The late ‘70s gave us a plethora of short-term disco stars who lived—and quickly died—by the groove, while the Tacos, the Kajagoogoos and the After the Fires of the early ‘80s, arrived wielding synthesizers and tressed for fifteen minutes and less of success. More recently, in 2005 and 2006, sensitive singer-songwriter guys Daniel Powter (“Bad Day”) and James Blunt (“You’re Beautiful”) helped usher out the pre-Rihanna/Katy Perry/Lady Gaga phase of pop.
In 2009, as a higher number of headlining newcomers than usual ascended to the summit (Lady Gaga, Jay Sean and Jason DeRülo, among them), at least one, Owl City—the act behind “Fireflies”—was bound to never fly anywhere near those heights again. And last year, with dance music dominating the airwaves more dramatically than it had since the aforementioned disco age, we got indie-pop with a beat for exactly one massive hit single, courtesy of Foster the People, who went all the way to No. 3 with “Pumped Up Kicks.”
Which of 2012′s first-timers so far are most likely to not still be succeeding by their next single? fun., the rock trio that recently spent six weeks at No. 1 with “We Are Young”? Or Gotye, who rode a quirky song and an even more oddball video all the way to the top?
At a quick glance, Gotye seems to have all of the trappings of a one-hit wonder. Interesting name that one might need a pronunciation key to get right? Check. Song that sounds unlike anything else on the radio? Check. A colorful video that jumps off the screen for reasons that have as much to do with the high concept as the song itself? Check.
Life is full of surprises, and sometimes, so is pop music. In recent weeks, it’s recovered its long-dormant ability to shock, or at least catch us off guard with the unlikely hit, or the unexpected comeback.
Several months ago, I never dreamed I would ever ask the question that is the title of this article. It had been more than twenty-five years since Lionel Richie’s commercial heyday, and on the charts, he had been succeeded by younger romantic leads in pop and R&B many times over (Babyface, Usher, Ne-Yo, among others).
Then came one of those surprise developments seldom seen in pop anymore: On Billboard magazine’s Top 200 album chart for the week following the March 26 release of Tuskegee, Richie’s first studio album since 2009’s Just Go (which didn’t make the US Top 20 and failed to go gold), he debuted at No. 2 with first-week sales of 199,000 copies, right behind Madonna’s latest, MDNA.
In the age of the playlist, everyone has access to collections of songs hacked together due to arbitrary similarities. But what does that accomplish other than aid our forever shortening attention span, while making the idea of an “album” obsolete? SoundTrax is here to provide you with playlists that are more thought out, but still provide you with that instant gratification.
This week we’ve put together a soundtrack that will let you escape your daily grind, dig your toes into the sand, crack open a Corona, chat with friends and smell like a chimney for the next three days. Catchy choruses, funky rhythm sections and campy lyrics hightlight this playlist, so sit back and enjoy.
OurStage band Bronze Radio Return kicks things off with their feel-good vibe, and when the whole band starts singing together during the hook you won’t be able to resist. Dispatch picks up where Bronze Radio Return leaves off and pushes the tempo just a bit, before The Kooks rattle our nerves with an infectious hook and incredible arrangement. Mumford & Sons are the epitome of campy, sing-a-long rock-n-roll, so how could we not include them in the power slot of this soundtrack? Get Back Loretta and Ivory Drive have totally different styles, but both manage to infuse a sense of funk and a breath of life into the second half of this playlist, sandwiching indie-dance-rockers Foster the People. Finally, Dave Matthews Band closes us out with a summer classic from ’96.
Lately, it seems that we are hearing more and more from new and unexpected partnerships between artists of different genres. This is why, through Superlatones, we are creating our very own directory—a musical wish-list, if you will—of artists who have yet to join the collaborative bandwagon.
As musicians, we come to understand music in a myriad of different ways. Depending on what instrument we play or value most, we tend to tune in to specific parts of a song: a drum solo, a complicated guitar riff, a fun bass line. This week, we feature artists known for their catchy tunes and great production quality; but instead of analyzing the composition of their songs, we are focusing on a different aspect of their music that the rest of the world seems to take for granted: their voice.
The Dynamic Duo:
Foster the People and Gotye
During the early weeks of the year, 2012 sounded a lot like 2011, as Adele continued to rule Billboard’s Top 200 album and Hot 100 singles charts with 21, one year into the album’s life span. For all of her ongoing success, by February, the tops of the pops finally began to welcome some much-needed counterprogramming to The Adele Show, featuring rotating regular guest stars Katy Perry, Rihanna and Bruno Mars.
For several weeks, the late Whitney Houston became the chart force in death that she hadn’t been in life for more than a decade (“I Will Always Love You,” her signature No. 1 hit, re-charted and rose to No. 3, and one week, she had three albums in the Top 10), while a number of vets and newcomers arrived on the singles scene looking for a hit. They all came out swinging, but not everyone scored. Although the night—er, the year—is still young, look who’s winning (and losing) now.
Let’s face it, sometimes the past should stay dead. But when an awesome musical artist fades from popularity, their fans later wonder, “Where are they now?” You may not know it, but many artists you loved in the past are still hard at work writing new albums or preparing to tour once more. Fortunately, you now have Second Coming to reintroduce you to some of your favorite acts of the last few decades, and give you the scoop on what you can expect from them in the future!
THEN: The year was 1961 and a brand new musical soundscape was about to unfold. The three Wilson brothers (Brian, Dennis and Carl) along with their cousin and friend formed a band called the Beach Boys. The group had several hits, like “Surfin’ USA,” “I Get Around” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” Besides serving up some sunny pop tunes, the band is also known for creating the first-ever concept album: 1966′s Pet Sounds. This record showed a departure from the simplistic beach hits of the group’s early days and pioneered new instrumentation and musical stylings. Though the band had every intention of continuing on after Pet Sounds, frontman Brian Wilson began to fall victim to mental instability and substance abuse. After Carl and Dennis both passed away, the band made sporadic appearances under the Beach Boys name, but they were still very clearly distanced from the close relationship they once had.
NOW: Rumors of a Beach Boys reunion have circulated for a few years, but it wasn’t until December of 2011 that the surviving members of the band confirmed the plans. If you tuned in to the 2012 GRAMMY Awards, then you may have caught the group’s first performance with Brian Wilson in over twenty years, which featured appearances from Maroon 5 and Foster the People. It may seem strange to call these seventy-year-olds “boys,” but it’s clear that everyone was feeling nostalgic during their performance of “Good Vibrations.” The Boys used the GRAMMYs as a chance to announce their Fiftieth Anniversary Tour, which includes a set at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. Visit their official site for a complete list of tour dates and information on their upcoming album!
Take a trip down memory lane with this live television performance of “I Get Around”:
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If at first (or second, or third) you don’t succeed… maybe it’s time to tweak your approach. That’s not to take anything away from good old-fashioned talent and tenacity. But sometimes success—or, say, getting into the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100—takes a little something extra.
For every Katy Perry, Bruno Mars and Rihanna, who all scored their first time at bat, dozens of acts—like Adele, for instance, who only managed to swing as high as No. 21 on the Hot 100 with the four singles from her debut album 19—take their sweet time getting to home base on the charts. You see, no matter what Lady Gaga says, not all American idols are born that way.
So beyond the music, what works in favor of the aspiring pop star? For some, like Foster the People, patience is truly a virtue. Others get an assist from powerful marketing/publicity machines and/or clever image consultants. Here’s what we’ve learned about delayed chart success and how to pull it off from several artists who are currently working their way up the pop ladder.
Glamor is good. Evolution is a natural progression for pop stars. Lady Gaga may be the same girl she was when she burst onto the pop scene in 2008 with “Just Dance,” but she hardly looks the same. Yes, she still has a penchant for the outlandish, but these days she looks far more expensive. Currently undergoing a similar shift in style is Jessie J, who first burst onto the scene in 2010 walking the fashion tightrope between hip hop and punk in her “Do It Like a Dude” video, and spent the better part of last year bumming around mid-chart level for her clashing musical and sartorial efforts.
For her fifth single “Domino,” though, the singer discovered that it’s okay to clean up well, which she does in the song’s video, slinking about like Katy Perry with a better voice, without a freaky piercing or Goth effect in sight. Morphing into an aspiring fashion icon over the course of numerous costume changes won her a ticket into the Top 10 for the first time. If it ends up being her last, let’s hope she got to keep the outfits.
Sex Still Sells. In the immortal words of Bell Biv DeVoe (on the great 1990 ode to lust “Do Me!”), “Smack it up, flip it, rub it down, oh no!” BBD and Sir Mix-a-Lot would be so proud. Not since 1992, the year backsides ruled, with Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” topping the Hot 100 and Wreckx-N-Effects’ “Rump Shaker” jiggling all the way to No. 2, have butts figured so prominently in the making of a Top 10 hit.
They’re all over the place in the two-and-a-half-minute strip club-set promotional video for Tyga’s “Rack City” that debuted on YouTube last September and became a viral hit months before the single’s release, racking up more than 20 million views. Not to take anything away from the song—or the “official” heist-style video, which premiered on January 9—but Tyga might owe his Top 10 breakthrough as much to tits and asses as to a song with an irresistibly slinky hip-hop groove.
It’s Who You Know (Or With Whom You’re Willing to Collaborate). M.I.A. methods may be questionable, but her timing is impeccable. On February 3, the day she debuted the video for her new single, “Bad Girls,” she also debuted in the video for Madonna’s new single “Give Me All Your Luvin’.”
Her fans probably never thought they’d see the day when the iconoclastic singer of “Born Free,” would literally be a cheerleader for Madonna, but rah rah-ing for the would-be queen of pop made “Bad Girls” her single most likely to make it onto the Hot 100 since “Paper Planes” became a surprise No. 4 hit in 2008. (Lest we forget she’s still a bad ass capable of stirring up controversy, she flipped the bird while appearing with Madonna at the Super Bowl on February 5, becoming the most-talked-about aspect of the entire performance.)
It’s a tactic that’s worked three times for David Guetta, most recently with “Turn Me On,” his current collaboration with Nicki Minaj—Madonna and M.I.A.’s partner in pop predictability in “Give Me All Your Luvin’,”the single, video and Super Bowl performance—and an artist who has spent most of her young career climbing the charts in tandem with other artists. Not that she NEEDS anyone’s help. “Super Bass,” her biggest and best Top 10 hit so far, was the one she pulled off all by herself.
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.
The significance of the Billboard Hot 100, which compiles the Top 100 singles based on radio popularity, in the music industry today has certainly diminished. But despite new music industry road maps, the chart remains an interesting measure of what sells in a huge commercial way. So, let’s take a look what role the voice plays in each of the following chart-toppers’ success on Billboard from the week of November 26, 2011. Here are the Top 10 artists in order.
1. Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris, “We Found Love” While Rihanna’s hits are always fun and catchy, the way that her voice sounds recorded (a bit whiny) has never blown me away. And then there’s the fact that some of her stuff is diluted with pitch correction software, which shows in live performance when she’s often off key. All that aside, this particular song is not offensive, but its just very bland.
2. LMFAO – “Sexy And I Know It” DJs Redfoo and SkyBlu may have no vocal talent, but at least they don’t pretend to. They have fun and the song is what is, and that’s why it works. Continue reading ‘Vocal Points: View From The Top’