago eclipsed the fame of her “Achey Breaky” dad but probably would not have had a shot without him. Jessica and Ashlee Simpson both had father Joe in charge.

Would anyone care about Lisa Marie Presley if it weren’t for her ultra-famous DNA? And I don’t mean Priscilla’s.

My pal Jeff argues that the reason so many female artists appear to have male svengalis at the helm of their careers is because, “there are just more of them,” he says. But I disagree. I believe the music industry frowns on women who don’t show up with a male stamp of approval to get them through the door.

Of course, there is Madonna and Bonnie Raitt and Patti Smith and Tori Amos, artists we all agree are indisputably in charge. But it sure has been a long time since one female artist showed up that everyone knew and agreed that, without question, was the one that wore the pants in both her songwriting and her business decisions.

The only example I can think of where the reverse scenario is true is with actor, Tom Arnold, who rode Rosanne Barr’s coat-tails to fame. But that’s not about music.

It may seem like we’ve come a long way, baby, but in some r-e-s-p-e-c-t-s, when it comes to being taken seriously on their own as musicians, women still have a long way to go.

MY TAKE ON WOMEN IN RRROCK

Am I the only one who’s sad that the Riot Grrrl movement is over? Alright, so I’m a bit too young to remember all of it. But if we’re going to split hairs here, then I’m also too young for Nirvana, which basically means my life is over. So let’s agree: no hair-splitting. 

Kat in her mid-90's grunge glory

Kat in her mid-90's grunge glory

I just wish I could have witnessed the riot in the flesh: Kat Bjelland blowing people away with her screaming vocals in Babes in Toyland. Nowadays, a girl in a rock band is a novelty. If I had a dollar for every “Looking for female bassist/guitarist/drummer” Craigslist ad I’ve seen for an otherwise all-male band, I could buy a new bass.

Really, what is it that makes us grrrls in bands some type of rare bird, present only for others’ amusement? Or, even worse, an object to be watched and critiqued with every pound we gain or lose?  Women in rock bands are often seen as the same thing: a pretty face to be watched closely in an otherwise “boys only” picture. But last time I checked it wasn’t 1950.

"You're pretty good for a girl." "Thanks? You're pretty nice for a jerk."

"You're pretty good for a girl." "Thanks? You're pretty nice for a jerk."

Not to sound too cynical but mainstream female musicians aren’t helping matters. Ask the average 15 to 20-year-old female to name the first “girl rocker” that come to mind, and I bet you’ll hear Avril Lavigne (she says she writes all her songs but her writers say otherwise), Gwen Stefani (is she still a rocker? or maybe a designer? or just a holla back girl?) or even Ashlee Simpson (she lip syncs and there’s nothing punk about that).

Now the question is, “what can we do to change people’s perceptions of women in rock?” The answer is simple: don’t tell people, show people. The only way to get deserving rocker chicks the RIGHT kind of attention is to share their songs and let the music do the talking. Check out the playlist below for starters. This short but sweet list of songs was hand chosen from my personal favorite OurStage ladies. And it’s not about production value or rankings, just rock.

*Note: Andrea from Tunnlvision isn’t the singer, she’s responsible for that killer bass intro in “On the Fly.”

Want to check out the coolest chick guitarist you probably haven’t seen before? Watch Boris guitarist Wata shredding.

 


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