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Vocal Points: Justin Bieber Coached Through Puberty

Teen-pop superstar Justin Bieber started heating up on YouTube at the age of only 12. His sweet voice and adorable image made him so popular that Justin Timberlake and Usher were fighting over him. But since signing to Island Records and upping his status from YouTube sensation to worldwide teen heartthrob, he has undergone many changes. Some were easy, but others required a great deal of work.

Usher, voice coach Jan Smith, and Bieber

Justin Bieber‘s voice was incredibly high at the beginning of his career, typical for a young boy who has not yet reached puberty. Since then, the inevitable happened—his voice deepened. While every kid goes through puberty, few go through it while subjected to such intense scrutiny. Since he rose to fame, people have speculated that Bieber’s musical career would end when his voice dropped. And after his noticeable voice-crack during his performance of “Pray” at the American Music Awards in November, it seemed that they may have a point. Instead of letting that performance bring him down, Bieber used it as a learning experience and invested in a voice coach to help him strengthen his voice and ensure his continued success.

His weapon of choice: Jan Smith (dubbed ‘Mama Jan’ by Usher, who is also coached by her). Smith has coached stars like Ciara, Rob Thomas and Trey Songz, and her work with Bieber has helped him to learn the difference between singing for fun and singing as a profession. When Bieber was initially discovered, he sang because he loved doing it. But now he has been forced to learn discipline and the necessary steps required to sustain a career based on his voice. This is why a voice coach is so essential for Bieber. He needs someone with experience to guide him in learning vocal technique and to make him practice every day.










Michael Jackson is a great example of a child star who was well disciplined. His voice started out as male soprano and he was able to sustain it with great success as a high tenor after his voice changed. Jackson’s voice coach for most of his career was Seth Riggs, who rehearsed with him for at least two hours a day, six days a week. This kind of training strengthens the voice and allows singers to be at their best despite the fact that they are performing day after day, week after week.

Bieber’s voice has already grown significantly, but it is time for him to mature and take responsibility for keeping his voice strong. He can rely on Jan Smith for help, but it will be ultimately up to him and how seriously he takes his voice training.

Two Cents For 50 Cent

A very noble goal for "him self"

In a surprising change of pace from his regular stream of silly and pointless tweets, rapper 50 Cent shared his intent to feed one billion (yes, billion) people in Africa within a period of five years. Immediate reactions ranged from the positive and encouraging to the aggressive and negative. Apparently, the greatest complaint he’s received so far is his decision to lend a helping hand to people in another continent, while there is so much need in his home country. And, in a rather uncharacteristic show of levelheadedness, he responded: “people here have a fair shot.”

Celebrities using their stardom to help people in need isn’t something new, and Africa is no stranger to this. Bono, Michael JacksonOprah, George Clooney, Bruce Springsteen… these are but a scarce few of the celebs who have used the spotlight to do good in afflicted regions of the continent. But there have been increasing accusations of these acts being nothing but a publicity stunt to improve their public image and get on the media’s good graces. Considering his current relationship with the public eye and the positive media coverage he’s received in recent times, it’s hard to imagine 50 Cent would stoop as low as that merely for extra followers on his Twitter account.

As ridiculous and farfetched as this goal may be, we can’t help but feel that Fitty’s intentions are genuine and hope that he will, in fact, do his best to make it happen. Besides, the harm made by a promise gone sour would be more than enough to split his fanbase. As most things in life, only time will tell what is to come of this.

If you want to send him your support, simply send out a tweet with the “#SK” hashtag and your best wishes.

Sound And Vision: Best And Worst Performances In Pop Music Videos — Who’s Hot And Not?

Though we’re at least two decades removed from MTV‘s prime, never underestimate the enduring power of music videos. They can send singles zooming up the charts (Katy Perry’s latest jumped from No. 31 to No. 4 the week after the video hit YouTube), make intolerable songs must-hear and must-see (as Ke$ha‘s “Blow” recently did) and drum up just enough controversy to make fairly mainstream acts seem edgy (take a bow, Lady Gaga). But unlike the days when Michael Jackson and MTV ruled, for the most part, they’re no longer trying to change music or do much more beyond promoting the artists whose names are attached to them.

Lady Gaga and Beyoncé still take the art of making videos seriously; Ke$ha, who owes her entire career to a carefully cultivated video image, put an MTV VMA-worthy effort into “Blow” (my pick for the best pop clip of 2011 so far); and Katy Perry shines brightest onscreen. Still, when it comes to videos, most of today’s pop stars offer little more than what’s expected of them. They show up, look fantastic and lip-sync to the best of their ability.

It’s been years since the once always-dependable Madonna has given us the wow factor. Annie Lennox and Björk are from a now-bygone era. Michael Jackson is dead. And Adele, who could have done so much with “Rolling in the Deep,” didn’t even bother to get off her ass!

Which pop stars are making the biggest impressions—for better and for worse—on MTV and on YouTube these days? I like Nicki Minaj, but she’s all styling—without the bells and whistles, she’d probably blend into the woodwork. And Jennifer Lopez has never been sexier than she is in “I’m Into You,” but the video is only about how great she looks. The song is throwaway, and the video doesn’t make it sound any better. So who are video’s latest MVPs? Here are my picks for who’s Hot and Not.


Debbie Gibson in Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” The fifth video from Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream album really pulls its weight, doing precisely what a good video should do: It sells the song. It’s a true transformer, turning “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” from a mediocre album track into a Teenage Dream highlight. Interestingly, the best moment involves neither the song nor the star. The usually dependable Perry overplays her geek alter-ego throughout, but toward the end, when ’80s teen queen Debbie Gibson shows up as her mom, the clip morphs from Glee meets Party Girl and Can’t Hardly Wait into a sort of video roast of Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side. Gibson does the perfectly pressed upper-crust glamour mom/wife with confidence and humor. Hollywood! Quick! Get this woman her own sitcom!

Rihanna in “Man Down” Music videos rarely require acting chops. If you’ve got the look—and Rihanna certainly does—three-quarters of the battle is won. In “Man Down,” a controversial gothic drama about the ripple effect of sexual abuse, Rihanna creates a complete character without uttering a single word of dialogue. Watching her tragic response after she’s sexually assualted outside of a club, I find myself wishing that she were making her film debut next year in a dramatic showcase that would require more from her than Battleship, a Hollywood wannabe-blockbuster set for release next Memorial Day weekend.

Kelly Rowland in “Motivation” I’ve never listened to the first hit single from Rowland’s third album, Here I Am, without the benefit of the video visual, so I couldn’t tell you if it stands on its own. But for the first time in her solo career, Rowland does. I’d make some crack about how she’s bringing sexy back, but it’s the first time we’ve seen Rowland bring it period (ah, the wonders of a blue lighting and impossibly sculpted male dancers). After so many years of being a second banana in Destiny’s Child, living her pop life in Beyoncé’s shadow, Rowland at last is the star of her own show.


Jennifer Hudson in “No One Gonna Love You” Hudson proves that her Oscar win for Dreamgirls may have been a fluke, and her underwhelming follow-up performance in the first Sex and the City movie wasn’t. In her (flimsy) defense, the dialogue that begins her latest clip is as awkward as the song’s grammatically challenged title. But a great Academy Award-winning actress should be able to transcend a poor script. Hudson looks amazing, but her sass sounds forced, and she tries too hard to channel Beyoncé in too-the-left-to-the-left female-empowerment mode. Instead, she comes across as kind of cranky and annoyed. No wonder her man can’t get away from her fast enough! Next time Hudson should skip the pillow talk and just sing.

Britney Spears in “I Wanna Go” Where’s Britney Spears’s pop-star spark? Look closely at her in any video from her last three albums: She’s dead behind the eyes. The zombie act continues in the third clip from the Femme Fatale album. Being Britney Spears is hard work, so now she’s trying to be Ke$ha (the attitude at the press conference that kicks off the video is straight out of “Blow”) with a touch of Avril Lavigne (her purposeful strut as she stalks the streets seems to have been lifted from “What the Hell”). Instead, she comes across as a third-string pop star (Mandy Moore or Jessica Simpson back when Britney was on top). Though she gets bonus points for not falling back on the same dance routines that dominate her videography, if she wants to show us that it’s not easy being Britney (yawn, yes, there we go again), the least she could do is be Britney.

Enrique Iglesias in “Dirty Dancer” They don’t make male solo pop stars the way they did back when Michael Jackson and Prince ruled the world. Bruno Mars and Jason Derülo are nice to look at but hardly potentially iconic video stars. Then there’s Iglesias—gorgeous, talented and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of sizing up face to face. But it’s time for him to do something new with his. You can take him out of any of the videos he’s made since his English-language breakthrough in 1999 with “Bailamos,” drop him into another one, and the videos all remain the same. I’m not saying those come hither looks don’t work—only the most justifiably confident pop star would dare to name a song “Tonight I’m F**kin´ You” and probably be right—but when I’m starting to tire of looking at Enrique Iglesias head shots (tilt it just so, look up slightly, smolder), we’ve got a serious problem.

Neuman’s Own: In Defense Of Amy Winehouse

It’s been two weeks since Amy Winehouse had to cancel a twelve-city European tour following a now-notorious meltdown in Belgrade, which one Serbian newspaper deemed to be the nation’s “worst concert ever.” Amy Winehouse continues to be the most polarizing figure in the music industry, eliciting more anger than anyone in the post-Michael Jackson universe. Expressions of anger usually fall into one of three categories.

The first category attacks her looks. Certainly, some of this is par for the course for high profile songstresses (Fergie, Britney, Courtney), but Winehouse’s propensity for having her looks attacked is simply without parallel in the music word and perhaps the world of celebrity. She has been publically called out for looking like: a man and/or tranny, a horse, Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter movies, an alien, Dr. Frankenfurter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a vampire, Bette Midler, Death, a martian, the Bride of Frankenstein, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Howard Stern, Marilyn Manson, SS-Standartenführer Reinhard Heydrich (Google it), and perhaps most frequently, a train wreck. She has been a popular Halloween costume and the subject of a porn parody.

The second category attacks her health. Winehouse has been summarily diagnosed (by people who have never been in the same room with her) as suffering from herpes, anorexia, emphysema, tuberculosis and chronic thumb sucking. Winehouse’s “sickness” is frequently cast in opposition to her relative “health” when she burst onto the scene as a white, Jewish girl from the London suburbs. And we’re not just talking tabloids. In it’s 2007 cover story of Winehouse, Spin said of her: “Three years ago she was an innocuous, girl-next-doorish, virtually tat-free, full-figured neo-jazz crooner with middling sales and no American distribution—now she’s Sid Vicious.” Even when Winehouse looks healthy the public still manages to find occasion for insult: After returning from a trip to the Caribbean, for instance, she was described as looking like “a cast member of the Jersey Shore.”

The third category of Amy-hating points to her behavior. The 27-year old’s battles with heroin, alcohol, cocaine, ketamine and marijuana are well chronicled (in fact, she’s chronicled many of them herself in songs), but the mocking scorn that accompanies their depiction is without parallel. The photograph of her wandering the streets in just her bra in 2007 became her icon’s fait accompli, the way Nick Ut’s photo of a naked Vietnamese girl in 1972 became the symbol for all that was wrong with the US’s actions in the Vietnam War. There was, of course, the cell phone video in which she appeared to be smoking crack and, of course, the video of her singing racist words inserted into a children’s song.

Since when aren’t rock stars supposed to be dangerous? The same three criteria above—bad looks, bad health, bad behavior—have been aired as protests against some of the most important musical acts of all-time—Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Bob Dylan and The Stones. They were the arguments against the value of the early punks and the forefathers of hip hop.  In an era in which artists shill to their fans on MySpace and Twitter as if they were friends, isn’t there a place for one performer in the world who isn’t pussy enough to say she doesn’t give a fuck if we like her? Even ballyhooed subversive Lady Gaga—last seen giving Scotty McCreery tips on how to hold a microphone on American Idol can be bought and sold like Coca-Cola. Meanwhile, that grainy video of Winehouse with her trademark flopping over to one side, painfully mumbling through songs on a Belgrade stage communicates more in one unfinished song about the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll than Gaga could summon from inside her GRAMMY egg vessel in a lifetime.

Don’t pity Amy Winehouse. She wants you to hate the way she looks. She wants you to think of her as sick. She wants you to notice her fucked-up behavior. While some have speculated that Winehouse’s latest crash and burn has made it possible for Adele to assume her abdicated throne as the reigning British queen of soul, I doubt it. Amy Winehouse has already lived and died in that throne a hundred times before: “The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.”

Industrial Revolution: Warner Brat’ya

Warner Music Group was sold to Russian-American billionaire Len Blavatnik earlier this month for some bootleg Beatles tapes and black-market blue jeans. But seriously, it went for $3.3 BILLION.

How on earth could a record company be valued so highly in this tenuous market, you ask? Warner is, of course, a long-running and highly respected major label (all things being relative). But even that prestige is not enough to explain such a high premium. Indeed, the failing business of selling records is the reason a company like Warner was up for sale in the first place. Still, there are other aspects of Warner that make it so desirable an asset.

Firstly, Warner Music has a highly lucrative publishing arm, Warner/Chappell, with a catalog boasting an incredible array of works by legendary figures from the Gershwins to Van Morrison to Michael Jackson and Madonna. It remains to be seen whether Warner/Chappell is assessed higher as an asset or a commodity to be auctioned off. There is no doubt that these catalogs will continue to steadily generate revenue for the foreseeable future, with little need for business maintenance or risk-taking.

Secondly, Warner (specifically former owner and still CEO Edgar Bronfman, Jr.) and its new owner, Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries, have already been talking loudly about their awareness that the record industry has changed, and that they must change with it. Though Bronfman is said to have acted conservatively in relation to expansion into digital media, recent rhetoric indicates that a shift in direction, perhaps as radical as abandoning physical music formats, could be imminent.

Thirdly, Warner Music is the perfect vehicle for future ventures and acquisitions. Even prior to this sale, it had been speculated that the next item on the auction block would be the troubled, but almost equally respected EMI, which itself has a rich history and valuable publishing catalog, but is in receivership to CitiBank. For anyone looking to become a power player in the music industry, Warner and EMI could be the ultimate one-two punch.

Which brings us to a very likely and familiar fourth reason, which should be considered in combination with any/all of the above, for Warner’s price tag: vanity. Blavatnik made his fortune in oil. The Bronfman family made theirs in whisky (Seagram’s). There is almost certainly a love of the game involved for men like these, and a prime directive to continue making money, but it’s difficult to discount the notion that they were both drawn into the music business for the glamour and the high profile. Blavatnik has previously displayed a similar penchant in ventures into film distribution and fashion. Warner Music, and a potential EMI merger, could turn him from a super-rich but generally unknown businessman into the most powerful man in the music business. Also, still super, super-rich.


Also, wine coolers.

No Cover: Prince Doesn’t Want Anyone Else Recording His Songs

Prince kicked off his 21-night tour of Los Angeles last week on Lopez Tonight, and along with discussions about “artichoke” being an excellent swear word and his love for tortilla chips, Prince told George that he wants copyright laws changed so that no one can record covers of his songs. Ever. Prince has always been pretty protective of his songs, fighting his label, YouTube, eBay and even his fans over what he considers his intellectual property. But we’re a little surprised that he’d want to go so far as to make covering his songs illegal. (We’re also surprised that people actually watch Lopez Tonight, but whatever.)

“My problem is when the industry covers the music,” Prince told Lopez. “There’s this thing called compulsory licensing law that allows artists through the record companies to take your music at will without your permission. And that doesn’t exist in any other art form, be it books, movies—There’s only one version of ‘Law & Order.’ There’s several versions of ‘Kiss’ and ‘Purple Rain’.”

There’s just one problem with that: Prince isn’t exactly right. Compulsory licensing does exist in other media, including television, and as Hollywood Reporter explains, there are plenty of “fair use” exceptions in literature and films as well.

Besides the questionable facts Prince uses in his explanation, we just don’t quite get where he’s coming from. Don’t get us wrong—Prince is a superstar and no one rocks sequins and high heels quite like he does, but how can someone who’s covered everyone from Michael Jackson to Radiohead to Gnarls Barkley to Rihanna say that it’s uncool for other people to cover his songs? We’re also a little confused as to what sparked this, especially following Prince’s decision to let Gwyneth Paltrow belt out “Kiss” on an episode of Glee earlier this season. Guess the eighties superstar is down with covers… as long as the money’s right.

Either way, Prince won’t be able to make this happen. Under United States copyright law, once a song has been recorded and publicly distributed compulsory licensing kicks in, and any musician who pays royalties has the ability to record a cover as long as they notify the original artist. But juuuust in case he somehow manages to pull it off, here’s a playlist of some of our current favorite Prince covers to keep you satisfied. No, Limp Bizket’s rendition of “1999” didn’t make the cut.


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