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Sound And Vision: The Best and Worst of James Bond Themes

The 007 Effect: What getting cast as the main theme for one of the James Bond film franchise’s 23 official entries can do for a song. Alas, the results of being Bonded can be as mixed as the songs themselves.

Adele’s brand new theme for Skyfall, aka “James Bond XXIII” (in U.S. theaters November 9), sure to be Top 10 or rapidly approaching that hallowed chart vicinity by the time you read this, is the first James Bond song to become a hit since the Pierce Brosnan era (1995-2002).  That was when Madonna’s “Die Another Day,” from the 2002 Bond film of the same title, went to # 8 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Continue reading ‘Sound And Vision: The Best and Worst of James Bond Themes’

Sound And Vision: Rihanna Vs. Christina Aguilera Vs. Alicia Keys: Who Will Win November’s Battle of the Divas?

Sweet November is about to spawn another monster. Not a beast like the ugly, twisted child Morrissey warbled on about in 1990, but three beauties in the monster diva throwdown of the year. It will be the month in which three of pop’s biggest female players–Rihanna, Christina Aguilera, and Alicia Keys—all release new albums. Who’ll emerge “triumphant”—to quote the title of top diva Mariah Carey’s new single, from an album that won’t be released until March of 2013, long after the diva dust settles? Read on… Continue reading ‘Sound And Vision: Rihanna Vs. Christina Aguilera Vs. Alicia Keys: Who Will Win November’s Battle of the Divas?’

Sound And Vision: The Diminishing Returns of the No. 1 Single

No. 1 with a bullet: Ah, that once-relatively elusive and exclusive room at the top. The holy grail for the pop single, it used to be as high an honor and as highly desirable as gold and platinum albums. But what does it mean when a star as marginally talented as Katy Perry can hit No. 1 five times on Billboard’s Hot 100 in the space of one album (six times in one and a half albums, if you count Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection)? Or when Rihanna, who still hasn’t scored a chart-topping album in six tries, can do in less than six years what took Madonna a dozen (hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 one time short of a dozen)?

Does Teenage Dream have, well, a dream of ever being as iconic as Michael Jackson’s Bad (which spawned five No. 1 hits and thus shares the record for most No. 1 singles from one album with Teenage Dream), George Michael’s Faith (which produced four) or even Adele’s 21 (a contemporary that launched three), none of which had to be re-released as a special expanded edition in order to pad its hit list and sales tally? For all her No. 1 singles, will any Rihanna album thus far ever be considered as landmark as Madonna’s 1983 self-titled debut through 1989′s Like a Prayer, which covered a comparable career time frame? Rihanna’s yet to even break through the double-platinum glass ceiling.

Then there’s Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” which just spent nine weeks atop Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart, making it the biggest song of the summer, if not 2012. It also makes her a surefire nominee for Best New Artist at the 2013 GRAMMY Awards ceremony. She’ll face stiff-ish competition from Gotye and fun., who spent eight and six weeks at No. 1, respectively, with their respective singles, “Somebody That I Used to Know” and “We Are Young.” Continue reading ‘Sound And Vision: The Diminishing Returns of the No. 1 Single’

Sound And Vision: No Doubt Rides Again–But Can Gwen Stefani & Co. Rise Again?

The ’90s are about to face a crucial test, one that might determine if the Clintonian era even has a shot at matching the staying power of the Reagan ’80s, a decade that continues to resonate more than 20 years after it ended. Welcome back, ’90s stars Soundgarden, SWV, Garbage, Brandy, Matchbox Twenty, Green Day, the Wallflowers, Blur, Aaliyah (via creepy interloper Drake) and No Doubt.

A decade is a long time in life, and an eternity in pop music, especially when you’ve spent one in a state of virtual inactivity, as did No Doubt, the band that will release its comeback album, Push and Shove, on September 25 (the same day Green Day returns with Uno!, the first of a trilogy of albums that the rock trio will release in the coming months). When No Doubt put out its last studio album, Rock Steady, in December of 2001, George W. Bush was less than one year into his first term as President of the United States, Friends was the No. 1 show on TV, and dated acts like Shaggy, Crazy Town and Ja Rule were scoring No. 1 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100.

The world, still reeling from September 11 exactly three months earlier, had yet to hear of Barack Obama, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, iPads, iPhones and American Idol. Britney Spears was the biggest female pop star on the planet, and she was in love with Justin Timberlake, best known as heartthrob No. 1 in ’N Sync, the world’s biggest boy band. In this post-millennial world, Rock Steady went double-platinum in the U.S. and produced three hit singles, including the Top 5 hits “Hey Baby” and “Underneath It All.” Continue reading ‘Sound And Vision: No Doubt Rides Again–But Can Gwen Stefani & Co. Rise Again?’

Is the Next Adele a Guy?

For at least another year or two, all of the U.K.’s up-and-coming sisters (and brothers) with voices will have their work cut out for them. As if it’s not already tough enough to rise above the pop pack, they’ll also have to contend with all of those inevitable Adele comparisons.

Is she (or he) the next Adele, the future of U.K.-bred pop talent hoping to achieve global domination?

Admit it: You wonder, too—every time a great new voice emerges from the British music scene. With the ruling pop diva of the last two years now between albums (perhaps she’ll be back in the autumn singing the theme for the next James Bond film, Skyfall) and expecting her first child with boyfriend Simon Konecki, the battle is on for the keys to the kingdom that the princess hasn’t even yet vacated.

If you’ve got a great voice and/or a slightly unconventional pop sound and/or look, if you’re more substance than style, to the front of the line you go. It’s the latest greatest aspiration in pop since the days when it was all about being the next Amy Winehouse, whether you sounded anything like her or not. Challenging Adele might be as scary a proposition as walking in the late Winehouse’s scuffed shoes might have been (terrifying for reasons that had everything and nothing to do with Winehouse’s talent), but at least fans are in for some great music. Recently, I heard a Rumer (the off-the-beaten-pop-path singer behind 2010′s Seasons of My Soul and this year’s Boys Don’t Cry), and my first thought was “Is this it?”

Rumer isn’t the only talented singer who’s making me listen and wonder. Here are three others:

Emeli Sandé (Current hits: “My Kind of Love” and “Next to Me”) In June, a friend sent me the video for Sandé’s recent single, “Next to Me,” on Facebook, with a short and sweet message: “love…” After watching the clip, my first impression was “Sara Bareilles with a really dated look.” White on black is so mid-‘90s! My second impression: How is it that everybody all over the world doesn’t already know her name (which, incidentally, is actually Adele Emeli Sandé)?  Continue reading ‘Is the Next Adele a Guy?’

Chart Catfight!: Look Who’s Hot on Carly Rae Jepsen’s Tail in the Battle of the Pop Divas!

Carly Rae Jepsen is in luck. It looks like she won’t have to ensure the continuation of her celebrity run after “Call Me Maybe” falls from its current summit by relying on the hoopla generated by her own Nipplegate—nude photos that ended up being someone else’s.

Thanks to a call from Adam Young, the one-man band behind Owl City, Jepsen is about to relight the fire under her rising star the old-fashioned way: with a new hit. “Good Time,” her duet with Owl City, just debuted at No. 18 on Billboard’s Hot 100, which means that her breakout No. 1 single won’t forever be alone on her hit list.

It’s pop symbiosis at its most effective: He saves her from that pop purgatory known as one-hit wonderdom, where he had been languishing since 2009, when the Owl City single “Fireflies” hit No. 1 on the Hot 100, and she helps get him out of it. Sure Katy Perry could have accomplished the same thing in the middle of a dead sleep, but that hardly would have been a meeting of near-equals.

Continue reading ‘Chart Catfight!: Look Who’s Hot on Carly Rae Jepsen’s Tail in the Battle of the Pop Divas!’

The Re-Launching of Fiona Apple

Here we go again again! Another online article where the subject is Fiona Apple. For the last few weeks, it seems, it’s been virtually impossible to turn on the computer without stumbling across a new headline about the 34-year-old singer-songwriter. I can’t think of any other musical celebrity this side of Kanye West who, in recent memory, has gotten quite so much mileage out of being both ridiculously talented and endlessly quotable.

And Apple doesn’t even tweet (yet)—or date a reality TV star!

Her musical gift and her gift of gab pretty much ensured that the June 19 release of her fourth album, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, would arrive with more fanfare than the expected critical gushing. In fact, after one week of release, the new set sold 72,000 copies, good enough for a No. 3 debut on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart, immediately making The Idler Wheel… the highest-charting album of Apple’s career.

That would be chump change in the coffers of Adele or Lady Gaga, but considering that Apple released her last album, Extraordinary Machine, way back in 2005, before the world had heard of Adele, Gaga, or Katy Perry, and the year in which Rihanna released her debut album, it’s as extraordinary as one-half of her last album title.

Continue reading ‘The Re-Launching of Fiona Apple’

Sound and Vision: Usher Vs. Justin Bieber Vs. Chris Brown– Will the Next King of Pop Please Stand Up?

For ages in pop, it’s been all about the women: Adele and Katy Perry this, Rihanna and Lady Gaga that, with Britney, Beyoncé, Ke$ha, and—lately—Carly Rae Jepsen each demanding her own spotlight.

But this summer, as pop’s three hottest males—Usher, Chris Brown, and Justin Bieber–release new albums, the guys will be giving the ladies their stiffest competition in years. Are any of them most likely to succeed Michael Jackson as the new King of Pop, this season or in seasons to come? Read on….

The Princes-in-Waiting

Usher Vocally, Usher is without a doubt the most-talented man in pop, and he already has a hit list that’s long enough to guarantee his place in music history. Commercially speaking, though, he seems to be settling into middle age, a comfortable place where he’s still good for the occasional big hit single (2010′s No. 1 “OMG” and his recent David Guetta collaboration “Without You”).

But he’s hardly a chart shoo-in anymore. “Climax,” the first single from his new album Looking 4 Myself, which was released on June 12, peaked at No. 17 on Billboard’s Hot 100, 16 notches lower than “Yeah!,” the premiere single from 2004′s Burn that spent 12 weeks on top. Meanwhile, after one day in stores, Looking 4 Myself was projected to sell only up to 130,000 copies in its first week, some 200,000 less than 2010′s Raymond v. Raymond. Continue reading ‘Sound and Vision: Usher Vs. Justin Bieber Vs. Chris Brown– Will the Next King of Pop Please Stand Up?’

Sound and Vision: Why Judging a TV Star Search Is More Valuable Than Winning One

The votes were counted and Phillip Phillips was crowned the 11th American Idol on May 23. So what’s next?

If this is going to be just another case of recent history repeating, a first blush of modest success (his Idol winner’s single “Home” entered Billboard’s Hot 100 at No. 10, with 278,000 downloads), maybe even a platinum post-Idol album (like his predecessor, Scotty McCreery), then… nothing much. Unlike American Idol‘s early seasons, which made durable stars out of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, taking the grand prize no longer comes with guaranteed gold or platinum (if only for one album).

Even Adam Lambert, Idol‘s eighth runner-up and the show’s lone international star launch in the past several seasons, is in the throes of a sophomore slump. Although Trespassing, his second studio album, released on May 15, entered Billboard’s Top 200 album chart at No. 1, it did so with only 77,000 copies sold its first week. That’s 120,000 less than his 2009 debut, For Your Entertainment, and the lowest one-week total for a No. 1 album since last August, when Adele’s 21 sold 76,000 copies in its 12th non-consecutive week at No. 1. Continue reading ‘Sound and Vision: Why Judging a TV Star Search Is More Valuable Than Winning One’

Sound and Vision: Jennifer Lopez–The Most Powerful Woman in Pop?

Every superstar worth his or her weight in durability (See: Cher, all-time queen of the comeback) has been up, has been down, has seen fire, has seen rain, has had one of those full-circle careers that’s come around and around again and again. Professional fluctuations is a part of Hollywood life, and those who can weather those particular storms, come out in a better place, because as Kelly Clarkson sang on her recent No. 1 hit, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stronger.

And just how stronger is current comeback queen Jennifer Lopez these days? She may not be quite the tabloid draw she was a decade ago, but if you’ve watched American Idol during the past two seasons, or heard her 2011 hit “On the Floor” on the radio, on TV, on YouTube or, well, on the floor, you know that she’s flexing again.

Forbes magazine just ranked her atop its 2012 Celebrity 100 (up from No. 50 in 2011), which lists the most powerful people in entertainment. With an estimated income of $52 million in the last year, Lopez came in ahead of last year’s champ Lady Gaga (No. 5), Oprah Winfrey (No. 2) and Adele (No. 24).

Forbes‘s criteria for its 2012 appointment: being hotter than the rest (23,000 press mentions, 46 major magazine covers) and most sought after by fans (530 million YouTube views for “On the Floor,” 12 million Facebook “likes” and more than 6 million “followers” on Twitter). Not bad for someone who was so over—or so everybody thought—just a few years ago.

Continue reading ‘Sound and Vision: Jennifer Lopez–The Most Powerful Woman in Pop?’

 


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