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Can Mariah Carey Rise Again?

Since the turn of the century, Mariah Carey’s once-seemingly indestructible career has twisted and turned, going up and down and back around like that roller-coaster ride in the video for “Fantasy,” one of her biggest songs from the last century.

Ups: The Emancipation of Mimi, the best selling album of 2005 in the US, which featured “We Belong Together,” the biggest solo single of Carey’s career, and a well-reviewed supporting performance in the Oscar-nominated 2009 film Precious. Downs: a flop film/soundtrack combo (2001′s Glitter), under-performing albums and singles and that public meltdown that sent her star shooting in the wrong direction for most of the first half of the millennium.

Now that star is in a state of flux, teetering, thanks to her last album, 2009′s Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, which yielded mixed results. Though it received decent reviews, it launched only one Top 10 single (the Eminem-dissing “Obsessed”), and became her first studio album not to at least go platinum. A Memoirs remix album, Angels Advocate, was scrapped, and not even a tacked-on Nicky Minaj cameo could pull “Up Out My Face,” the first single from the aborted project, higher than No. 100 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

But through the rain (to quote the title of one of her downs), nobody ever accused Carey of being over. In fact, the timing might be perfect for her to launch a full-scale comeback, which unofficially began on March 1 with a forty-minute show at New York City’s Gotham Hall, her first performance since giving birth to twins Moroccan and Monroe on April 30, 2011.

Adele is helping to make the Hot 100 once again safe for sisters with voices, and the death of Whitney Houston has increased the void that she and Carey spent the ’90s filling. Like Houston, she specializes in the sort of big, melismatic R&B ballads that have been MIA from the tops of the pops for several years now. Carey could use one to claw her way back to the top of the diva heap, but she’ll need a sturdy comeback plan. Here are five guidelines she should scribble on it.

Choose your collaborators wisely. Carey has released little new music since 2009, aside from her second holiday album, 2010′s Merry Christmas II You, and a re-recording of her own “All I Want for Christmas Is You” with Justin Bieber for Under the Mistletoe, his 2011 Christmas album. Though that’s precisely the kind of collaboration she should avoid in the future (a forty-something woman need not be seen and/or heard cavorting musically with a teenager), the recent news that she’s been in the studio with Jermaine Dupri, who co-wrote and co-produced “We Belong Together,” is already music to these cautiously optimistic ears.

Sure Carey could probably score at least one quick hit by hooking up with Dr. Luke, will.i.am or David Guetta, but why chase after the scraps that all of those other pop divas have been picking on, or invite such overexposed rappers like Minaj and Lil Wayne into the studio to spice up whatever she’s cooking up? She and her longtime cohort can produce a gourmet meal that fans won’t be able to feast on anywhere else.

Keep leaving “dem babies” at home. It was wise of her to refer to her twins with husband Nick Cannon only in onstage banter at the New York City show and not actually trot them out. Sex sells, and although motherhood is sexy, nobody wants to see Carey pushing around twin baby strollers in a little black dress.

Get involved: Sign up for as many extracurricular activities as possible. It’s hard to imagine that Jennifer Lopez would have scored a comeback hit last year with “On the Floor,” or a plum spot Oscar-presenting with Cameron Diaz at this year’s Academy Awards if she’d never signed on as an American Idol judge. (Does that mean she has Idol to blame for that unfortunately exposed nipple while co-presenting Best Costume Design and Best Makeup?)

Carey was at one point mentioned to fill the Idol seat that Lopez eventually snagged. Now that Paula Abdul is gone from the US X Factor, Carey should lobby hard with Simon Cowell to take her place and then use the show to launch the first single from her next album.

And don’t forget, you’re an actress, too. After a few false starts, Carey finally proved herself in Hollywood with her small but pivotal performance as a supportive social worker in Precious. Since Whitney Houston is no longer around to reprise her role as Savannah in the planned sequel to Waiting to Exhale, Carey should make sure that she, and not Oprah Winfrey, as has been suggested, is next in line to replace her.

Act your age, not Katy Perry’s. Carey once told me during an interview, that her baby-doll persona is totally wink-wink: those sideways glances, the fluttering of her eyelids, calling fans her “lambs”all an act. I got the joke, but unfortunately, it only made it easier to believe she’d suffered a serious breakdown in early 2001, since she’d always acted a little… off.

Now that she’s in her forties, it’s time to overhaul the life-size-Barbie image. Adele became the biggest pop star in the world without a single gimmick. Carey should follow suit and rely solely on her voice. It’s still in working order, and for all her ups and downs this century, it’s the one thing that hasn’t failed her yet.

Sound And Vision: Celebrity Feuds — Pop Is a Battlefield, World War II

“Take back Vanessa Redgrave
Take back Joe Piscopo
Take back Eddie Murphy
Give ‘em all some place to go”

— Tom Petty, “Jammin’ Me” (1987)

“Fuck Tom Petty!”—Eddie Murphy

Oh, those crazy stars! What will they say next? And will they ever learn? What a tangled web they weave when they start to take pot shots at each other.

Celebrity feuds have existed since before the dawn of the pop charts. Eminem owes much of his early notoriety to cutting down to size the likes of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, ‘N Sync and Moby in videos and on record. Meanwhile, off the record (though always totally for attribution), Katy Perry has never met a fellow chart-topper she wouldn’t slag off.

But lately, stars keep colliding and disturbing the peace in the music galaxy. Liam Gallagher just filed suit against his brother Noel over the latter’s claim that Liam pulled out of a high-profile Oasis gig in 2009 due to a hangover and over comments Noel made blaming Liam for the demise of the band. But then brothers in arms have engaged in verbal—and occasionally, physical— combat since the heyday of the Kinks, which featured the dueling Davies, Ray and Dave. Chris and Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes, William and Jim Reid of the Jesus and Mary Chain, and Kings of Leon‘s Followill brothers have the battle scars to prove it.

Continue reading ‘Sound And Vision: Celebrity Feuds — Pop Is a Battlefield, World War II’

Sound And Vision: Can Simon Cowell Rise Again With The U.S. ‘X Factor’?

If there was any lesson to be learned last season on American Idol, it’s this: There’s life after Simon Cowell. And Scotty McCreery, America’s 10th Idol, wasn’t the only beneficiary of the show’s still-beating heart. So was replacement judge Jennifer Lopez‘s stalled singing career.

Yes, folks, life went on. Despite the departure of Simon Cowell last year after season nine, American Idol continued, popularity more than in tact. The Wednesday performance night edition was still the No. 1 show on prime-time TV during the 2010-2011 season, with an increase in overall average weekly viewership since last year to 25.86 million, up from 22.97 million, which had been a considerable drop from season eight’s 25.53 million. (Should we blame Ellen DeGeneres, who joined as a judge for the ninth season only and left along with Cowell and Kara DioGuardi, or a continuation of the season-to-season erosion in viewers that had plagued the show for several years before the tenth-season upswing?) Meanwhile, the May 25 season finale attracted 29.29 million viewers, five million more than season nine’s denouement.

So what does this mean for Simon Cowell? When his US version of The X Factor, the show he created in the UK in 2004 and judged until last year, debuts September 21 on Fox (the network that airs Idol), he’ll have the playing field all to himself. The Voice, featuring the judging panel of Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton and Maroon 5′s Adam Levine, just finished its well-received run on NBC (at No. 20 for the season, with a weekly average of 11.97 million viewers), and it will return for a second round next year. But will the US X Factor be too much too soon. Has America discovered enough new pop (and country) idols for one year?

Cowell will no doubt be a draw, but perhaps less of one than we might have expected before Idol carried on so nicely without him. And the bad press over the hiring and firing of Cheryl Cole, the Girls Aloud member who was plucked from the judges table of the UK X Factor for the US one, has raised the show’s profile without really helping it.

Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, who had previously been tapped to cohost but will now take Cole’s place as a judge, is a much smarter choice, but why the eleventh-hour switch? (Cole had already participated in auditions and still will appear in some episodes when The X Factor premieres.) Some reports have indicated that Cole was let go because of the fear that her thick British accent would be unintelligible to viewers in the US, but I’m not buying that weak excuse. She had the same accent when she was hired that she had when she was fired, and surely her speaking voice was considered before anyone signed on the dotted line.

I’d bet Steven Tyler‘s hair extensions Cole’s dismissal had everything to do with the other reported reason: that Cole didn’t quite click with Paula Abdul, Cowell’s former Idol co-worker whom he hired to reunite with him on the US X Factor as a judge. (Music mogul L.A. Reid will be the fourth wheel.) And there you have it! As a draw in the States, Abdul is so much more valuable than Cole, a big star in the UK but one who is pretty much unheard of in the US.

If people are going to tune into The X Factor in droves, it won’t necessarily be for the great music or even to hear what Simon Cowell is going to say next. (He did, after all, become a broken record of sorts about five seasons in on Idol.) It will be to once again tune into The Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul Love/Hate Show. I know that’s why I won’t miss it. I want to see the ex-sparring colleagues hiss and make up all over again and again and again.

And that will be the most important ex factor of all.

Discourse & Dischord

OSBlog02_Discourse_Jan10_Week2The Good

Blonde Redhead score new Dungeons & Dragons documentary

Dragon Tamers: Blonde Redhead

Dragon Tamers: Blonde Redhead

Attention wizards and dwarves: Put down your copy of Fiendish Codex 1: Hordes of the Abyss and listen up. A new documentary on Dungeons & Dragons entitled Dungeon Masters is scheduled for release on Amazon’s Video On Demand on February 12. Exult! Even better — the elder statesmen of hipster rock, Blonde Redhead, scored the entire film. Not even a meldshaper could produce a more potent jolt to your soul. Click here for the trailer.

Kings of Leon release line of pricey hipster garb
Those in the market for expensive bandanas and plaid shirts will love the new line by Kings of Leon, KOLxS2A. Nothing retails for under $100, but it’s worth the price to look like THE COOLEST ROCK BAND IN THE WORLD. The band’s line of clothes will be sold exclusively in the UK at The Shop at Bluebird, Chelsea, and can be seen here. We wonder if the fabric on those pants is flame retardant in case your sex catches on fire.

The Bad

Jay Reatard dies

Jay Reatard

Jay Reatard

A sad day for fans … Jimmy Lee Lindsey Jr., better known as lo-fi garage punk artist Jay Reatard, passed away on Wednesday in his home in Memphis at the age of 29. Reatard was signed to Matador Records and had released a string of successful singles in recent months. R.I.P.

Simon Cowell announces he’ll leave Idol
Simon Cowell, America’s favorite purveyor of caustic one-liners, announced this week that he will leave American Idol after this season to serve as executive producer and judge on The X Factor, a show he created originally in England which debuts stateside on Fox in the fall. Does losing its biggest (and crankiest) personality signal the demise of the most popular television program in the country? Somewhere Paula Abdul is giddy at the thought— or maybe it’s just the meds.

The Ugly

M.I.A. rips NYT a new one

Twit Fit: M.I.A.

Twit Fit: M.I.A.

When the New York Times named Sri Lanka the Number 1 destination in its “31 Places to Go in 2010,” Sri Lankan native and global pop phenom M.I.A. responded by posting horrific photos of atrocities from the country’s civil war on her Twitter page. “F**K New York Times! Do you really think you need to go here on vacation?” she tweeted. “Get your priorities straight.” Shocking, but point taken. In other Twitter news, Paris Hilton just had an “amazing” facial.

Miscellany

 


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