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Tag: "Britney Spears"

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Chart-Topping Indie Acts

Remember the year 2000? When the world stopped panicking about Y2K and N’Sync topped the Billboard charts, selling 2.42 million copies of their sophomore record No Strings Attached in just one week? Oh, what a difference a decade makes. Today we scoff at Y2K hysteria, and artists rarely (read: never) see those kinds of astronomical sales. But on a positive note, this means that smaller acts can climb their way up the charts, and in 2011 a number of indie artists are finding their way to the top—albeit with significantly smaller sales figures.

It was California-based alt-rockers Cake who kicked off the year of unlikely chart-toppers. Showroom of Compassion—the band’s first record in more than ten years—debuted at the top of the Billboard Top 200, giving them their first Number 1 album of their career. The Decemberists followed with The King Is Dead, bumping Cake from the top spot to earn their first number one record. Then came Amos Lee, who earned his first number one album with his third full-length Mission Bell.

We’d love to tell you that the news is all good—that smaller acts are finally seeing sales that match their talent. Unfortunately, while these artists have been breaking records with their Number 1  hits, the numbers tell a different story. Cake’s Showroom of Compassion sold only 44,000 copies, making it the lowest-selling Number 1 record since SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991. The Decemberists fared slightly better, managing to move 94,000 copies in their first week atop the charts. It looked like album sales were increasing, but just two weeks after Cake set the record for fewest copies sold to earn a Number 1 slot, Mission Bell sold a meager 40,000 copies to claim the title.

These dismal sales have the industry poised for one of its worst years ever. In the week ending January 30th, while Amos Lee was atop the charts, overall album sales totaled 5.3 million units. According to Billboard, that puts sales down 18% from the comparable week of 2010, when sales reached 6.5 million.

But wait! There’s hope! Before you decide that this is a sign of the end times for the industry, consider the success of digital downloads, which Billboard reports aren’t suffering as much. While Cake was racking up the tiny number of sales they needed to earn a Number 1 slot, Britney Spears’ latest single “Hold it Against Me” was downloaded 411,000 times. Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” saw opening week digital sales of 448,000. And during the week that Amos Lee broke the record, digital downloads were down just 1 percent from the comparable week of 2010.

So maybe there is hope for the independent artists out there. Perhaps pop stars will rule the world of digital downloads, while fans with indie sensibilities (and CD players) continue to purchase physical copies of their music. Or maybe, as Cake’s Vince DiFiore told OurStage in February, “[Fans] must feel sorry for us, or something like that, buying our record instead of getting it for free.”

The Return Of The Big Music Video Premiere

Is this a sign of the first wave of ’90s nostalgia? In the past few weeks it feels like we’ve gone back in time 15 years and returned to the age of the big music video. It’s about time too, as memorable music videos have been too few and far between lately.

Dr. Dre has been slowly drumming up the buzz with little snippets here and there from his long, long, long awaited album Detox. At one point the rap Chinese Democracy, Dre appears to be making good on his word that the album will be released in the near future, likely some time in April (Dre himself has been quoted as setting the release date for 4/20 – ha ha – but that’s a Wednesday. Albums are typically released on a Tuesday in the US).He’s already released the first single from the album, “Kush” and just released the video for second single “I Need a Doctor (feat. Eminem & Skylar Grey)”. While the video for “Kush” was appropriately epic visual for any mainstream hip-hop single, “I Need a Doctor” takes things to a whole ‘nother level.

The seven minute long video tells Dre’s entire life story (or at least the parts we care about) from a montage to his early 90s gangsta heyday to his collaborations with Eminem. Then a little car crash throws a wrench into the mix but it only serves to facilitate his recovery and his big beefy return to form. Seriously, the guys gotten jacked. His pockets must be swelling too – from the Ferrari 360 Moderna to Dre post workout Gatorade, the product placement in the video is off the chain.

Rihanna has remained as ubiquitous as ever, continuing to have a spot in seemingly every Top 40 hip hop and R&B song currently released (we’ll talk more about Kanye’s new video, and her appearance in it, a little later on). Rihanna capped off the month in big music videos with the visuals accompanying her new single “S&M”. While the song is a hit on pop radio, the video has, unsurprisingly, generated a lot of controversy.

In addition to the expected reaction to the risque imagery, photographer David LaChapelle claims that the video copies directly from some of his past work. LaChapelle, whose photos have appeared in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and GQ said, “The next time you make a David LaChapelle video you should probably hire David LaChapelle” in a tweet which has since been deleted. LaChapelle has also brought a lawsuit against the director of the video over the alleged infringement. You can check for yourself and take a look at side by side comparisons of the video and some of LaChapelle’s work.

Kanye West, not one for small gestures, just dropped the video for “All of the Lights”, the fourth single from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The track, the centerpiece of an album referred to by at least one critic as “the Sgt Pepper of hip hop” is an oversized, blown up banger. Such a track needs a striking, standout visual to accompany it and Kanye did not disappoint.

Borrowing heavily from the art style of French filmmaker Gaspard Noe’s Enter the Void, the clip is highly stylized while not as crazy over-the-top as his video for “Runaway.” Effervescent colors swirl and the seizure inducing flashing lights pervade the clip as video switches from the story arc presented in the song’s lyrics to shots of Rihanna and her boobs in some kind of boob harness. A does of controversy for this one too: the video has gotten a warning added to the beginning of the clip on YouTube alerting viewers as to its potentially seizure inducing nature. Overall, B+ for the video—it gets points for Rihanna and the quality art direction but penalized for Kanye’s sleeveless shirt.

We can’t make mention of some of the big videos of the past month without forgetting Britney Spears and Radiohead. Britney came back with a bang, or, if you prefer the metaphor presented in the video for “Hold It Against Me”, like some glammed-up meteor impact. You can check out our coverage of it from earlier this week here. Radiohead may have had the biggest or the most hyped releases of the past few weeks with their announcement and sudden release of their new album The King of Limbs sent shockwaves through the Internet. Adding to the stir was the video for the first single off the album, “Lotus Flower”. If you haven’t seen it yet you’re doing yourself a disservice.

The question that is begged by all these big premieres is, “Why?” With the industry struggling to generate revenue from the traditional methods you would think they would be more hesitant to back large, big budget affairs for videos. This all harkens back to the last golden age of pop music, the mid to late ’90s (Boy Bands, Girl Groups and Will Smith) which went hand in hand with the age of the multi-million dollar music video. This is also the last time MTV would play music videos, ever. While they’re all accruing millions of views and thousands of comments online, why is it now that artists are returning to the visual medium, to the budget-busting music video, to make a statement? Only time will tell if such a strategy will work. For now, let’s just enjoy the visuals.

Just Teasing: The Art Of Album Promotion

Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, artists are no longer forced to rely on posters in record store windows or word of mouth to get fans pumped about their upcoming releases. Whether it’s as simple as tweeting the album art, as Gaga did, or as elaborate as setting up an online scavenger hunt for your fans, like Underoath did, musicians are coming up with a plethora of new ways to create buzz about their work. Most recently, it was Britney Spears who teased her fans into an online frenzy with a series of short YouTube clips leading up to the release of her (totally bizarre) video “Hold It Against Me.”

The pop princess started releasing 5- to 8-second teasers thirteen days before the video’s premier, giving fans access to a new one every day until the video debuted on February 17. (You can check out MTV’s analysis of all fourteen teasers here.) Not a bad move by Spears — or her marketing team. According to YouTube Trends, the first clip was viewed more than 2.4 million times, and while not every teaser garnered that many views, they were viewed almost 13 million times in total.

Although Spears isn’t the first artist to arouse our curiosity with bizarre teasers, she’s certainly been one of the most successful. MTV even held an hour-long discussion and analysis following the premier of “Hold It Against Me,” because apparently this video is about as important as the State of the Union Address.

If all this speculation and fanfare has you shaking your head, you’ll appreciate the approach Radiohead took last week. The band made a surprise album announcement on the 14th about their album The King Of Limbs, which was scheduled for release on the 19th.

While that left fans a meager five days to brace themselves for the new material, the Internet was all-aflutter with news of the release. Fans scrambled to purchase the deluxe-edition newspaper album, dropping as much as $53.00 for the combination newspaper album and WAV download. And then, the band surprised their listeners by releasing the album 24 hours early, along with the video for the first single, “Lotus Flower.” King Of Limbs didn’t appear to suffer at all for its lack of promotion; Radiohead, Thom Yorke, The King of Limbs and Lotus Flower all became worldwide trending topics on Twitter almost immediately after the album was released.

So which method is better? Did two weeks worth of teasers really get people more excited about Britney’s video? Would Radiohead have sold even more records if they made an announcement months in advance? It’s tough to say, because in truth, artists as popular as Britney or Radiohead probably don’t have to worry too much about selling albums. Britney’s fans will go crazy over her new video no matter how much she promotes it, and Thom York and co. certainly aren’t going hungry any time soon. But for artists looking to generate buzz and increase their fan base, maybe teasers can be a useful method of promotion.

If you’re looking for a laugh, check out the videos for both “Hold it Against Me” and “Lotus Flower,” and marvel at the fact that at this point in her career, Britney’s dancing may be worse than Thom Yorke’s.

Metal Monday: Metal Covers Of Non-Metal Songs

Cover tunes have been a big part of pop music in the last few decades, and an even bigger part of music throughout history (though the idea of a cover tune is rather new, they’re historically known as standards). Some covers are well known to be remakes, other times people don’t even know songs they love are covers. For example, you might not know Jimi Hendrix wasn’t the original performer of “All Along The Watchtower” —that one’s a Bob Dylan song. But, cover songs aren’t only for rock and pop artists.  Metal artists do their fair share of covers as well, sometimes even full albums (See Overkill, Rage Against The Machine and Evergreen Terrace).

Personally, I think metal musicians covering songs that weren’t originally metal songs is rather brilliant. Here are some great renditions of songs that are decidedly more heavy than their originals:

  1. “Still Fly” by Big Tymers, as covered by The Devil Wears Prada for the compilation Punk Goes Crunk
  2. “Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears, as covered by August Burns Red for the Punk Goes Pop Vol. 2 compilation
  3. “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, as performed by Children of Bodom on their album Skeletons In The Closet
  4. “The Sound Of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel, as performed by Nevermore on their album Dead Heart In A Dead World
  5. “Everything Counts” by Depeche Mode, as covered by In Flames on their 1997 album Whoracle
  6. “White Room” by Cream, as performed by Demons & Wizards as a bonus track on their self-titled album
  7. “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” by Elton John, as performed by Flotsam & Jetsam on their album No Place For Disgrace
  8. “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen, as performed by Motörhead

Sound And Vision: Does Madonna Still Matter?

Last week I finally got around to seeing The King’s Speech, and during one particular scene, my mind wandered to Madonna, of all people. No, the queen of pop doesn’t appear in the film, nor are any of her songs on the soundtrack, but two secondary yet pivotal Speech characters, the UK’s King Edward VIII and his double-divorcée American paramour Wallis Simpson, will take the lead in Madonna’s upcoming directorial effort W.E.
While I’m not expecting her to pull off a Ben Affleck-style transformation from middling actor to acclaimed filmmaker (she also co-wrote W.E. with her Truth or Dare director Alex Keshishian), stranger things have happened over the course of her career. (Remember her Golden Globe win and medium-level Oscar buzz for Evita?) But if, in a left-field twist of fate, Madonna wins over both critics and moviegoers with W.E. the way Barbra Streisand did with Yentl in the ’80s, and she gives up her old day job for this new one, will anybody miss her on the charts?
I have my doubts. Her last album, Hard Candy, was released April of 2008, a nearly three-year eternity on the pop timeline. Though it spawned her record-breaking 37th Top 10 single “4 Minutes” (sorry, Elvis!), it was Madonna’s first studio album not to be certified platinum by the RIAA, and like its two predecessors, 2005′s Confessions on a Dance Floor and 2003′s American Life, it didn’t produce a second Top 40 hit in the US.
Since the end of 2009, when Celebration, her greatest-hits compilation, failed to boost her sagging chart fortunes, Madonna has retreated to behind the scenes. She made W.E., designed a fashion line with her daughter Lourdes, and launched Hard Candy Fitness in Mexico City (the second branch of the gym line arrives in Moscow in mid-March). But on December 17th, she posted a message on her Facebook wall saying that she’s ready to rock again: “Its official! I need to move. I need to sweat. I need to make new music! Music I can dance to. I’m on the look out for the maddest, sickest, most bad ass people to collaborate with. I’m just saying……”
The big question: Can she rise from the dust of Celebration, whose two new singles were neither great nor hits? The title track peaked at No. 71 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 2009, and the follow-up, “Revolver,” didn’t even bother to chart. Fans were RSVPing in droves to the parties of pop’s younger stars, while Madonna’s celebration, dogged by sparse attendance and a general lack of interest, was over almost as soon as it began. For the first time in her career, Madonna knew what it feels like for a girl standing in the shadow of someone else.
That someone else would be Lady Gaga, who in recent years has been anointed alternately as the second coming of Madonna and the reason why she’s so over. But Gaga can’t take all of the credit for the tough time Madonna has been having on the charts. Madonna had one of the longest hit-making runs in pop history, but as Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey well know, every fierce ruling diva has her day when the hits become fewer and farther between. Also hogging the spotlight in Gaga’s rear, there’s Britney Spears, Rihanna and Katy Perry, post-Madonna starlets who, like the original material girl, made up for their vocal shortcomings by hooking up with the right collaborators and striking perfect pop poses.
How can Madonna compete with baby divas half her age? Does she even have to? She has one of the sturdiest back catalogs in pop music, good enough to inspire an entire episode of Glee and produce last year’s No. 1 soundtrack EP Glee: The Music, The Power of Madonna. At this point, she could coast on her history, make like the Rolling Stones and continue to rake in huge bucks from touring without ever releasing another record. But since she recently departed from her long-term label, Warner Bros. Records, and signed a reported $120 million 10-year contract with concert promoter Live Nation that encompasses tours, merchandising, albums, DVDs and music-related film and TV projects, bowing out of the business of making new music isn’t an option.
She should let those other divas fight for scraps from flavor-of-the-month producers. Timbaland and Pharell did her few creative favors on Hard Candy, and David Guetta, who produced “Celebration” and “Revolver,” is overrated and overbooked. Rihanna, his latest diva-for-hire, can have him. Madonna should steer clear of anyone having anything to do with any of the No. 1 singles from the last year. So if Max Martin or will.i.am are on her speed dial, she needs to delete them both.
Searching for the maddest, sickest, most bad ass people to collaborate with looks good on paper—and on her Facebook wall—but Madonna is best one on one, not trying to cover every musical angle with a gallery of hot producers. She should go out and find the next William Orbit, the next Mirwais, the next Stuart Price, someone her competitors have yet to get their hands on. With the right guy onboard (or girl—I’d kill to hear her side by side with someone like Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), all she’ll need to do is strap on her dancing heels and let the confessions begin.

Discourse & Dischord

The Good

Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein beat up Sarah McLachlan

We already told you to check out “Portlandia,” but this time we really mean it. IFC has released a teaser for next week’s episode, and it’s a chortlefest. Watch Carrie and Fred ravage a Sarah McLachlan piñata while their maid, singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, tries to intervene.

Nicki Minaj creeps on to SNL

Nicki Minaj is both sexy and macabre, and nowhere do those two sides come together more seamlessly than in SNL’s new digital short starring The Lonely Island. Watch her “do the creep” on a corpse, and try not to wish you were the corpse.

The Bad

BIEBER’S VOICE IS CHANGING!!!

Now don’t panic, he’s still the same Bieber, only a little deeper. In an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today show, the teen pop star admitted his voice was changing. “It’s definitely lower,” he says, “but I have a great vocal coach who’s helping me.” A better Bieber is just on the other side of the puberty rainbow, kids. So don’t stop beliebing.

White Stripes officially break up

After a prolonged hiatus, the White Stripes announced that they will no longer record or perform as a band in a message posted on their Web site. Please know that it’s not because of anything you did. As the message explains, “The reason is not due to artistic differences or lack of wanting to continue, nor any health issues as both Meg and Jack are feeling fine and in good health. It is for a myriad of reasons, but mostly to preserve what is beautiful and special about the band and have it stay that way.” Third Man Records will continue to issue recordings from the vault. And Meg and Jack want you to know that they both love you very, very much.

The Ugly

Robbie breaks into Moby’s place

Robbie, in case you didn’t know, is the name of the stranger who broke into Moby’s house in the Griffith Park area of Los Angeles. The musician awoke at 7 AM to find Robbie standing in his living room, lost and tripping on acid. That Robbie! Always up to something! To read Moby’s account of the whole experience, go here.

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