- Generous Gaga.
- Really, Rihanna?
- If you can’t wait for more Trapped in the Closet…
- High praise from John Lennon.
- Breaking news: Obama can do the “Gagnam Style” dance.
- “I also press pause.”
Something interesting recently went down atop the U.K. singles and album charts. Elton John reigned on the list of best-selling albums with a collection of 40-year-old songs, while Florence + the Machine was No. 1 on the singles chart for the first time ever. The band’s vehicle? A song that was originally produced by Paul Epworth, a regular Adele collaborator (“Rolling in the Deep” and “He Won’t Go,” the best song on 21) who had never managed to go that high in the U.K. working with the world’s biggest female pop star.
Alas, he wasn’t exactly scaling that height with Florence either—at least not alone. And therein lies the twist in this chart saga: a good beat. Those Elton John classics had been updated with a danceable 2012 electro sheen by Australian production duo Pnau on the chart-topping Good Morning to the Night, an album featuring dozens of John songs from between 1970 and 1977 crammed into eight tracks and credited to Elton John Vs Pnau, while Florence’s Epworth-produced Ceremonials track “Spectrum” was the leading single via the re-titled and remixed-by-DJ/producer Calvin Harris (for optimal under-the-strobelight consumption) “Spectrum (Say My Name) (Calvin Harris Mix).”
When Bryan Ferry sang, “Don’t stop the dance,” was this what he had in mind? Beat-driven pop where singers share star billing with the producers who boost them to the top? More than ever, the recording arts have become a producer’s medium, in much the same way that film is a director’s medium, with the behind-the-scenes talent dominating both the sound and the vision. (The stage, in singing–when it’s actually live–as in acting, remains the domain of the performer.) With a smaller pool of star producers creating a bigger bulk of the hits, pop music has become as homogenized as Hollywood blockbusters.
According to Ron Fair, a veteran music executive and producer who has worked with Christina Aguilera, Fergie and Lady Gaga, it’s a logical progression from how records are now made. “A producer today is a hybrid role of producer, songwriter, and beat maker,” he says. “What we used to call arranging is now called making beats, so generally, the producer is the guy who walks in with the song. Back in [Beatles producer] George Martin’s and [Linda Ronstadt/James Taylor producer] Peter Asher’s day, they weren’t responsible for making songs.”
Dance music, however, has always been more of a producer’s forum than middle-of-the-road pop. But with disco in the ’70s, it didn’t always show. When one remembers Donna Summer’s greatest hits, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” or Amii Stewart’s “Knock on Wood,” the spectacular vocals probably come to mind first, then the beat. Continue reading ‘Sound and Vision: Do Today’s Pop Music Producers Have Too Much Power?’
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.
Time flies, they say, when you’re having fun (probably more so when you’re having fun in fun.!), and 2012 appears to be whizzing by at a faster clip than usual. Not everyone is having such a blast, though. Yes, these are the best of times—still!—for Adele, but how could they not be? She continues to hover around the top of the charts with 21 more than a year after its release.
What about her brothers and sisters in pop? Here’s a scorecard for the first half of 2012.
Rihanna with a beat A word of advice to Rihanna: Don’t stop the dance. After she spent 10 weeks at No. 1 with “We Found Love”—her collaboration with Scottish DJ Calvin Harris and the first single from Talk That Talk, her sixth album— neither Jay-Z (on the album’s title track), nor Chris Brown (on the single remix of “Birthday Cake”), nor Coldplay (on whose Mylo Xyloto track “Princess of China” Rihanna appears) could boost Rihanna back into the Top 10.
It took a return to strobe-light pop, with Harris as co-producer (along with Dr. Luke and Cirkut), to give Rihanna her first new Top 10 hit of 2012, with “Where Have You Been.”
Lady Gaga in Southeast Asia The year began pretty quietly for Gaga until she kicked off her “The Born This Way Ball” tour in Southeast Asia in April. Then everything that could possibly go wrong did. Christian groups in South Korea, where she played Seoul on April 27, slammed her less-than-holy stage antics, resulting in government-imposed over-eighteen age restrictions for the opening-night show. Meanwhile, the protestations of the Muslims in Indonesia led to the cancellation of her June 3 show in Jakarta.
In Thailand, things went from bad to scandalous. First, she incited the ire of locals by touting Bangkok’s supply of “fake Rolex” moments after arriving for her May 25 concert there. Then they ripped her apart some more for wearing a traditional Thai headdress with a bikini and for sitting on a motorbike with a Thai flag tied to it during the show. At least she didn’t simulate sex with a statue of Buddha.
White boys with an edge Nothing but the beat isn’t just the title of David Guetta’s latest album. It’s become pretty much a mantra for most of the women in pop (see Rihanna) and many of the artists formerly known as R&B and hip-hop stars (Usher, Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj).
But in reality, it isn’t all about the beat. The two biggest No. 1 singles of the first six months of 2012—fun.’s “We Are Young” and Gotye‘s “Somebody That I Used to Know”—are both quirky pop songs that have little to do with the prevailing sound of the times (dance music). Where either act goes from here is anybody’s guess, but it’s nice to know that in 2012, you can still score a big hit even if you can’t dance to it.
Madonna’s latest album Okay, so the Queen of Pop is in no danger of being evicted from her throne and sent to the poor house anytime soon. She can still demand top dollar (as in hundreds of them) for mediocre seats and sell out her current “MDNA” world tour anyway. And her 12th album, MDNA, did debut at No. 1 with 359,000 copies sold in the week after its March 26 release.
Alas, it spent only a pair of weeks in the Top 10 (dropping a record 86.7 percent in week two), and by the time the “MDNA” tour kicked off in Tel Aviv on May 31, it was out of the Top 100 completely. Meanwhile, “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” the first single, hit No. 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100, but it was on and off the charts within two months, and thus far, there’s not a follow-up hit within earshot.
Lionel Richie Sometimes it’s not where you start but where you end up a few weeks later. Although Richie’s latest album, Tuskegee, entered Billboard’s Top 200 album chart in the runner-up position to Madonna’s MDNA, it didn’t stay there for long. It eventually crawled up to No. 1, and by May, it was the second best-selling album of 2012 (with 789,000 copies sold), right behind Adele’s 21.
Adam Lambert His sophomore album, Trespassing, did debut at No. 1, making him the seventh American Idol contestant to get to No. 1. Unfortunately, Lambert did so with only 77,000 copies sold—the lowest sum for a No. 1 debut since February of 2011, when Amos Lee’s Mission Bell began on top with first-week sales of 40,000. And it was only downhill from there. After four weeks on the Top 200 album chart, Trespassing was way down at No. 54.
Where were those Glamberts when Adam needed them? Did they defect to Team Beliebers?
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….
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?’
Prepare to “sweat your weaves out,” people. Coming straight outta the city of brotherly love is DaCav5, an electro-pop band armed with its own party rock anthems. Like LMFAO, DaCav5 specializes in crazed, pitch-bent beats that burrow down into your brain and command your body to move. “Dirty Style” has a whiff of “Party Rock Anthem,” kicking off with a big, fat, bassy beat. Add defiant mantras like “I don’t care what people say, Ima party anyway,” with a sexy female refrain and you’ve got yourself a hit. David Guetta, eat your heart out. “Party Started” does exactly what it proposes to do. The track gets underway with orchestral pulses and edgy vocal stylings. “Bitch get back, you know the kid got swag.” The kid definitely has swag. Make that all five kids. Now if you’ll excuse us, we have some partying to do.
When dance-music-titan Mixmag posted a story last night that supposedly outed many of the worlds top DJs for buying Facebook fans, they legitimized what was originally an ill-researched but rapidly spreading internet meme. The user generated picture points out that it is quite strange for David Guetta, Excision, Steve Aoki, Skrillex, Deadmau5, Avicii to be wildly popular in Mexico City and yet according to Mixmag, “at the time of writing, none [of the DJs] have events listed in the area.”
While the stats did seem a little off; fast forward a few hours and Excision has published an open note to his Facebook page in response. We think Excision does a pretty good job of clearing the air, but we’ll let you decide for yourself. Read on for his full response to the image and the Mixmag article.
“Kim Kardashian, Kanye West Dating: New Couple’s Playlist”
“Bruce Jenner On Kim Kardashian And Kanye West’s Romance: ‘I’m Not That Excited’”
They say the only bad publicity is no publicity, but nothing has got to be better than the barrage of headlines about Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s current celebrity coupling that popped up online over a recent forty-eight-hour period. The good news is that by the time you read this, the union may already have gone the way of Kanye’s recently reported dalliance with Katy Perry, or Kardashian’s seventy-two-day marriage to basketball player Kris Humphries.
At least Kanye + Katy would have been a love connection that made sense—if not from a romantic standpoint (Perry is probably too mouthy and headstrong to tolerate West’s diva antics), at least from a business one. It could have been the low-rent version of his pal and sometime collaborator Jay-Z’s marriage to Beyonce, with Kanye and Kim being the Mertzes to Jay-Z and Beyonce’s Ricardos.
While an ongoing romantic relationship would guarantee Kim + Kanye (= Kimye) lifetime Us Weekly coverage, at what cost? Kim, who says she was friends with Kanye for years before they made their love connection, has everything to gain by dating Kanye. The seventh season of her E! reality series Keeping Up with the Kardashians begins on May 20, and the Kanye episodes should prove to be a ratings goldmine. Should Kimye make it all the way to the altar, a televised wedding would probably be the biggest thing since Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, or Luke and Laura on General Hospital.
Continue reading ‘Sound and Vision: Is Dating Kim Kardashian Bad for Kanye West’s Street Cred?’
As the summer festival series approaches, and the EDM movement shows no signs of letting up; producers and DJs are in full swing pumping out their biggest tracks of the year in anticipation of the neon-clad, twenty-something crowds that will descend on fields and desert landscapes all across the US during the summer months. The “rave” scene in America is slowly morphing out of the awkward teenage years of the big beat ’90s and is beginning to solidify itself as a vibrant, respected aspect of the music industry. With this explosion of popularity, the production of these events has skyrocketed, which means no more illegal warehouses or abandoned airplane hangers. Now they’re out in the open for everyone to see. Featuring extensive light shows, interactive art exhibits, go-go dancers and even carnival rides, raves have become a multi-sensory experience like never before. And so, EDM artists have been forced to up their game in order to hold the attention of our instant-gratification-oriented generation.
The rolling loops of Fatboy Slim, sliced with clever recognizable a cappella’s are no longer enough. The music has morphed, along with the culture, into something that can stand on it’s own. No longer are dance tracks just loop-based building blocks for a DJ to create a set out of—these are legitimate songs in their own right. For this week at SoundTrax, I’ve put together a list of tracks that I think are bound to make huge waves at this season’s summer festivals. Porter Robinson and Madeon kick us off with my two personal favorite tracks from the past month. TheFatRat and Lenno infuse some disco sensibilities into the middle portion, while David Guetta proves that you can be the king of pop-house and still make some respectable dance tunes. Finally, U Tern’s remix of Mark Ronson provides you with a jittery, down tempo tune to help release all the tension.