This year’s usual GRAMMY festivities were obviously overshadowed by the shocking passing of Whitney Houston. Unable to ignore the noticeably solemn sense in the room, LL Cool J opened the night with a heartfelt prayer for the fallen superstar, saying, “We’ve had a death in our family.”
Adele took home the first televised award of the night for Best Pop Performance for her smash hit,“Someone Like You”. Later in the night, she gave a jaw-dropping performance of her hit, “Rolling In The Deep” just weeks after having surgery on her vocal chords. She went on to win all six awards she was nominated for, including Album Of The Year. Other big winners were The Foo Fighters who nabbed four trophies.
Although the performances are usually the highlight of the evening, this year’s showings seemed to be miss their usual spark. Bruno Mars performed in his usual 50’s du-wop style, with a big bag of new dance moves and the same old-school costumes. Alicia Keys and Bonnie Rait paid tribute to the legendary Etta James with a duet of her song, “ Sunday Kind Of Love”, after also acknowledging their love of Whitney. Chris Brown graced the GRAMMY stage for the first time since the 2009 incident, after Clive’s Davis’ annual dinner, that left Rihanna bruised and bloodied. Dressed in all white, he performed “Beautiful People” and showcased his signature dance skills by climbing up an elaborate stage set complete with lasers and back-flipping back-up dancers.
Rihanna performed a slowed down version of “We Found Love” in a sexy skin-tight outfit andbleached blonde hair and black lipstick. . The laser-filled set featured dozens of dancers storming that stage and creating a club right inside the GRAMMYs. She quickly switched gears and joined Chris Martin for their hit, “Coulda Been” before Coldplay closed their set with their hit, “Paradise”.
In one of the night’s most touching moments, Jennifer Hudson gave a powerful tribute to her idol with a performance of Whitney Houston’s hit “I Will Always Love You” to a tearful crowd. She ended by saying, “Whitney, we’ll always love you.”
Fergie and Marc Anthony presented and accepted the award for Best Rap Performance to Kanye West and Jay-Z for “Otis”. Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s four collective nominations weren’t enough to pull them away from baby ‘Blue’, as neither of the new parents were present. Hova nabbed only one of his two nominations of the night and Beyoncé nabbed none. Kanye West was also a no-show for the night, even though he finally got his GRAMMY glitz; winning four awards out of his seven nominations including Best Rap Song for “All Of The Lights” and Best Rap Album for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Common and Taraji Henson saluted the late Gill Scot-Heron, calling him a great poet and saying, “Thanks to him, the revolution is now being televised.“ They presented the award for Best R&B Album to Chris Brown for F.A.M.E., leading the ever-remorseful and famously-flustered crooner to deliver a kind of uncomfortable acceptance speech. “I don’t know what to say. I’m nervous,” he admitted before quickly thanking his camp and fans and hurrying off the stage.
Drake was proud to introduce his friend and label mate, Nicki Minaj, calling her “one of the most intelligent, beautiful, driven women I’ve ever met in my life. “ He said, “She went from sleeping in the bunk under mine on the tour bus, and now she’s one of the biggest stars in the world.” After kicking off her extremely theatrical performance from a set in the crowd, she segued into a pre-recorded mini-movie called “The Exorcism of Roman”, an elaborate introduction to her most vicious alter ego. Then, she hit the stage for a spectacle of a show that featured her stellar rhyming skills as well as her certifiable singing and over the top acting abilities. While I have a feeling her set may have gone over some fans’ heads; no one can deny the guts and the gifts she displayed on the GRAMMY stage.
For Keith Robinson, fame is a gift and a curse. For most actors, a big role in an even bigger film is the Holy Grail. In 2005, Robinson co-starred in the mega musical, Dreamgirls alongside then newbie, Jennifer Hudson, Beyoncé, Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy. Hudson scored a Best Supporting Actress win at the Oscars for her portrayal of Effie White and Keith delivered a powerful performance as her piano-playing brother, C.C.. Since then, he has starred in a string of successful films like Dear John and This Christmas.
“People ask me if I was lip-synching in Dreamgirls,” he says, unable to mask the insult such a question undoubtedly hurls. “It’s not that I’m frustrated, just more eager to establish myself in this realm,” he says. “When I step onstage, half the people in the audience know I’m about to sing, and half have no idea that I can. It’s a blessing to have two platforms, but it’s just ironic,” he says. “I’m a singer. I’ve always been a singer. Acting was an accident. I came to LA for music.”
In fact, his first acting class was just an attempt to improve his stage presence after he and his group, State of Mind was signed to Motown Records. An instructor took notice of the natural talent and suggested he audition for a little show called Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Keith was cast as the “Green Power Ranger”, and was instantly thrown into the other “business”. Eventually, Keith’s acting became a priority, and he landed roles in major films like Fat Albert and eventually, Dreamgirls.
Now, the singer-turned-actor faces an ironic fete; convincing the world that he’s an authentic vocalist. “I still feel like a starving artist,” he says. “My mindset hasn’t changed at all in that way. It’s about proving to people that don’t know me that this music thing is not a gimmick. They see me one way, and it’s hard for [the public] to see me in another way.”
His latest film, My Dysfunctional Friends, hits select AMC theatres on Friday and stars Megan Good, Terrell Owens, Stacy Dash and Persia White. Aside from starring in the indie film, Keith oversaw all the music in the movie through his scoring company, TKtitle. The film’s title track, “Same Rules” will serve as the first single for his full-length project, due out later this year.
“I’m excited and relieved. I’m anxious to see how it is received, “ he admits. If the single is any indication, Keith’s got nothing to worry about. The smooth crooning of a bonafide hottie isn’t hard to hear. And the fact that Robinson’s R&B roots and writing style are a throwback of sorts is a refreshing retreat from the status quo.
“I think there’s a timeless quality to my music,” he says. “I came up on the cusp of real singing and auto-tune. I bridge the gap. “ Heavily influenced by classic crooners like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Sade and Babyface, Keith hopes to create songs people can truly connect to. “I’m a real music fan,” he says. “Music is supposed to be sincere and heartfelt. It should evoke emotion and make people relate to where it’s coming from, and what they’re going through. It becomes the soundtrack to people’s lives.”
The yet-to-be titled project is pointed toward relationships and how men and women relate to each other. “It’s my point of view as a man. An honest explanation of the vulnerability and strength that comes along with an earnest search for love.”
Like all aspiring artists, he has at times been discouraged by the many pitfalls of the industry. Being determined to release his first full-length project himself has got Keith feeling the same pressure that so many up and comers experience.
“The grind is constant, tedious and time-consuming. To truly be an independent artist, you still have to be dependent on someone for money. The reality is it costs a lot of money to break an artist.”
According to Keith, his next single, “Just Kissed My Baby”, totally defines who he is as an artist. “As far as sound goes, I love the heavy 808s, strings and a beautiful chorus,” he says.
“I love performing and I love recording,” he says. “It’s the funnest part of the process. I love incorporating live instruments like strings, drums and piano. Soul is the through line.”
Next up for Keith will be the release of his movie, Divorce Invitation, out this fall. In the meantime, Keith will be releasing new material, touring, and hopes to direct a film in the future. Despite the occasional frustrations that come from “the crossover” it doesn’t seem he has any plans of slowing down his double-life.
“I’m an actor and a singer. I do it every day. Love me or leave me. “
I’m gonna go with love.
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?
Now more than ever, the field of rock & roll literature is a crowded one. With each new tome that tumbles into the world, there’s an ever-increasing sense that you’re being told a story you’ve heard before about the music you love. But amid this densely-occupied literary landscape of tropes and truisms, David Klein has defied the odds and come up with a fresh perspective from which to write about pop music. For the New York-bred, North Carolina-based writer, music is a numbers game—at least, numbers provide the unifying principle for the dizzyingly eclectic array of songs, styles and artists he covers in If 6 Was 9 and Other Assorted Number Songs.
“The impetus was a conversation that occurred over a beer,” says Klein of his new book, describing what’s been the genesis of countless author’s most intriguing works over the years. “When we were singing the praises of [avant-pop singer/songwriter] Anna Domino’s ’88,’ and I made the possibly rash statement that it had to be the greatest 88 song of all time. Of course I wasn’t considering [Jackie Brenston's '50s rock & roll classic] ‘Rocket 88,’ or [The Nails' New Wave hit] ’88 Lines About 44 Women,’ which got me thinking, ‘What would be the ultimate 33 song? What would be the ultimate 12 song?’ We started making a list, and pretty soon the thing just sprouted legs…and that was 5 years ago. I started posting on a blog and it evolved over a couple of years.”
Klein’s book is anything but a dry list of song titles, though; for this initial volume—two more are in the offing—there are essays for the numbers 1 through 33, each one digging into not only into the details of the relevant songs, but the history of the artists, and most fascinating of all, the crazy connections that can be made between them, all with a minimum of academicism and a maximum of humor and pure, unadulterated music-geek passion. “Part of what excited me about it was finding new connections in this subject, pop music, that has been so studied,” says Klein. “It was like finding a little buried treasure, to find an avenue to look at these things that possessed these wild collisions, these strange juxtapositions. Like, Beyoncé and ['80s punk-jazz band] Tupelo Chain Sex both have records called 4, I found that kind of funny. [John Lennon's] ‘# 9 Dream’ leads to John Lennon’s ‘lost weekend,’ leads to [Lennon drinking buddy] Harry Nilsson, leads to Harry Nilsson’s firstborn son, whose middle name was Nine. That was the last thing before I closed the book.”
Of course, finding the proper way to make all these disparate elements flow together between the covers of a book is no simple task. “It’s like climbing Everest,” says Klein. “The numbers we can count on our hands are the most essential, you find hundreds of 7 songs and 3 songs. They don’t have as many inherent associations the higher you go. Once you get into even the mid 30s or the mid 40s, what does 46 mean to most people? You’ve got to search a lot harder.” But one of Klein’s most daunting tasks ended up being what to leave out. “The more songs I turned up, the more the pieces were in danger of being lists,” he recalls, “and I had to kill a lot of my darlings…just for the sake of concision. I didn’t want songs that were so obscure that only six people would hear them. You’ve gotta deal with the elephants in the room—you can’t write about 45 without writing about ‘Stars on 45.’ I love ‘Seven Seas’ by Echo & The Bunnymen, and then I just thought ‘It’s gotta be Love’s “7 & 7 Is”’—there’s just so many.”
According to Klein, things will get even more interesting in Volume Two. “38 and 45 and 40 all have the distinction of being nouns,” he explains. “You can drink a 40 and shoot a .45, so there’s a whole subgenre. 44 is really the big gun one, it goes all the way back to ‘Stagger Lee.’ You can connect the dots between Woody Guthrie’s sheriff chasing him with a .44 [in "Billy the Kid"], and The Stones’ ‘Heartbreaker’ with your .44. These connections exist and haven’t been uncovered.” So, does thinking this way about music ever seem strange to Klein? “It’s sort of like insanity,” he assesses. “An insane person never thinks they’re insane, and a geek never thinks he’s a geek, he thinks he’s writing about something really important and pretty freaking cool. I’ll wear it proudly,” he says of the geek mantle.
Naturally, this is the kind of compendium that seems to beg for Monday morning quarterbacking from opinionated readers, but in fact, that’s exactly what Klein is counting on. “I’m hoping that enough people see it that I can get all kinds of flak for things I’ve forgotten,” he confesses, “that’s my ideal. I’m starting the conversation. There’s been a million list books, but nobody’s ever written this book before, nobody’s ever looked at it this way before. This is my take, and these are the ones that are important to me. I really think there could be a book like this written just for the blues, or just for hip hop. This was my very Catholic collection of observances on the subject.” In fact, some musicians have already begun to pick up on If 6 Was 9 and make their own opinions clear to Klein. “[Americana songsmith] James Jackson Toth, who goes by Wooden Wand, wrote me a really nice letter of feedback,” Klein reveals, “and said, ‘Sorry man, “23 Minutes in Brussels” [by Luna] beats Shuggie Otis’s “Strawberry Letter #23,” it’s the perfect song.’ That’s the fun of it, it’s subjective. I come right out and say, ‘Obviously The House of Love couldn’t hold a candle to Robert Johnson, but I’m gonna pick them for my 32 song anyway.’”
So what is it about numbers that fascinates us, especially in the context of as ostensibly non-linear a subject as pop music? “They are more definitive than words,” reckons Klein, “and they are locked into an order. What they define is only one thing. There’s something iconic about them. I’m not a math guy, so it’s funny that I should end up pursuing this. They have a legitimacy, they’re like the beginning of the phone book before the letters start. I feel like I’ve found the rock phone book, and the first section’s all blank, so I’m filling it in. As Robert Pollard said [in Guided By Voices' "Motor Away,"] ‘The time will come when you add up the numbers.’ And I feel like that time has arrived.”
Mark Wahlberg already knows a thing or three about reinvention. When he first burst onto the entertainment scene in 1991 as the leader of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunk—a two-hit wonder from whom nobody expected any kind of longevity, and afterwards as a Calvin Klein underwear model—few probably thought he’d be likely to succeed past the mid-decade mark.
Yet two decades later, he’s still here. He’s a movie star and a respected actor, a successful producer (of the TV series Entourage and Boardwalk Empire, and of last year’s Best Picture Oscar contender, The Fighter) and an Academy Award acting nominee (Best Supporting Actor for 2006′s The Departed).
His next project: making Justin Bieber a film star. “I see the guy and spent time with him, and you see what he does and how he does it,” Wahlberg told MTV News last year, “and then you actually have a conversation with him, and it’s there.”
Picture this (because Wahlberg already has): Bieber in a The Color of Money-type film, which Wahlberg is developing for Paramount Pictures, with basketball replacing pool. Bieber would take the Tom Cruise role, and Wahlberg would cast a formidable screen legend like Robert DeNiro, Robert Duvall or Jack Nicholson as the grizzled vet, the Color of Money archetype that finally won Paul Newman an Oscar in 1987.
It sounds like a dream job—for someone else. If Will Smith, Queen Latifah, Justin Timberlake, Tim McGraw and Wahlberg himself have taught us anything, when making the transition from music to movies, it’s best to start small. Both Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera tried to fulfill their film-star fantasy by starring above the title the first time out (in Crossroads and Burlesque, respectively), and thus far, neither one’s Hollywood dream has come true.
Enimen has yet to find a follow-up worthy of his debut starring role in 2002′s 8 Mile; the Hollywood heat surrounding The Bodyguard star Whitney Houston, set to test the acting waters again in a 2012 remake of Sparkle, quickly cooled after three films; Beyoncé has gotten plenty of acting work, but her Hollywood career has yet to generate any kind of major excitement; and Evita aside, Madonna has been most successful onscreen in supporting roles (Desperately Seeking Susan, Dick Tracy, A League of Their Own). Former American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar her first time out for Dreamgirls, but what has she done for us lately?
That Bieber’s 2011 documentary/concert film, Never Say Never, was a major box-office success ($73 million in North America) indicates that movie-ticket buyers will shell out bucks to see him on the big screen. And he’s already had a guest-starring role in C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation. But pop stars are always booking cameos and story arcs in hit TV shows, and in Never Say Never, Bieber was literally playing himself. If Wahlberg is going to guide him through the Hollywood jungle, he’d be wise to pull out the map that he himself used.
For now, let somebody else drive. Don’t even let him ride shotgun just yet. Bieber would be better off in the backseat, cast in an ensemble movie where he doesn’t have to do all of the heavy lifting (see Taylor Swift in Valentine’s Day—on second thought, don’t).
When Wahlberg landed his first major starring role, in 1997′s Boogie Nights, he was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood) and surrounded by highly esteemed talents like Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly and a soon-to-be-briefly resurgent (and Oscar-nominated for the first time) Burt Reynolds.
Even after Boogie Nights, Wahlberg’s most notable films—I Heart Huckabees, The Departed, The Fighter—have featured plenty of Oscar-caliber talent. And in The Departed, it was Wahlberg, not costars Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon or Jack Nicholson who walked away with the Oscar nod.
Good luck to them both. They’ll need it. Wahlberg may have proven that he’s a miracle worker by going from rapper to underwear hunk to Oscar nominee, but Bieber holding his own with a DeNiro or a Duvall or a Nicholson sounds like an almost-impossible dream.
10 Music Stars Who Deserve a Hollywood Big-Screen Test
1. Lady Gaga
Best Performance in a Video: “Paparazzi”
2. John Mayer
Best Performance in a Video: “Who Says”
Best Performance in a Video: “Blow”
4. Mary J. Blige
Best Performance in a Video: “Be Without You”
Best Performance in a Video: “Glitter in the Air” (live at the 2010 GRAMMY Awards)
Best Performance in a Video: “Warwick Avenue”
7. Fiona Apple
Best Performance in a Video: “Fast As You Can”
8. Richard Ashcroft
Best Performance in a Video: “Break the Night with Colour”
9. Roisin Murphy
Best Performance in a Video: “Overpowered”
10. Brandon Flowers
Best Performance in a Video: The Killers’ “All These Things That I’ve Done”
No discussion of the last twelve months in music would be complete without a proper shout out to Adele, the blue-eyed, soulful Brit who ruled 2011 with one album (the multiply GRAMMY-nominated 21) and two No. 1 singles (“Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You”), so here we go.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s what was hot and not about the rest.
1. Drake: Last year, he called his debut album Thank Me Later, so now feels like the right time to express our genuine appreciation for the Canadian rapper who balances tough and tender so perfectly. With his second album, Take Care, and two of its key cuts, in particular—the fantastic first single “Headlines” and the title track (featuring Rihanna)—he brought sexy back to rap for the first time since ladies loved (LL) Cool J.
2. Girls on film: From Britney Spears’ “Till the World Ends” to Lady Gaga’s “Judas” to Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Into You” to Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” it was an excellent year for women in pop videos. But it was Ke$ha in “Blow,” Kelly Rowland in “Motivation” and Rihanna in “We Found Love” that injected new energy into a decades-old art form and elevated it above and beyond promotional tool to indispensable companion piece.
3. Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams “Moanin’” on American Idol: I didn’t love the bulk of their solo performances during the 10th season of Idol, but when Reinhart and Abrams came together on the Top 8 results show for the vocalese version of Charles Mingus’ “Moanin’,” the unexpected result was the best musical moment I saw all season.
4. Diana DeGarmo on The Young and the Restless: Speaking of Idol losers, season three’s runner-up’s stint as Angelina on daytime’s No. 1 soap hasn’t been so well-received by critics or fans, but I dissent. There’s both artistry and comedic gold in DeGarmo’s portrayal of a tone-deaf “singer” and daughter of a New Jersey mob boss, and I’m looking forward to being as wowed by her Pygmalion-style makeover as I was by her Idol rendition of “Don’t Cry Out Loud” all those years ago.