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Sound And Vision: How LMFAO, David Guetta and Lady Gaga Are Making Dance Music Cool (and Bankable) Again

“She wants to party. She wants to get down. All she wants do to is, all she wants to do is dance.”

So sang then-ex-Eagle Don Henley in 1985. Ironically, “All She Wants to Do Is Dance,” Henley’s third great solo Top 10 hit, was neither particularly danceable nor was it actually about about a woman who lived to shake her groove thing underneath the strobelight (no matter what the video says). The careless, carefree dancing queen was a metaphor for a United States that was more concerned with buying thrills than curing societal and political ills.

More than twenty-five years later, in the world of pop music, it’s all about movement—and not as an ambitious political metaphor. With the possible exception of  Bruno Mars (who’s really going to have to toughen up and speed up the tempo if he’s ever going to get my love), all everyone—male and female, from Lady Gaga to Rihanna to Foster the People—wants to do is dance (and make romance). Red Hot Chili Peppers even closes its latest album, I’m With You, with a song titled, fittingly, “Dance Dance Dance.”

When Henley offered his biting political commentary with a beat, “disco” was still a dirty word. That’s probably why he was able to use it as a stand in for hedonism and get away with it. The truth, though, is that disco never really left the building: In the ’80s, a number of artists—from Michael Jackson to Madonna to Prince to Janet Jackson—were incorporating it into their pop.

Continue reading ‘Sound And Vision: How LMFAO, David Guetta and Lady Gaga Are Making Dance Music Cool (and Bankable) Again’

Sound And Vision: Director’s Cuts — From Lady Gaga to Kate Bush, the Mixed Results of Tampering with Your Own Songs

I’ll never forget the day Basia lied to me. Twice. I was interviewing the Polish singer (best known for her 1988 hit “Time and Tide”) shortly before the release of her 1994 album, The Sweetest Illusion, which was coming five years after her previous album, London Warsaw New York. That day, she promised me two things: First, she would never again make me wait so long for new music. Second, she’d never release a run-of-the-mill greatest hits album featuring, well, her greatest hits. She felt that at the very least, artists owed it to their fans to reprise their hits as brand-new tunes, not just repackage the same old songs.

Her next studio album, It’s That Girl Again, wouldn’t arrive until 2009, nine years after she had released Clear Horizon—The Best of Basia, one of those run-of-the-mill greatest hits albums featuring, well, her greatest hits.

The morals of this story: 1) You can’t rush inspiration. 2) The first cut isn’t only the deepest—sometimes it’s the best, too. That’s a lesson Mariah Carey may have learned last year when she scrapped plans to release Angels Advocate, a remixed version of her Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel album, after a new version of “Up Out My Face” (Memoirs‘ best song) featuring Nicki Minaj limped onto Billboard’s Hot 100 at No. 100 and refused to go any further.

But apparently, Lady Gaga, the reigning queen of remix albums and EPs, still hasn’t received the memo. When she released Born This Way back in May, she put out a special edition that included a separate disc with remixes of five of the album’s songs. (Bryan Ferry did a similar thing with last year’s Olympia.) Divine inspiration or clever marketing ploy? Perhaps a little of both, but “Born This Way”-with-a-twang never would have spent six weeks at No. 1. The “Country Road Version” makes for an interesting one-time listen, but I never need to hear it again.

Continue reading ‘Sound And Vision: Director’s Cuts — From Lady Gaga to Kate Bush, the Mixed Results of Tampering with Your Own Songs’

Sound And Vision: Fake Pop Stars — The Rise and Continued Rise of Rebecca Black

Paris Hilton.

Kim Kardashian.

Heidi Montag.

Julianne Hough.

In a world where making a record is as easy as starring on reality TV, and even easier when you have your own show, Rebecca Black was bound to happen.

Don’t worry. Black, the fourteen-year-old from Anaheim, California, who made us wonder if she was making fun of shallow pop stars or being one herself in her viral YouTube video “Friday,” hasn’t gotten her own reality show. Yet. But isn’t it only just a matter of time?

What she does have is a level of fame—or infamy, depending on how you want to look at it—without having any discernible singing talent. Before it was yanked from YouTube in June over a dispute between Black and her former record label, Ark Music Factory, her “Friday” video had logged some 161 million views. Black became an Internet favorite, with article after online article devoted to her and her music—well, her song. Some people loved her; some people hated her; everyone was talking about her. Everybody’s still talking. Katy Perry even invited Black to costar in her “T.G.I.F. (Last Friday Night)” video.

Yes, Rebecca Black is a huge hit. Ironically, though, she has yet to have one. For all of the hoopla surrounding it, “Friday” was never a commercial success as a single. It peaked at No. 58 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and didn’t fare much better anywhere it was released.

Australia, one of the few places where “Friday” made it to the Top 40, is about to launch its own fourteen-year-old star, Jack Vidgen, recent winner of Australia’s Got Talent. Sadly, it’s gonna take a miracle—or maybe a Black cameo in his video—to give Vidgen’s career any momentum in the US, which Justin Bieber aside, has been resistant to young male solo pop (i.e., white) stars since Justin Timberlake went Hollywood.

Continue reading ‘Sound And Vision: Fake Pop Stars — The Rise and Continued Rise of Rebecca Black’

Sound And Vision: Pop Stars In Love — When Dating (and Marrying) Well Is The Best Career Move

Sometimes it’s not what song you sing but to whom you sing it. And if Selena Gomez‘s new hit, “Love You Like a Love Song,” is art imitating her love life, she couldn’t have picked a better object for her affection than boyfriend Justin Bieber. Though the romance occasionally has been hazardous to her health–death threats from too-ardent Bieber fans and a recent mystery illness (she blamed exhaustion, the rumor mill churned out one about a Bieber bun in her oven)–it’s also worked wonders for her career.

A quick recap of the life and times of the rising star: A few years ago, Gomez was just another Disney Channel starlet trying to make good on the pop charts. By this time last year, she was running neck-and-neck with Demi Lovato in a tween-and-teen-pop world ruled by Miley Cyrus. For anyone older than thirteen or fourteen, she was the one who wasn’t dumped by a Jonas Brother.

But love changes everything. Though she’s probably still best known as the girl who won Bieber’s heart, Gomez is now solidly in the running for teen queen. Thanks to her Bieber connection, she’s become a tabloid and celebrity magazine favorite and, with near-perfect timing, she’s at last a true pop star. In the July 23 issue of Billboard magazine, her aforementioned latest single jumped from No. 66 to No. 35 on the Hot 100, and it’s shaping up to be her biggest hit yet. Could nineteen-year-old Gomez have done it without Bieber, seventeen? Possibly. But he’s guilty by association of helping to pave her way to possible multi-platinum status.

Gomez isn’t the only singer reaping the benefits of high-profile love with a younger teen. Australian pop star Delta Goodrem, twenty-six, was virtually unknown in the United States until she began dating Jonas brother Nick, eighteen, in May. Though it’s too soon to tell what effect it will have on her commercial potential in the US, there’s no doubt that millions of Jonas fans who’d never heard of Goodrem back when she was engaged to Brian McFadden, the former member of the UK boyband Westlife who’s now a judge on Australia’s Got Talent (they announced their split on April 1), now know her name and her face.

Muse’s Matthew Bellamy was hardly unknown in the States when he began dating Hollywood star Kate Hudson, previously wed to Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. But he’ll no doubt have more to celebrate than fatherhood (to Bingham, his and fiancee Hudson’s son, who was born July 9) by the time Muse releases its next album. Bellamy’s increased visibility, courtesy of his significant other, could finally propel his band, which has yet to score a platinum album in the US and has had only one Top 40 single (“Uprising,” No. 37 in 2009), into Coldplay territory.

Ah, Coldplay. Chris Martin needed Gwyneth Paltrow as much as Keith Urban needed Nicole Kidman, or Jay-Z and Beyonce needed each other (professionally, that is), but there’s something about the meeting of two mega-superstars that almost always ends up boosting their careers to even more stratospheric highs (see Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, and Brad Pitt and, well, Gwyneth Paltrow). That’s what happened with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, who were both major hitmakers in their own right when they got hitched 1996. Since then, the supercouple have ascended to superstar status in tandem.

Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, who began dating in 2006 and married in May, are currently following their lead. She spent the last year winning pretty much every country music award in the business for her third studio album, Revolution. Meanwhile, he landed a new gig as a judge on The Voice, NBC’s new hit star search; his first platinum single, “Honey Bee,” became a No. 1 country and Top 20 pop hit; and his new album, Red River Blue, just became his first to top the Billboard 200 album chart.

Sure they were both doing just fine on their own, but like all successful couples, on and off the clock, they’re even stronger together. May they all continue to prosper on the charts and love happily ever after.

Sound And Vision: Miley Cyrus’ Career Rehab — Can She Pull Off A Pop Comeback?

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m several decades removed from my tween years. Or perhaps it was her sound, which, on her early hit albums, was a bit too High School Musical for my taste. Whatever the reason, I never quite got Miley Cyrus nor did I understand the haste with which she was able to turn a starring role in the Disney Channel sitcom Hannah Montana into international pop and film stardom.
She wasn’t the first ambitious kid to ride Disney to the top. Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Keri Russell and Ryan Gosling all got their starts on The All-New Mickey Mouse Club in the ’90s, but it took them several years to parlay their Disney exposure into instant fame. Cyrus’s 2006 rise, if not quite faster than a speeding bullet, was certainly more rapid than the ascent of Disney’s Lizzie McGuire star Hilary Duff in the early ’00s. Maybe the tweens were just desperate for someone new, and for a few years, Cyrus was it. Rising Disney starlets Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato were no match for her. She had hit albums and hit movies, sell-out concerts, massive media coverage, famous boyfriends (including—natch!—a Jonas Brother) and, until last January, Hannah Montana, the alter ego and the show.
Then Cyrus went and did the unthinkable: She grew up—way too soon.
Her 2010 album Can’t Be Tamed introduced a sexier, worldlier and still-underage Miley. Critics and tweens cringed, and it promptly tanked. Bong hits and public lap dances did neither her image nor her bankability any favors. Then this past March, I was the one doing the unthinkable: For the first time, I found myself rooting for Miley Cyrus. All it took was TMZ’s video replay of her run-in with a pushy paparazzo who got too close to her mom. As Cyrus forcefully told him to show some respect, I cheered and wished she’d channel some of this attitude and raw spunk into her work.
There might be hope for her yet. Though she announced after the release of Can’t Be Tamed that she’d be putting music on the backburner for a while to focus on acting (she’ll costar as Demi Moore’s daughter in the forthcoming film LOL: Laughing Out Loud), Cyrus already seems to be eyeing a pop comeback. Though she has no current projects to promote, she was booked to host the March 5 episode of Saturday Night Live. Not only did she prove that she still has some Hollywood pull by grabbing the plum gig, but considering that SNL regularly lampoons her with the mock “Miley Cyrus Show” (on March 5, she appeared as Justin Bieber alongside Cyrus impersonator Vanessa Bayer), she’s apparently a pretty good sport, too—plus she does a spot-on Bieber. She scored bonus points by mocking Lindsay Lohan and inciting yet another LiLo celebrity fued. And look what that did for Gwyneth Paltrow on Glee!
On April 27, Cyrus continued her climb back up the pop ladder with an appearance in the American Idol performance package for sixteen-year-old Lauren Alaina, who had sung the Cyrus hit “The Climb” weeks earlier. (Idol mentor and music exec Jimmy Iovine offered a huge reality check, though, when he declared Alaina “a much much stronger singer than Miley Cyrus.” Ouch!) Though she didn’t perform, her appearance hinted at a renewed interest in her pop career. According to her dad Billy Ray Cyrus, she’s met with Dr. Luke, the producer behind hits by Britney Spears, Ke$ha and Cyrus herself, so new music might be forthcoming sooner rather than later.
While Dr. Luke has an excellent track record (which includes Cyrus’s greatest hit, “Party in the U.S.A.”), I’m hoping she’s gotten the pop tart bit out of her system. Can’t Be Tamed already proved that no one is buying Cyrus as the second coming of Spears or any of those under-dressed female pop stars currently crowding the market. Unlike Lohan, there have been no arrests, no truly embarrassing moments. Cyrus’s biggest sins so far have been making poor fashion choices and releasing bad music, so this, too, shall pass—if she’s learned from her mistakes.
Next time, she should skip the skimpy. If she must embrace sexual liberation, she should do it with class—and better songs. She’ll likely never get a return shout out from Jay-Z, but maybe she can team up with Jessie J, the rising, sort-of-edgy UK star who co-wrote “Party in the U.S.A.,” for a sequel that’ll convert her detractors and restore her V.I.P. platinum status.

 


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