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Boulevard of Dreams

Hollywood Boulevard is where legends leave their names. All along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, entertainment icons share the same stretch of concrete: Michael Jackson; Diana Ross; Billy Joel. Just a stone’s throw away, an artist by the name of D. Hollywood (the “D” is for “dirty”) is plotting his own rise. A multi-instrumentalist, daredevil, and eccentric, Hollywood’s bombastic personality is inextricable from his rakish style of west coast rock. “My Name Is Love” is made up of lurching, low-throttle guitars, synths, and Hollywood’s wild child lyricism. “My name is love and I’m a liar” he sneers. Drums and vocals provide the meat of “Chutes and Ladders.” It’s lo-fi, extra dirty rock delivered in lashes. But Hollywood’s greatest moment comes in “On Fire,” an impossibly catchy anthem with big, swaggering guitars. “I’m going out tonight, gonna set the world on fire,” he promises. We believe him.

Sound and Vision: Can Taylor Swift Do Joni Mitchell Justice?

Taylor Swift has yet to top Billboard’s Hot 100, but who needs a No. 1 pop single when you’ve sold more than 20 million albums (as of March of 2011), been named Entertainer of the Year twice in a row by the Academy of Country Music (in 2011 and 2012), been awarded the 2010 Hal David Starlight Award by the Songwriters Hall of Fame (an honor previously bestowed upon John Mayer and Alicia Keys) and won an Album of the Year GRAMMY (in 2010, for Fearless, her second album)? She makes every princess of pop this side of Adele seem like an underachiever.

At the age of twenty-two, Swift has accomplished what it takes some icons entire careers and then some to achieve. (Neither Bruce Springsteen, nor the Rolling Stones, nor Aretha Franklin, nor Madonna, nor Eminem, has yet to win an Album of the Year GRAMMY.) But it’s Swift’s latest honor, being the frontrunner for the role of Joni Mitchell in the upcoming film Girls Like Us, a biopic based on Sheila Weller’s book about the lives of Mitchell, Carly Simon and Carole King in the late ’60s, that has her detractors—and some fans even—protesting “Too soon!” and wondering “Who? Her?“  Continue reading ‘Sound and Vision: Can Taylor Swift Do Joni Mitchell Justice?’

Sound And Vision: Beyoncé’s “Plagiarism” Controversies — Has She Been Caught Stealing, Or Is She Paying Homage (Again)?

Beyoncé is having a rough 2011. I don’t know how she felt about turning thirty on September 4, but if she’s as career-obsessed as I suspect she is, it was probably the least of her concerns. Yes, 2011 has not been without a few triumphs: She rocked the Glastonbury Festival in June, and she set a Twitter record for “most tweets per second recorded for a single event” (8,868) when she announced at the August 28 MTV Video Music Awards that she is expecting her first child with husband Jay-Z.

But by October, even that bright spot was mired in controversy when Beyoncé’s baby bump seemed to collapse as she sat down for a couch chat during an Australian TV appearance. A faked pregnancy? Stranger things have happened—like an underperforming Beyoncé album. Despite debuting at No. 1 with 310,000 copies sold its first week in June, Beyoncé’s fourth solo album, 4, has sold below expectations while failing to launch a major hit single.

But collapsing baby bumps and album sales might be small-time woes compared to the accusations of theft and copyright infringement that continue to dog the singer.

In the past, she’s been accused of contributing minimally to the creation of some of the songs for which she receives songwriting credit, and in 2005, she was sued (albeit unsuccessfully) for copyright infringement for her 2003 No. 1 hit “Baby Boy.” Then in 2006, Destiny’s Child‘s “Cater 2 U,” for which Beyoncé and her group mates were listed as co-writers, was at the center of another copyright infringement suit, which was settled out of court.

Continue reading ‘Sound And Vision: Beyoncé’s “Plagiarism” Controversies — Has She Been Caught Stealing, Or Is She Paying Homage (Again)?’

Sound And Vision: Reunited Bands Try To Make Lightning Strike Twice

For the love of money.
According to Sting, when I interviewed him in 1996, there’s no other reason to bring a band back from the dead. Yet one must assume that Sting—who’s had a gold and platinum solo career for more than three times the seven years he was a member of The Police—had more than money on the brain when he reunited the band in 2007, after more than two decades of inactivity, for a thirtieth anniversary world tour.
Think about it: If Diana Ross can try to regroup with Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong (though she ended up with two ’70s Supremes with whom she’d never actually performed and possibly never even met until minutes before the ill-fated 2000 “reunion” was announced), why can’t all other former bandmates get along—or at least get back together. Are you listening, ABBA? Though a musical reunion of Sweden’s fab four, or the UK one from the ’80s (that would be The Smiths), remains as unlikely as a resurgent Rubik’s cube or Carter Country, in recent years, we’ve seen a number of bands—from the Pixies to Yaz to the “classic” original line-up of Duran Duran—come together again.
Some did it for the love of money, some because of fading solo careers and some because as we get older those nostalgic impulses become harder to ignore. One imagines the latter must have been a big part of the reason why rich solo superstar Robbie Williams mended fences last year with Take That—who’d already reformed in 2005, nine years after breaking up—and participated in Progress, their first album together in fifteen years. This month, the original Take That will hit the road with Pet Shop Boys.
On May 10, The Cars, who haven’t released a new studio album since Ronald Reagan was in office, will drive their act into this millennium with Move Like This and a ten-date reunion tour that begins in Seattle on the day of the album’s release. They won’t be the only ’80s throwbacks on the road in the coming months. Bobby Brown recently said that the off-and-on-and-off-and-on-again New Edition has a new album and tour in the works. Perhaps they should join New Kids on the Block (who’ll be performing live this summer with Backstreet Boys) and soon-to-be summer tour mates Tiffany and Debbie Gibson for a Monsters of ’80s Pop package.
Then there’s Soundgarden, the band who along with Nirvana and Pearl Jam created grunge’s holy triumvirate in the early ’90s. They split in 1997, and although Chris Cornell had success as a member of Audioslave, his solo career never quite caught on. Can grunge thrive in 2011? We’ll find out when the Seattle band, set to tour in July, releases its work in progress later this year, but the odds might be stacked against them.
With a few exceptions—the Eagles, Steely Dan and Take That, whose Progress has enjoyed massive UK sales—reunited bands generally have had more success with comeback tours than with new music. Roxy Music, the Pixies and Psychedelic Furs have been back together for years, but neither band has released new albums. And Blondie, whose Panic of Girls is due on July 4, had middling US success with 1999′s No Exit and 2003′s The Curse of Blondie (though the former did produce the No. 1 UK single “Maria”).
In 2008, New Kids on the Block, whose reunion tour year featured Lady Gaga as an opening act, got off to a good start with The Block (first-week sales: 100,000), but the album failed to go gold in the US. The Cars’ new single, “Sad Song,” hasn’t gone higher than No. 37 on Billboard’s Rock Songs chart since its March 1 release, which doesn’t bode too well for the buzz-free Move Like This. Meanwhile, Duran Duran’s nostalgia value makes the group a huge touring attraction, but the new albums featuring the original line up (minus guitarist Andy Taylor) have sold only modestly.
But with album sales continuing to free fall anyway, it might not even matter. Releasing new music keeps the bands from being strictly oldies acts, and if the love of money is their bottom line, most of them are getting exactly what they’re after on the road.
[Ed. Note: Rockers and pop stars aren't the only ones taking a trip down memory lane. Check out more comebacks and reunions in hip hop.]

Sound And Vision: Where Is the Love? — The Disappearing Power-Ballad Duet

Back in the day, every major female pop star had one: a male pop star (or two, or three or more) who loved her—at least on the record and on the charts. Over the years, Barbra Streisand had Neil Diamond, Barry Gibb and Bryan Adams. Diana Ross had Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie and Julio Iglesias. Olivia Newton-John, Linda Ronstadt and Stevie Nicks had their pick of men (Andy Gibb, Don Henley, Aaron Neville, Tom Petty and John Travolta, among them.) Whitney Houston had Teddy Pendergrass, Bobby Brown, Enrique Iglesias and George Michael. Madonna had Prince. Celine Dion had Peabo Bryson and R. Kelly. Mariah Carey had Luther Vandross, and so did Janet Jackson.
But where did the love go? Though there have been scattered duet hits in recent years (Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown‘s “No Air,” Ciara and Justin Timberlake‘s “Love Sex Magic”), they are fewer and much farther between. On the Billboard Hot 100 dated March 19, 2011, “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson‘s country chart topper, was the only traditional male-female duet, way down at No. 34.
I’d say that part of the blame lies with the faltering power ballad, which isn’t the chart force that it was in the days when Celine Dion ruled the airwaves. Consider pop’s leading single males: Both of Usher‘s and Enrique Iglesias’s two recent Top 10 Hot 100 singles have been not ballads but dance-oriented collaborations with rappers and, in the case of Usher’s “OMG,” Will.i.am. Chris Brown’s comeback-in-progress also has been harder-edged and boosted by male guest stars like Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes, and of Justin Bieber‘s two Top 10s to date, neither has been a ballad, both were with rappers.
But it’s not just about what the public seems to want— it seems to be what the artists want, too. Why play the conventional good girl, duetting with Usher or Iglesias, when it’s so much more fun being bad? In the past year or so, both Rihanna and Katy Perry have gone Top 10 with rappers (Eminem and Drake, and Snoop Dogg and Kanye West, respectively). Meanwhile, Ke$ha went there with electronica hipsters 3OH!3 (after scoring her first hit riding shotgun with Flo Rida), and Beyoncé and Lady Gaga got there together.
As for the guys, boy-on-boy (or boys) rule: Bruno Mars with B.o.B and Travie McCoy, Jeremih with 50 Cent, Usher and Iglesias with Pitbull, Iglesias and Bieber with Ludacris. If it were 2001, Iglesias, or Ricky Martin, probably already would have zipped up the charts with Katy Perry and/or Rihanna on his arm. But it’s 2011, and just as every good girl wants a bad-boy rapper by her side, it seems the hit-making males would rather roll with the rough boys than mush it up with the ladies.
Will the power ballad survive the current disinterest in them? Can singing couples make a comeback? I’d be surprised if they didn’t. Pop music is cyclical, and if Jennifer Lopez can rise again, so can love (which, incidentally happens to be the title of J. Lo’s upcoming album, minus a question mark). All it needs is the right tag team to deliver it back into the public’s good graces and up the charts. I’d pay money to hear Pink and Adam Lambert together, but would the masses buy it? I’m not so sure, but wouldn’t it be just like them both to try and find out?

Sound And Vision: Building the Perfect St. Patrick’s Day Soundtrack — 10 Great Green “Party” Songs

Think of it as an extreme makeover that took centuries to complete. Although St. Patrick’s Day originally was conceived as a Catholic holy day, the Hail Mary is probably the last thing on the minds of most of the modern-day Irish—and the people who love them and party with them— when March 17 comes around. As holidays fit for and named for saints go, St. Patrick’s Day is to boozin’, shamrocks and other assorted secular shenanigans what Valentine’s Day is to lovin’, touchin’ and squeezin’. This year, if you’re looking to jump start your celebration, here’s the perfect “party” playlist.
“The Party Ain’t Over Yet” by Patty Loveless. Heartache and heartbreak are the sonic anthems of Loveless’s country, but she’s just as convincing and compelling when she’s wild and blue.
“Party Is Goin’ On Over Here” by Busta Rhymes. Remember when Hollywood used to churn out movies based on hopelessly dated old TV shows on a seemingly weekly basis? The Mod Squad was one of the main offenders of the ’90s, earning reviews that were as dismal as its box office ($13 million, or about a quarter of its production budget). One good thing came out it, though: a Busta Rhymes track with a snaky, hypnotic groove that sounds as fresh today as it did at the end of the last century.

“Having a Party” by Sam Cooke. Get on your boots! That twangy country-style guitar riff running throughout the track might make you want to break into a line dance while twistin’ the night away.
“I Dont Want to Spoil the Party” by The Beatles. And to complete the classic-flashback portion of the gala, a potential party pooper takes one for the team.
“(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” by Beastie Boys. Because no list of “party” favorites would be complete without it.
“Party wit Me” by Brownstone. Breakdown intermission! If anyone figures out how this ’90s R&B girl trio managed to summon the vocal power of a full chorus, do share.
“Where’s the Party” by Madonna. If anyone should know… For many years, up to her tepid, sparsely attended 2009 “Celebration,” it was anywhere she went.
“Where the Party At” by Jagged Edge featuring Nelly. Sometimes it’s all about the chase, the pursuit of happiness after midnight.
“Cold Rock a Party” by MC Lyte (Bad Boy Remix featuring Missy Elliott). “I rock the party that rocks the body. You rock the party that rocks the body.” It’s nonsense for sure, but damn if Lyte, Missy and that Diana Ross “Upside Down” sample don’t work.
“Party’s Not Over” by Love and Rockets. The dark-electro sound of being the last one to leave. A perfect companion piece to L&R precursor Bauhaus’s “Party of the 1st Part” and a fitting co-bookend to the bash begun with Loveless’s similarly titled but not similarly paced “party” vow.

Pop Stars on Film

What do Cher, Diana Ross, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Mark Wahlberg, Peggy Lee, Queen Latifah and Will Smith have in common? All pop stars-turned-actors, they each mined gold and platinum or scored chart hits in music before landing Oscar nominations. This fall, Christina Aguilera, Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake will launch campaigns to join their company.

Unlikely, you say? You’re probably right, but early word is that Justin Timberlake just might be needing a tux come Oscar night next February 27th, thanks to his performance as Napster co-founder Sean Parker in the Facebook drama The Social Network, which opens today. A friend of mine who has seen the film says no way, but Popeater writer Jett Wells, who presumably saw the same movie, thinks it’s a distinct possibility, if not quite a probability: “Timberlake, who appears to have finally shaken the awkward pop star-making-movie-cameos phase of his career, seems poised to become a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood.”

And his 2003 Justified/Stripped Tour co-headliner? Considering what has become of Christina Aguilera’s music career—her current album, Bionic, is a certified flop that likely won’t even go gold—Burlesque, her film debut (November 24th), would have Showgirls written all over it were it not for her above-the-title costar. Say what you will about her strangely immovable face, but she will forever be known as “Oscar winner Cher.” As for Aguilera, she wisely chose a role —wannabe American idol — in which she doesn’t have to completely give up her day job. In the trailer, Cher and 2010 Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci do most of the talking (words by director Steve Antin along with Juno writer Diablo Cody and Erin Brockovich scribe Susannah Grant, an Oscar winner and nominee, respectively), while Christina Aguilera does what she does best: She sings.

I’m still not 100 per cent sure what Timberlake’s Nipplegate partner at the 2004 Super Bowl, Janet Jackson, is doing in Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls (opening November 5th), or why her eyes are that unnatural shade of light brown on the film’s poster. She plays Jo, one of seven women on the verge of a nervous breakdown, in the film adaptation of the 1975 Tony Award-winning play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. She’s lucky to be top billed in an ensemble that’s embarrassingly rich with talent: Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, Kerry Washington, Kimberly Elise, Loretta Devine and Thandie Newton, who, interestingly, was cast after Mariah Carey had to bail for medical reasons. If Jackson doesn’t bring it and more, she’ll rue the day that Beyoncé didn’t get the job.

By Jeremy Helligar

Jeremy Helligar is a former staff writer for People, Teen People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly, who now writes about celebrities and pop culture from his couch in Buenos Aires.

 


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