In a move that sounds cooler the more we think about it, English electronic group Hot Chip have been chosen to chosen to provide the introductory music for the Olympic table tennis competition. With their Olympic foray, Hot Chip join a host of English musical luminaries who are already involved with the 2012 London games. The all-star list includes Paul McCartney, Arctic Monkeys, MIA, Adele, and Muse, who will reportedly all be performing at the opening ceremony of the games tomorrow night. Muse’s song “Survival” is also the official song of the 2012 Olympics.
While we wait in anticipation for Hot Chip to bring their funky electro-pop to the table tennis court, it’s only natural speculate about other combinations of English bands and Olympic sports that we’d like to see. Dragonforce and rhythmic gymnastics, anyone?
Last week, the music industry lost a female veteran when Ms. Melodie of Boogie Down Productions died on Wednesday. Her 1989 release Diva made her one of the first emcees to spit alongside the heavy-hitting male rappers of the day, like ex-husband KRS-One.
The loss made me reflect on today’s female rappers, and the position they hold in the hip-hop world. Aside from Nicki Minaj, it seems that female rappers have all but disappeared from the mainstream landscape over the past few years.
But times may be changing. The days of Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown may be over, but a slew of new spitters have been staging some serious attacks, and a few familiar faces are poised to return, ready to make a big impact on the rap game.
Eve recently announced plans to release her oft-delayed project Lip Lock this fall. It will be her first album since Eve-Olution hit the streets 10 years ago. If things go her way, the former Ruff Ryder will be rocking radio waves again, showcasing her sick rhyming skills and ever-present ability to get a party started with her sexy but scathing style. She recently made her first-ever appearance at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans and received a warm welcome from legions of loyal fans who can’t wait for her return to the mic. Continue reading ‘Soundcheck: Return Of The Female Emcee?’
The singer/songwriter who you likely know from his songs that have been featured on such television shows as Dawson’s Creek and Roswell and various films has just released the Western & Atlantic EP. Working with Colin Killilea (Pocketknife), Marwan Kanafani (City Breathing), Erik Olsen (DiLego’s longtime writing partner), and Gregg Williams (Dandy Warhols, Sheryl Crow), the result is a stroll back to the Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell sound that intrigued DiLego as a child. Perhaps that’s not surprising when you consider Rolling Stone dubbed him “alt-country’s next poster boy.”
“Just this morning I was watching ‘Walk the Line’ [the 2005 biographical drama about] Johnny Cash,” he said when asked about his decision to gather all the players in a studio and record Western & Atlantic live except for minimal overdubs. “It is only in today’s era that having recorded everyone live [while the players are] together means anything. In the history of music, that was just the way you recorded things.”
Not that DiLego is that far away from the roots of country. After all, he and musical partner Bree Sharp have a loyal following for their folk, alt-country duo Beautiful Small Machines. In fact, the duo’s recent cover of a banjo version of MIA’s “Paper Planes” was just selected as a Top 5 Pick of the Week by The Guardian of London. But in order to juggle his hectic musical schedule, DiLego will often use modern recording tools, like most other musicians, to finish a project. Perhaps the back-to-basics recording process for Western & Atlantic is what makes the early buzz around the EP so heartening.
Remember the days when R&B and hip hop was the sound of pop? From the ‘90s to the mid ‘00s, music’s most dependable hitmakers—Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton, Boyz II Men, R. Kelly, Usher, Brandy, Monica, Alicia Keys, Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé, among them—specialized in “crossover” soul, climbing both the R&B charts and the Hot 100 in tandem.
But lately, something strange has been happening on Billboard’s R&B /Hip-Hop Songs chart: A hit is no longer necessarily a hit. Just because a song is big in the R&B sphere doesn’t mean it’s big anywhere else. For the week ending April 7, 2012, only one song in the R&B/Hip-Hop Top 10—Tyga’s “Rack City”—had managed a comparable placing on the Hot 100.
The song at No. 1, Beyoncé’s “Love on Top,” which had been there for multiple weeks, was way down at No. 54 on the Hot 100. (It briefly entered the Top 40 last September, debuting and peaking at No. 20 after Beyoncé performed it at the MTV Video Music Awards.) Meanwhile, there wasn’t a single R&B diva in the Top 40 aside from Janelle Monae, who got there by guest-singing on rock band fun.’s No. 1 hit “We Are Young.”
What happened to pop’s soul? There’s a disconnect between the pop and R&B charts that hasn’t been so pronounced since the days when Michael Jackson’s label, CBS Records, threatened to pull all of its artists from MTV if the then-fledgling network didn’t play Jackson’s “Billie Jean” video.
Diplo is quickly emerging as the go-to producer in the industry by making a name for himself as a constant chameleon, and more importantly, a tastemaker. He discovered MIA, he helped bring Azelia Banks to popularity just last week, his label Mad Decent was the first to champion the growing moombahton sound (which could easily become the next dubstep), and he just recently revealed on Facebook that he and Snoop Dogg are working on an album – and, according to MTV, a reggae album, at that. Diplo is no stranger to the reggae style, as his side project Major Lazer incorporates dancehall and dub elements into American-style EDM. And while it may come as a surprise to some that Snoop, the everlasting hip-hop icon has chosen such a drastically different style of music, his newfound Soundclound explosion hints at his eagerness to explore new genres.
Diplo opened up to MTV:
“Snoop Dogg is an icon, man; he’s bigger than the music…What we’re doing is a reggae record. It’s like Snoop Dogg and Major Lazer together. It’s all reggae and he’s singing and he’s doing a f—ing awesome job and I never knew it, but he had his heart in every song…We’re going to get back into the production of it next month, and I’m really proud of that record. It’s the first record I’ve ever executive-produced and his crew is amazing.”
We really have no clue what to expect from this album, but with the talent and creativity the two of these guys bring to the table, there’s no doubt we’ll give it a couple of listens. Heck, we might need to give it more than a couple just to cut through all the haze that is bound to be associated with this heavy-lidded album.
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.
In pop music, you’re nobody until everybody loves you or hates you, and few recording artists polarize everybody the way Lady Gaga does. Mad genius or plain mad? A true original or hopelessly derivative? Hit or miss?
That last question easily could apply to Gaga’s second full-length studio album, Born This Way, which was released to near-unprecedented fanfare in May of last year. The music press gave it “generally favorable reviews,” according to Metacritic, which assigned the album a score of 71 out of 100. Madonna, however, was less than blown away by the title song and first single, which many declared a too-blatant rip-off of her 1989 hit “Express Yourself.”
The woman who has spent her entire career nicking sights and sounds from other people, apparently agreed and recently joined the song’s chorus of detractors. “When I heard it on the radio… I said that sounds very familiar,” Madonna told ABC News’ Cynthia McFadden in January. “It felt reductive.”
As for the parent album, whether it’s good or bad is a matter of personal taste. Hit or miss, though? Commercially speaking, it depends on how you look at it. Born This Way sold 1.1 million copies in the week after its release, making it the biggest debut since 2005. However, Gaga’s sales feat becomes less impressive when you consider that some 440,000 of those copies were sold in the digital format by Amazon, which practically gave the album away for 99 cents.
By week two, sales of Born This Way had plummeted 84 percent, down to the mere-mortal level of 174,000 copies. In its third week, it sold 100,000 copies, and was replaced by Adele’s three-months-older (in the US) 21 at No. 1. When the dust settled and 2011 ended, Born This Way was the third-biggest seller of the year, with cumulative sales of 2.1 million copies, which means it did half of its business last year in its first week. The No. 1 album of 2011, Adele’s own sophomore effort, sold nearly three times as much (5.8 million).
If Born This Way were a Hollywood event movie, and in many ways it was marketed like one, it would be considered a disappointment, as aspiring blockbusters that only double their opening-weekend haul during their box-office runs are generally considered to be. Worldwide sales in the vicinity of 5 million lack luster when an album’s pre-release set-up positions it to be the biggest thing since sliced bread—or Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Then there are the five singles from Born This Way. Aside from the aforementioned title track, which spent six weeks at No. 1, they’ve performed somewhat below Gaga’s usual Hot 100 standards. The second to fourth singles all reached the Top 10, but none of them enjoyed industry buzz or runaway success on par with previous Gaga hits like “Telephone” and “Bad Romance.” Meanwhile, the fifth single, “Marry the Night,” only reached No. 29 on Billboard’s Hot 100, making it Gaga’s first official single to miss the Top 10.
There’s always the February 12 GRAMMY Awards to provide a nice Gaga rebound (she’s up for three awards), but they probably won’t, not with Adele in the running (and performing). In fact, Adele might have been the one thing most responsible for blocking the view of Gaga for much of 2011.
The antithesis of all things Gaga, she’s a singer who gets by without gimmickry and flash, just strictly on the power of her voice. Her 21 singles have had considerably more staying power than those from Born This Way—the third, “Set Fire to the Rain,” just became the third to hit No. 1—which means that when the dust settles (again) and 2012 ends, some other 21 single probably will still be jerking tears (“Turning Tables”?) or rocking the house (“Rumour Has It”?).
Even Gaga’s videos and live award show performances are no longer the talk of every town, not when Adele hits the same stage, accompanied by a tremolo piano melody, effortlessly knocking rare notes way back into the nosebleed seats, and bringing on the heartbreak with “Someone Like You.” She did just that at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards in September, and she walked away with the most-talked-about live TV performance of the year (without having to reveal that she was pregnant!). Gaga performed “You and I” at the VMAs, but it was Adele whose song was No. 1 on the Hot 100 within days of the ceremony.
Adele will likely steal Gaga’s GRAMMY thunder, too. Gaga scored her third Album of the Year nomination for Born This Way (her second was for the 2009 EP The Fame Monster), but there’s no stopping the Adele express, which is likely to run over everything in its path. Gaga may have to settle for Favorite Album of the Year at the January 11 People’s Choice Awards.
So hit or miss? I’d say Born This Way falls somewhere between stunning success and magnificent failure, definitely closer to the former when both artistry and commerce are accounted for. Derivative first single aside, the album was an uncompromising pop opus, one that is musically to the left of the one that made Gaga a superstar.
Had its more difficult tracks—”Scheiße” and, say, “Heavy Metal Lover”—been recorded by someone like M.I.A. or an obscure European electronica act, they probably would have been declared masterpieces of iconoclastic electro-pop. “Judas,” for sure, would have had considerably lowered chart expectations (it hit No. 10). Released under any other name, Born This Way, far as it is from the mainstream that Katy Perry and Rihanna call home, probably would have sold a small fraction of what it did sell with Gaga’s name plastered on the cover.
There’ll be future hits for her, though, more GRAMMY nominations. And even if her reign as the hottest thing in music is over for good, Adele shouldn’t get too comfortable at the top. In pop, nobody stays there forever.