I think it’s interesting most critics refer to Britney Spears as a “dance pop diva.” I consider her a pop star and a gifted pop chameleon who is right on the pulse of what’s happening in music today (and that just happens to be dance/EDM right now).
We’re only a few days away from the start of the annual GRAMMY season that formally kicks off in style this Friday when the nominees for the 56th GRAMMY Awards are being announced during a live CBS telecast at 10 p.m. EST. The 56th GRAMMY Awards will air live from Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles on January 26, 2014 on CBS. Mark your calendar! This Friday, the nominations in all 81 GRAMMY categories will be announced and it’s shaping up to be a very competitive race in most categories with many exciting newcomers vying for GRAMMY glory.
Let’s stare for a moment in our crystal ball and have a look at some of the artists, songs and productions that are in pole position to grab a coveted GRAMMY nomination. Note that the eligibility period for the 56th Annual Grammy Awards is October 1, 2012 to September 30, 2013. The final GRAMMY nominees are selected by multiple review committees consisting of recording industry professionals and voted for by the thousands of members of The Recording Academy (NARAS).
★ Record of the Year - Traditionally, this is considered a top GRAMMY prize that awards outstanding “artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry.” It is an award for all the people that are responsible for the making of a record, including singer(s), songwriter(s) and producer(s). This year, it looks like “Same Love” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and “Mirrors” by Justin Timberlake are top contenders in the category. However, also expect nominations for “Royals” by Lorde, “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons and possibly “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke & Pharrell. (According to reports, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis did not submit “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us” for GRAMMY consideration.)
★ Song of the Year - Previous winners in this category have been “We Are Young” by .fun, “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele, “Need You Know” by Lady Antebellum and “Single Ladies” by Beyonce. I think that this category will mimic the Record of the Year nominees but I would not surprised if “Roar” by Katy Perry or “Just Give Me A Reason” by Pink featuring Nate Ruess would make the final selection. ”Locked Out Of Heaven” by Bruno Mars that was released on October 1, 2012 and is eligible for consideration may also make the final cut. Other potential nominees are “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus, “I Knew You Were Trouble” by Taylor Swift, “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line featuring Nelly and “Wake Me Up” by Avicii. Believe it or not, GRAMMY fave Adele may once again get nominated with “Skyfall”
★ Album Of The Year - There are five very strong contenders in this category including Justin Timberlake “The 20/20 Experience” (that was submitted by RCA as a double LP), Macklemore and Ryan Lewis “The Heist,” Taylor Swift's “Red,” Drake's Nothing Was The Same” and Bruno Mars' “Unorthodox Jukebox” that had both critics and fans raving. Dark horse candidates in this category include Daft Punk “Random Access Memories,” Luke Bryan's “Crash My Party” and Kendrick Lamar's “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City.”
★ Best New Artist - This is always a fun category to speculate about. There are so many great new artists that are eligible and deserving in this category. I feel Lorde, Kendrick Lamar, Imagine Dragons and Philip Philips are very likely nominees, followed by Ed Sheeran, Kacey Musgrave and Florida Georgia Line. Other contenders include Emeli Sande, Icona Pop and possibly Arianna Grande who is a potential GRAMMY darling for years and years to come.
★ Also look for the following: I suspect that GRAMMY voters will show very little love for Kanye West “Yeezus” and Jay-Z’s “Magna Carta… Holy Grail” in the general categories. Jay Z’s “Holy Grail” featuring Justin Timberlake will likely receive a few nominations in the hip hop category (including Best Rap/Sung Collaboration). Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” is solid in the lead in the Best Dance Recording category and I believe Disclosure's “Settle,” Daft Punk “Random Access Memories” and Icona Pop “This Is” will lead in the Best Electronic/Dance Album category.
I love an academic approach to a seemingly trivial pop effort. Check out Andrew Unterberger’s very insightful piece in Billboard about One Direction’s “Midnight Memories” and how it compares to third albums by past boybands. Rules to a successful third boyband album? 1) Increased focus on group songwriting, 2) mature lyrical theme, 3) flirt with contemporary sounds and 4) bigger production scope. (P.S. I still consider “Best Song Ever” one of the greatest pop concoctions of 2013.)
Madonna NYC83 Photo Exhibit Now Open at Milk Gallery in New York City
No matter what pop is dominating the charts today, Madonna remains the undisputed Queen of Pop who continues to inspire, encourage and entertain millions of people (and many of her younger peers) around the world. It’s been thirty years since the release of her self-titled debut album that kicked off her groundbreaking career and changed the world of pop music forever.
New York City’s famed Milk Gallery is celebrating Madonna’s early years in New York City with a special exhibit of photographs of the pop superstar that were taken by Richard Corman.The collection of 50+ photos comes along with candid commentary by the photographer that provides more insight into the life of Madonna before her rise to fame in a city that was a rich breeding ground for new ideas, music and talent.
A recurring theme in Corman’s commentary is Madonna’s charisma and star quality that was instantly palpable for the people that came in contact with her. Particularly telling is his story about meeting Madonna for the first time when he went to visit the pop icon to be in her tiny apartment on Manhattan’s gritty Lower East Side. “There was a group of guys hanging outside of her building, and she leaned over the banister and yelled down from the fourth floor and the seas just parted. I saw those eyes, and at that point it was clear to me that I was walking up into something of infamy – there was some kind of magic there and she didn’t disappoint.”
The early 1980s was an incredibly thriving time in New York City that has influenced the work of Madonna up until today. After moving from Michigan to New York City, the pop superstar immersed herself in New York’s underground club culture that was a vibrant blend of punk, disco and hip hop, and turned out to be a rich breeding ground for cultural and artistic innovation.
In addition to telling Madonna’s early story, Corman’s photography also captures the excitement of New York City in 1983. Milk Gallery writes on their web site: “[The photos] capture not only Madonna’s rebellious spirit but also the mood of the cultural revolution sweeping through the city’s youth.”
Corman says, “It was a time in the city where the energy was just crazy wonderful. It was this carnival of creativity going on, especially downtown, and you just felt it. At that time I was leaving Avedon’s studio and going out on my own and I was photographing the Keith Harings and the Basquiats and the Madonnas and the punk scene. It was original, it was unique and it was on fire.”
If you have a chance to see the exhibit or plan to go see it, I would love to hear from you. The Madonna NYC83 exhibit runs November 15 to December 15, 2013.
450 West 15th Street
New York, New York 10011
The Lost Art of Cassette Design by Steve Vistaunet
Do you remember your first mixtape? Mine was a mash up of pop songs I recorded from radio. Lots of Madonna, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. My obsession with pop started early. (Reblog if you love mixtapes too!)
Lady Gaga and R Kelly do Saturday Night Live. Stellar pop with impressive acrobatics (and proper dry humping) included.
A few of my thoughts about Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP…
The beauty of pop music is that it can be whatever you want it to be. Pop art visionary Robert Indiana once said that “pop is love” because “it accepts everything.” The rich variety in pop music today is a reflection of the diversity in the world around us that continues to change at lightening speed. One way to absorb popular culture is to amplify its defining characteristics through art. American artist Jeff Koons understands this like no other. He’s known for creating vibrant and larger than life art pieces that glamorize (often seemingly trivial) pop culture artifacts and characters.
It should come as no surprise that Lady Gaga and Jeff Koons take an interest in each other’s work. Both artists have an obsession with pop culture, a fascination with fame, sex and desire, and they don’t shy away from a little bit of controversy to execute their vision. In a way, Lady Gaga is to pop music what Jeff Koons is to modern art. Their efforts are highly conceptual yet easily accessible to the masses.
Lady Gaga partnered with Koons to create the cover for her new album ARTPOP. He also played a starring role in her artRAVE album launch event in New York City last Sunday. Koon’s ARTPOP sleeve art is a mash up of Botticelli’s classic painting of the Birth of Venus and his famed blue gazing ball that has been a part of his previous art installations.
There are clear parallels between Koons’ style of art and Gaga’s point of view on ARTPOP (most notably in its production and lyricism). Koons’ work is highly stylized, scales small details to gigantic proportion and often garners a strong emotional response. Gaga’s music captures all of those qualities and more. Much like Koons’ visual art, Gaga’s new album often appears excessive, outrageous and over the top, but that’s deliberately the point.
ARTPOP is a multi-layered, multi-faceted musical journey that Gaga created with the intent to embed art into pop music. The pop star has said in interviews that she set out to create an album that “is considered commercial art yet is viable as fine art.” Gaga has realized her vision by creating a cohesive body of music that is dominated by hard-edged and audacious production stylings, the theatrics of her performance and occasional lyrical references to the art that has inspired her.
Musically, the album is a brew of pounding EDM (with gentle hints of R&B) that is infused with glorious hooks and soaring middle-eights that are solid proof of Gaga’s songwriting savvy. ARTPOP kicks off with “Aura” that is a perfect representation of the album’s overall sonic aesthetic that gives listeners plenty to chew on. Drenched in Zedd’s flaming techno beats, it’s a non-stop parade of melodic hooks that will have you dizzy on your feet from beginning to end. The mind-numbing groove of “Swine” courtesy of DJ White Shadow (aka Paul Blair) packs a similar intensity.
Other ARTPOP's highlights include “G.U.Y” and “Venus” that is a hyper-melodic adventure ride that shoots listeners into outer space and takes them for a spin around the Milky Way and back.
Gaga’s duet with R&B icon R. Kelly on “Do What U Want” glows like a pop beacon halfway through the album and reminds us exactly why we fell in love in Gaga in the first place. It’s one of the best song she’s ever recorded and will without a doubt stand the test of time. Gaga gets playful on tunes like “MANiCURE” and “Donatella” that combines electronic pop with a whole lotta sass.
Shooting straight from her gut, the album’s title track gets to the core of Gaga’s growing artistic struggle. It candidly deals with the fine line she must walk between commerce and art. Even though she’s an artist who is part of a major corporation looking to make a profit, she ultimately seeks respect as an artist. “I try to sell myself/But I am really laughing/Because I just love the music, not the bling,” she sings.
Gaga demonstrates her vocal prowess on “Dope,” an intensely personal song that was co-produced by Rick Rubin. The track is followed by “Gypsy,” a massive pop stomper produced by RedOne and Madeon that is a homage to all dreamers who are always searching for greener pastures elsewhere. The album closes with “Applause” that is perfectly sequenced as the album’s grand finale and truly shines in the context of the rest of the LP.
ARTPOP’s biggest accomplishment is that it shamelessly pushes the pop envelope both conceptually and sonically. Instead of playing it safe and walk a path already paved, Gaga steps out of the box and takes a risk by creating a wild art-pop “hybrid” that is rooted in her distinct point of view. Some may criticise that the album is too dense and idea-heavy for its own good, but its occasional opulence is intentionally part of Gaga’s vision to make pop her way.
Fans leave Lady Gaga their messages on a large wall at the #ARTPOP gallery in Hollywood that also features some of the pop star’s iconic outfits, interactive games and gigantic prints of single art. It’s a very cool concept to launch Gaga’s new album and enthuse fans that fits right with her vision for the record. (at Lady Gaga Artpop Gallery)
Miley Cyrus impresses at BBC Radio One Live Lounge today covering Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness.” It’s as if the song was written for her. Love her or hate her, Cyrus is a compelling songstress with a unique sound of her own.
Hoi from Amsterdam! Report from the MTV European Music Awards (Day 3 - Show Recap)
The MTV EMAs kicked off with a bang last night when Miley Cyrus descended from the ceiling of the Ziggo Dome in a next century space mobile to the soaring beat of “We Can’t Stop.” The rising pop superstar set the tone for the show with a kick off performance that was on point and spiced up with a sense of adventure. (That should come as no big surprise as the visual theme of this year’s EMAs was space and intergalactic travel.)
I was at the Ziggo Dome, a state of the art new concert hall in Amsterdam, two hours before showtime. Being there so early gave me plenty of time to take in the stage and the venue. The EMA staging was simple. There was one (circular) main stage that connected to a smaller stage just to the right. The smaller circular stage was connected to a pseudo bar area filled with alien creatures that was also the spot for all the award announcements and many of Redfoo’s “intergalactic” hosting bits.
Redfoo was the perfect host for the night. He was able to stir the crowd with his signature hilarity and “Let’s Get Ridiculous” bits that kept the show light and fun to watch.
Robin Thicke followed Miley Cyrus’ opening and he performed his global monster hit “Blurred Lines" that threw the crowd in a frenzy. Tall and twerking Aussie rapper Iggy Azalea joined him on stage that gave the performance some extra pizzaz and sex appeal. It was a clever change up that gave the song a fresh new appeal.
Katy Perry's very first TV performance of “Unconditionally” was impressive. The pop star was raised from the main stage and wrapped in a cocoon of long, colorful skirt drapes that made Perry appear like a skinny giant singing from above the clouds. It was a simple, yet very effective way to add dramatic flair to the heartfelt ballad/love confession.
Eminem, yesterday’s surprise addition to the EMA line up, received a lifetime achievement award (announced by Rita Ora), and performed “Bezerk” and “Rap God.” It was an inspired performance that showed that Marshall Mather continues to be massive force in rap and hip hop. Over in The Melkweg concert venue, Snoop Dogg performed his classic “Gin & Juice” to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Doggystyle that was ported into the mainshow. He was accompanied on the boards by DJ Afrojack.
Other noteworthy performers included The Killers (who performed “Shot At The Night” and “Mr Brightside”) and Bruno Mars who turned the Ziggo Dome into a glittering strip joint with “Gorilla.” Miley Cyrus returned with her full band to perform a gut-wrenching rendition of “Wrecking Ball” that showed some true grit with her inspired vocal delivery.
Our friends of Icona Pop closed the show with a stomping rendition of “I Love It” that had the crowd high on their feet for a dizzying finale (including a drop of glitter at the end). Caroline and Aino were immaculately styled inspired by Jane Fonda’s Barbarella to stay consistent with the space theme of the show.
Let’s not forget about the awards as well! Winners included Bruno Mars (Best Male), Katy Perry (Best Female), Miley Cyrus (Best Video) and Eminem (Best Hip Hop). Five-time nominee Justin Timberlake left the show empty-handed.
Overall, it was a MTV EMAs to remember that the Dutch should look back on proudly. Only minus were the constant jokes about Amsterdam that perpetuated many of the stereotypes about the city. There were lots of quips about coffee shops, hash brownies and the red light district. Those jokes felt tired and passé, and do not properly reflect what the city has to offer. That’s an opportunity missed with millions of people watching around the world.
Greetings from Amsterdam! Report from the MTV European Music Awards (Day 2)
We’re just a few hours away from the MTV EMAs, one of the largest European music award shows, that is celebrating mostly American-bred pop music this year. It’s shaping up to be a star-studded event with performances by Afrojack, Bruno Mars, Icona Pop, Imagine Dragons, Katy Perry, The Killers, Kings of Leon, Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke and Snoop Dogg.
There’s a long list of presenters as well that features some of my faves including Ariana Grande, Ellie Goulding, Iggy Azalea, Bridgit Mendler, Carice van Houten en “intergalactic” show host Redfoo of LMFAO. None other than Eminem will attend the show as well to receive a lifetime achievement award. I’m curious who will present that award to him. No word on that yet.
The long list of MTV EMA nominees include Justin Timberlake (5, including Best Video for “Mirrors”), Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (5, including Best Song for “Thrift Stop”), Justin Bieber (4, including Best Pop Artist), Miley Cyrus (4, including Best Female Artist), Lady Gaga (4, including Best Look) and Icona Pop (3, including Best Swedish Artist). Daft Punk, Rudimental, Taylor Swift and OneDirection (who are conspicuously absent from the show) are also multiple nominees.
What to look out for on tonight’s show? Everybody is curious about what controversial move Miley Cyrus will make, but I expect her to do the unexpected and tone it down quite a bit. Perhaps she will perform an acoustic rendition of “Wrecking Ball” that really could have some impact. Katy Perry may do something similar and turn her new single “Unconditionally” into an epic love story on stage.
The Killers, Kings Of Lean and Imagine Dragons will surely rock the house, and Robin Thicke will likely be a big winner with “Blurred Lines.” The ladies of Icona Pop will probably mash up their global smash “I Love It” with their equally catchy new single “All Night” during their performance.
I want to make a special mention of Afrojack who will be performing with Snoop Dogg, plus work in his new single “The Spark” (with our pal Spree Wilson) from De Melkweg concert hall, which is 20 minutes away from Ziggo Dome where the main show will take place.
It’s very special for a Dutch artist to be this prominently featured in a major awards show, and hopefully Afrojack’s performance at the EMAs will help push this house music champ into the mainstream pop spotlight so he can follow in the footsteps of people like David Guetta and Calvin Harris.