Wednesday, May 30, 2012

JFF - "Young Blood" Remix by Tiësto & Hardwell

What the hell did we do before Tiësto???

It seems like eons ago that I heard the Naked & Famous on MTV while visiting an old friend in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The year 2011 would never be the same: the Kiwi indie POP band became one of my most played artists on iTunes for the entire year.  So when I was listening to Club Life Volume Two & I heard the familiar "yeah yeah yeah" of Young Blood, their break-out hit, as remixed by the other-worldly techno team of Hardwell & Tiësto, I think I lost a few years off of my life.  All I can really say is that The Naked & Famous should be kissing these guys' feet for putting a fresh spin on an over-worn track.  MAKE MORE MUSIC PLEASE.  KTHANKSKIWILOVE.

Listen to the ultimate summer dance track below.



Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The State of POP in June, 2012: What Are We Waiting For?

Last week Gregory & I compiled a list of our top 5 POP releases of the year.  Marina & the Diamonds, fun., & Lana Del Rey made the list with their releases, along with lesser-known synthPOP group Tanlines & James Mercer's The Shins.  Thankfully, there is still so much we are waiting to hear, because in all honestly, so far 2012's CV is pretty pathetic.  I feel like we lost more POP stars then acquired them.  As successful as Starships is, any faith I had in Nicki Minaj as a viable POP performer floated away in the wreckage of that miserable excuse for a music video.  Marina did a good job on her second album, but aside from a few songs I don't hear anything exceptional in Electra Heart (read Gregory's review here).  Katy Perry's songs are 95% recycled.  Gaga's gone mad.  Rihanna sank to new lows.  Britney is breaking.  Need I go on?

The indie circuit is an equally mixed bag.  Some highlights include exciting acts on the rise like Florrie, Icona Pop, Zowie, Queen of Hearts, Charli XCX, & Catcall.  There are some lowlights, though: Hot Chip's latest single is just utterly confusing, Chromeo isn't releasing new music anytime soon, & the hipster's crumpet, Azealia Banks, can't sing a song without ordering a hit on someone.

Thank the POP heavens that the year is only halfway over, which means we still have a good handful of music to look forward to.  So what are we waiting for?

I have been anticipating Ladyhawke's latest album for an eternity.  Pascal Gabriel is quite simply the perfect collaborator, mixer, & producer for Pip's Ladyhawke project, having experience with both punk rock & pure POP (Kylie Minogue, Goldfrapp, Dido).  However, since the release of Ladyhawke in 2008, younger stars like Charli XCX seem to have eclipsed poor Pip, which is a damn shame.  Unless there is a synthtastic, sun-drenched POP phenomenon hiding somewhere in this album, I don't think it will make much of an impact.  Not even Popjustice seems excited for Anxiety... which makes me really anxious.

If Call My Name is any indicator, Cheryl Cole's next album is going to be the biggest thing that ever happened to the summer of twenty-twelve & then the most forgotten thing since video cassettes or the Balkan wars.  I happen to quite like Cheryl.  She is a very good saleslady, & boy, can she wear colorful pants (when she decides to wear pants).  I am pretty excited to go digging for treasure on A Million Lights, with its Lana Del Rey-penned tracks & Calvin Harris nap sessions.  Do my ears deceive me, or do I hear a smidget of dubstep on the track she previewed? This should be a good 'un...
Then there's Ke$ha. K-dolla is a divisive figure on our blog. Gregory finds her boring, I find her fascinating.  Most of the time I feel like we're the only goddamn blog who hasn't heard her new material, which the web keeps sampling for 12.378 hours then pulling off immediately (where the hell is Pretty Lady? Record execs, email us!).  But with the sheer genius of Wayne Coyne on board, how could her next musical venture be anything less than explosive? I'm expecting brilliance from Lady Ke$ha, while Gregory expects next to nothing.  We need a song already. The sooner the better.

Speaking of Ke$ha, we can't forget about the lovely Neon Hitch, one of the most talented & intriguing mainstream POP projects with one of the worst, worst marketing teams.  Instead of working with Neon's earthy sexiness & natural knack for performance to develop a unique POP act, the Hitch-team decided to adorn her in a sub-Rihanna barrage of body oil & sex mannequins & sell her, unconvincingly, as the next Ke$ha.  Grave mistake.  Even if Benny Blanco is on board, it's hard to get excited just yet.  We already have Nicki Minaj; nobody needs another POP star with an identity crisis.
Thankfully some musicians know exactly who they are & roll with it- Little Boots, Little Boots, Little Boots, will you stop your silly juice diet & release an EP already?  Even if Every Night I Say a Prayer is a snore, Shake is brilliant & Headphones is above average.  The year is fundamentally lacking in disco-bliss, so we need you to come and deliver! 

Finally, we are left awaiting a teaser of new material from Ellie Goulding, Diana Vickers, La Roux, & the Voice herself, Christina Aguilera.  I have an irksome feeling that Xtina's "album" (if she decides to grace us with one) may be a hot mess, no matter how many Max Martins she's working with.  As for Diana, Ellie, & La Roux, there's not much to work with yet, meaning we're probably going to have to wait until 2014 for any good leaks. Labelmates Colette Carr & Kay are expected to release some goodies this year, but mums the word as of yet.  Moreover, VV Brown's album has been pushed back to "summer," & Charli XCX's to "September," both anachronisms for "sometime before 2014." So what is there left to do but to sit back, twiddle our thumbs, buy some neon headphones & pray for a miracle? Surely one of the aforementioned POP artists is sure to release something that can turn this dreary year in the right direction.  Who it will be is the real question.



Sunday, May 27, 2012

Starstruck at SESAC

Well, not really, but the truth is better. A few weeks ago, I attended the 2012 SESAC POP Music Awards at the Skylight Soho in New York. I got to speak with a host of songwriters and producers, which actually excited me more than talking to POP stars, as I'm always curious to know what goes on behind the scenes. What surprised me most was how kind they all were. I was expecting some major diva-tude, particularly because I'm a new POP music blogger. I thought someone would say, "I see right through you, you wannabe!" And they'd be right, at least partially; they may not possess super-human vision, but I am a wannabe!

I'll chronicle the trip for you. I rode the commuter rail from my sister's house in Jersey to Penn Station, where I proceeded to take the subway downtown. When I got to Hudson Street, I passed right by the building. As is typical of Soho New York, the location was a converted warehouse with a small, innocuous entrance. Seriously - the entryway was the size of the door to my parent's raised ranch. I walked in, received my first ever press pass from the lovely assistant at Workman Entertainment + Public Relations, and opened my eyes to a shiny white interior, softly lit with blue and purple hues. Then I turned to my left and walked to the area where the pre-dinner schmoozing and red-carpet interviewing would take place. I saw the cater-waiters receiving last-minute hors d'oeuvres (or as my Belorussian father likes, to call them, whores devores) passing and dinner serving tips. The bar was straight out of Sex & The City, all glass and metal, with lights spelling out "SESAC" above the tenders' posts. I took my place in the press line, where I learned, according to the back splash, that the event was sponsored by Billboard (I love you, Billboard Magazine)!

Jacob Luttrell, Bryan-Michael Cox, Usher, Rico Love
People began to show up around 6:15 PM. I first spoke to Jacob Luttrell, who had a hand in writing Enrique's Tonight I'm F*cking You and Flo Rida's Wild Ones, featuring the adorable Sia. He said he "...doesn't care that other people sing my songs. They have a larger platform," which is very savvy. Referring to his creative process, Jacob told me that "sometimes I sing over my own chords, and sometimes I write over a track." Offering up advice, he stated that "songwriters should write anything, not just something with shock value." As sweet as he was, it was odd hearing this, seeing as Jacob had a hand in writing a song which completely capitalized on shock value (Tonight I'm F*cking You). He was my first interview, so I was a bit too nervous to remind him of this.

What I most enjoyed talking to Jacob about was his experience working with Sia. He said she was lovely, as expected, and that she didn't originally want to be on the track, which I also surmised. We all know that Sia's relinquished her desire to be a quirky POP tart in favor of becoming a mainstream songwriter, so it's quite exciting that she's having such a hot moment as a singer! Jacob told me her voice sounded so good that Flo and the others didn't want to replace it. Agreed! The success of the song goes to show that a solid, well-promoted track has loads of potential regardless of whether or not the singer on it is well-known. We can't wait for David Guetta's Titanium, on which Sia is also featured, to rule the airwaves in America. Currently, Jacob is working on his own project and trying to find a team/label that can properly back him. Check out his videos on Youtube; he's not just a talented songwriter, but a fantastic singer. (And he's cute to boot!)

Afterwards, I spoke to Mister Rico Love, who was being honored as SESAC's 2012 Songwriter of the Year. The next morning, I discovered that Usher was being hidden away to surprise Rico with the award!  Rico was as sweet as a teddy bear and incredibly informative. He's a frequent collaborator of Jim Jonsin's, with whom he wrote and produced Beyonce's Sweet Dreams and Radio off of I Am...Sasha Fierce. I forgot to ask him why Radio wasn't released as a single, as its Bey's best song ever. Oh well. Maybe we shall meet again, at which point I will bring it up.

Q-Parker of 112, Rico Love
Through my own research, I discovered that Usher's upcoming album, Looking 4 Myself, will be a bit more experimental, seeing as the POP star's worked with Diplo, Empire of the Sun, and Swedish House Mafia. I asked Rico how this came about, to which he responded, “We went to Coachella and he was telling me, ‘This is what I want sonically.’ He took me to see Empire of the Sun for the first time, and then I ended up writing ‘Looking for Myself.’ We featured Empire of the Sun on the record, so it’s just amazing to be able to grow, and I hope that people are accepting of his growth and realize that you can’t just stay the same forever.” Rico told me that he embraces the current popularity of alternative music within the mainstream, saying that it's important to embrace new sounds and experiment. I also asked Rico about his songwriting process. Like Jacob, Rico said that "every time is different. Sometimes I hear a track, sometimes I hear a melody in my head, sometimes it will just be a guitar or piano, so there’s no one way." When asked who his dream collaborators would be, Rico responded with "Kanye West and Rufus Wainwright." The latter shocked me! I was incredibly impressed that Rufus was on Rico's radar. Though Rico previously stated his appreciation for experimental sounds, I was still surprised.  Many mainstream songwriters and producers don't give the time of day to artists in the underground (*ahem*Dr. Luke*ahem...allegedly*). Though Rufus is certainly successful, his level of success is on a completely different scale from that which Rico ordinarily works in. Hearing the songwriter/producer acknowledge Rufus in such a big way made me hopeful for the fate of music. Let's make this happen, boys!

Brightly dressed in yellow, the beautiful Angela Hunte strolled down the red carpet. She was so lovely, speaking to interviewers for over an hour. Yes, her own album will soon be out, so her hustle wasn't completely selfless. However, I got the feeling that she genuinely enjoyed meeting everyone, as she was so warm and personable. Though Angela has worked with a number of artists, including Amy Winehouse, she is most prominently known for writing Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind with creative partner Janet "Jnay" Sewell-Ulepic. The moment she started speaking to us, the song came on over the loudspeakers. "I never get used to that," she said.

Going through that time of the month while working in London, Angela was feeling homesick.  “Jay-Z always says this is his love letter to New York, but I say this is my love letter to New York.” Originally composed as a song, Jay-Z wrote the verses over. Initially, Angela was supposed to be on the chorus, but then suggested Alicia Keys, who she says " very New York, has never done a record with [Jay], and sounds like me!”

Angela Hunte
As previously stated, Angela will soon be releasing her own material, presumably through her own label, The Hunted Music Group. She told me that the transition from songwriter to singer was quite "...easy because I am doing music I love. Five years ago, I tried it...and it wasn't right. It's right now." Previously, Angela stayed away from solo projects because of a dissatisfaction with where music was heading. Now, she's inspired, saying "I was able to capture what I feel inside." She has worked with Steve McGreggor as well as Major Lazer members, Diplo and Switch. The fact that the latter two are in such great demand is purely coincidental. Angela always wanted to work with producers who fused alternative and POP sounds, though their recent rise in popularity is what convinced her to get back to recording. As is typical of work by Diplo and Switch, Angela's music will feature a fresh, island-like sound. She claims that it will be the most different thing you'll hear. Angela is so glad she waited to make her record. "When you write good music, you don't care if anyone likes it. You just feel good." I believe her. 

With regard to Adam Yauch's death the week before, Angela felt as though "all the people [we] looked up to are falling by the wayside, and you try to tell the [artists] of today that these are the shoes you have to fill." It was truly heart-wrenching to hear her speak these words. With such an understanding of what came before her, Miss Hunte will surely do the legends justice. 

Traci Hale
The last songwriter I spoke to was Traci Hale, best known for writing the lyrics to Rihanna's What's My Name. Unfortunately, the recording of our interview was lost, and my recollection isn't the best, so I'll mention what I remember. When asked how What's My Name came about, Traci said that Stargate and Ester Dean had come up with a super sexy track which necessitated some super sexy lyrics, so that's what she wrote! Easy Peasy. I also asked her something which I forgot to ask Angela - why are there so few female producers? Traci said that the opportunities are there for the taking. She thinks most women simply don't want to do it. She herself has no desire to make the beats. Traci enjoys poetry, so writing lyrics suits her just fine. I must say, she does a fantastic job at it. Miss Hale used to be a backup singer for the late, great Aaliyah, during which time she met a writer with whom she shared some of her songs, and that's how her journey as a songwriter du jour began! At the end of our conversation, Traci thanked me for taking the time to speak with her, and I was like, "wait, what? Thank you!" Once again, I couldn't believe how friendly everyone was. 

Soon after that, my friend Caity (who kindly took some photographs and recorded all my interviews) and I headed out, but not before spotting Joe Levy, the current Editor-in-Chief of Billboard Magazine (and former Editor-in-Chief of Maxim) who we recognized from the now defunct, but always enjoyable, Joy Behar show (hey, Joy!). Many influential people attended, including former Motown President, Sylvia Rhone. It's always encouraging to see women in power positions. I was a nervous wreck before this event, though I soon found out I had no reason to be. As the extremely effeminate gay man I am, I worried that my gay-ness would rub some people the wrong way. After all, the hip-hop community has a reputation for not being the most tolerant of us LGBTs. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Conversing with the songwriters and producers was such a pleasure. Everyone was relaxed and easygoing. Plus, it was an absolute hoot seeing who had a few too many facelifts. Overall, this was a great night. Thank you to Workman Entertainment + Public Relations, who invited us to the 2012 SESAC POP Awards, as well as to all the songwriters and producers we spoke with. We had a blast!



Gregory & Minna Talk Memorial Day Performances - Who Was More Memorable, Cheryl or Kylie?

Minna: Okay, we had two big performances on The Voice UK this weekend, starting with Mizz "I-Need-No-Last-Name" Cheryl.  What did you think of her Call My Name performance on Saturday?
Gregory: It was amaaazing.  Her dancing is almost as good as Britney at her prime.  And I could give two sh*ts if Cheryl is miming. 
Minna: This was a really, really good performance, I agree, from the swan dive onwards.  Cheryl has by far the best style team too; the hair, the pants, the leopard print, I love it.  Although I have to say that the stupid hand-cupping move for the "call my name" cue was seriously annoying. All in all, a great performance.  Now, onto the next one: Kylie performed Time Bomb today, obviously as a birthday present for me.  Good lord I love Kylie, but this was a wee-bit lame.  At least she's singing.  What did you think?
Gregory: Her performances are always so blah.  I don't even like Time Bomb.  All she's doing is strutting around the stage doing sexy poses. 
Minna:  Is it just me or is there something very Austin Powers about the whole 60s graffiti get-up? And why are her back-up dancers wearing Nicki Minaj's bathing suit?
Gregory: Didn't Coldplay just do the graffiti thing?  Whatever.  Don't know, don't care.
Minna:  So who was more memorable?
Gregory: Cheryl.
Minna: I have to agree with you.  I like Time Bomb better, but there's no denying that Cheryl's precision dance-moves & crotch-grabbing make Call My Name more memorable.  There's no denying the power of touching yourself.
Gregory: Even without the music video & performances, Call My Name is a better single.  
Minna:  To me it just sounds like Calvin fell asleep at the recording studio, although I completely love the "oh oh oh oh" at the end.  I don't think it will break the US market, but I don't think Time Bomb will either.

Watch Kylie's performance below:
Watch Cheryl's performance below:


Gregory & Minna

90s Sundays - 1993's "Shoop" by Salt-n-Pepa

According to all our sources, claiming the 90s is what's hot right now (see: AZ Banks).  But when Gregory suggested that we start something called "90s Sundays," it was anything but a "let's-fit-in" calculation.  Growing up in the 1990s, Gregory & I are emotionally attached to all the music we heard on our radios.  I remember waiting for hours by my family's boombox to record a favorite song for my mixtape!  Now with the added trendiness of claiming inspiration from the 90s (Lana, we know you love Tupac too, girl), our nostalgia has an even more relevant place in our blog.

Hip-hop trio Salt-n-Pepa, famous for taboo-shattering songs like Push It & Let's Talk About Sex, are more Rihanna's predecessors than Nicki Minaj's.  The girls of Salt-n-Pepa are practically the godmothers of SWAGGER.  Though they marked their early career with songs about female empowerment, Shoop, a funky, flirty, man-crazy track, became their first Top 5 hit on the Billboard charts in 1993 (not a surprise).  All cynicism/sexism aside, Shoop is a fantastic throwback track to the delicious days of 90s RnB-infused hip-hop-POP.  It is worth noting that even while licking their lips at enticing men, Salt-n-Pepa were nearly always ahead of their time; how many female DJs are rocking our charts in 2012?  Shout out to you, DJ Spinderella.


Gregory & Minna

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Top POP 5 Releases of 2012 (So Far)

Lana Del Rey - Born To Die
Call it what you will, but Lana Del Rey's record is one of a kind. Kanye West producer Emile Haynie perfectly fuses classical orchestration, electronic synthesization, and hip-hop for a new brand of POP. Lana has officially crowned herself America's tragic retro-glam Princess, formerly known as Lolita, also a song on her album. She may be a fake, but the sun-baked nostalgia we feel while listening to these songs is 100% real. A gorgeous record. Our favorite cuts include Dark Paradise, Radio, and Summertime Sadness.

Tanlines - Mixed Emotions
Though this album should have been released 2 years ago, what it lacks in evolution it more than makes up for in sentimentality, warmth, & attention to detail. Purveyors of moody, melancholy synthPOP, Eric Emm & Jesse Cohen created a masterful album about the reluctance to leave safe spaces & enter the dangerous terrain of full-blown adulthood. We can relate.

The Shins - Port of Morrow
A lovely listen from start to finish, The Shins' latest musical venture leaves other trendsters' attempts at music mute. Propelled mostly by James Mercer's signature lyricism & knack for timeless melody, Greg Kurstin also lends his professional touches as co-producer. A timeless indie POP album, individual songs like 40 Mark Strasse are also a must-hear.

Fun. - Some Nights
Like Lana's Born To Die, Some Nights represents genre fusion. Here we have indie rock, musical theatre, and hip-hop jumbled together. However, Jeff Bhasker, another Kanye producer, didn't blend said genres as smoothly as his colleague, Emile, did for Lana. Still, it's a worthy listen. Lead singer, Nate Ruess, has rightfully been compared to Freddie Mercury. Plus, we can't resist guitarist and backup vocalist, Jack Antonoff. His pro-LGBT stance, Jew-fro, and arm definition turn us ON. Scarlett Johansson may have lost her high school sweetheart, but we'll be happy to find him.

Marina & the Diamonds - Electra Heart
A quintessentially hit or miss album. Marina has progressed, but she's come farthest with the producer she started with, Liam Howe. Though this album is difficult to generalize, it's quite blah, generally. Read our review & don't miss the unforgettable Teen Idle.

There you have it, our top 5 POP albums of 2012, so far.  Thankfully, there's still much more to come.  What do you think, dear readers?


Gregory & Minna

POP News in Review - May 25th

May has been a busy month for us, between celebrating birthdays, bat mitzvahs, working, traveling, & making ends meet, sometimes it's just too much to sit down & blog at the end of the day.  Thankfully, we HAVE been keeping up to date on all POP happenings.  Here is this week's latest POP news as viewed by us.

Cheryl Cole's album cover shines
Maybe we're late on picking up on this one, but apparently it's just CHERYL now.  Who cares, really, as long as the album is as good as its cover.  Wishful thinking?  Probably.  But we're still hoping A Million Lights is straight up euroPOP gold. C'mon, Cole. We're ready.

Icona Pop releases new songs, "Rocket Science" & "I Love It"
All hail new music from one of the more unique acts on the rise, scandiPOP duo Icona Pop.  While Rocket Science sounds hyper-modern & dubsteppy, I Love It, penned by Charli XCX, finds Icona Pop embracing a more conventional power POP format. "I'm a nineties bitch!" they shriek over a banging club-beat. Oh shit, AZ Banks better start trash-talking them.  The 90s so totally her thing.

Kelly Clarkson's music video for Dark Side is deep
We're impressed by the new music video for Kelly Clarkson's latest single, Dark Side, a pretty but unremarkable song produced by Greg Kurstin.  Directed by Shane Drake, who also did Kelly's Stronger video, Dark Side explores pain, loss & vulnerability through the lens of of several characters, including an alcoholic man, a laid-off worker, a war veteran, a pill-popping pageant queen, & more.

Ladyhawke teases album online
Alright y'all, it's time.  Click here to listen to snippets of Ladyhawke's second album, Anxiety (do we hear a zombie song on there, Pippa?).  Apparently we're still waiting until June 4th for the full release, because if we've learned one thing in the 21st century, we know it's not an anticipated album unless its released is postponed at least twice.



JFF - Russian Oldie "Наш сосед" Updated for the Modern Market, Introducing "Da Bop"

Last night my step-father, a rock scientist originally from Moscow, asked me if I would introduce him to any Russian POP sensations.  Of course T.A.T.u. came to mind, but I directed him to a favorite blog of mine, Europopped, & introduced him to a song called Da Bop.  I explained to him that this was sure to be a summer hit in Europe.  When I pressed play, his face lit up with the excitement of recognition.  "I remember singing this in school!" he said.  Now, rarely have I ever seen someone who grew up in the USSR regard their childhood warmly, but here you have it: a simple, lovely song modernized to include a big, ballsy beat put a smile on the face of my POP-illiterate, anostalgic step-father.

As a true, blue history nerd, I have geeked over Eastern Europe since age 10 (don't ask me why).  Something that I cherish about this region, musically, is the constant "updating" of traditional music to fit the modern POP sonic-sphere. Take turbo-folk, a sub-genre that is in & of itself essentially the "urbanization" of rural Balkan folk music.  And now here we have 2012's Da Bop, a sort of Euro-crazed We No Speak Americano, only much cuter & much, much better.

Check out the original Наш сосед & its dancefloor-friendly grandchild, Da Bop, below:



PS - Check out Europopped for all things Euro-zone.  He's got all the goodies & then some.

Praise the POP Heavens! Kylie Releases New Single, "Timebomb"

The Kylie team has been surprising adoring fans with new goodies on the 25th of each monthin honor of K25, a celebration of Kylie's TWENTY FIVE YEARS in music. This month the surprise is even better: Kylie released a new single & music video for a track called Timebomb.  In true Kylie-style, the music video features a gravity-defying "dress" made of little more than scraps of fabric, as well as the general fierceness we've come to expect from our proto-perfect POP sensation.  Check out the video, filmed in Soho, below:
If you want more Kylie, be sure to tune into the Voice UK on BBC1 this Sunday, May 27 (Minna's birthday! I'm sure Kylie did that on purpose)


Gregory & Minna

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cheryl Cole, Nicki Minaj, Lana Del Rey Exhibit POP Star Expertise in Latest Music Videos

International POP sensations Nicki Minaj & Cheryl Cole recently released music videos for their hit summer smashes Starships & Call My Name, respectively. Rightfully praised as "perfect" & "amazing," Nicki & Cheryl set the bar incredibly high for fellow POP musicians. Here are some of the ways that other artists can aim to reach the level of brilliance reached by Nicki & Cheryl (if at all remotely possible).
1. Accentuate your breasts either by exhibiting the force of gravity upon them while dancing/writhing/jumping about, or by touching them (generally speaking, be sure to touch yourself. It encourages others to do so).
2. Feature close-ups of at least one (but preferably two) butt-cheeks.
3. DANCE LIKE ITS YOUR LAST DAY WITH BUTT IMPLANTS. Not all POP stars can dance like Nicki. Gregory is a certified sand-writher (he's an orange whip - it's kind of like a brown belt in Tae Kwan Do), and even he struggles with the perfect sand up your butt to sunshine on your D cup ratio. Clearly, Nicki is Class A certified in the masterful art of SAND WRITHERACY. We hear that for her next video, she plans on a potato sack trot, but with a half potato sack (It's sessier.)
EXTRA CREDIT. Ala-Lana, force your hot hipster boyfriend to choke you midswim while sporting a Dolce & Gabbana swimsuit. Bulimia is glam, but why ruin your manicure?
Watch Nicki & Cheryl exhibit their POP star expertise in their latest music videos below.  Ooo, we're getting a whiff of something strong... something called SUMMER SMASH.  Please, did you even doubt it for a second?


Gregory & Minna

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Electra Heart Beats

Marina faced many expectations going into this project (though I do think she was quite excited to enter the next phase of her career. After all, being a POP star is fun.) She has fans that wanted her to go more POP (a la Katy Perry), and I suppose those audience members should be at least partially satisfied by Electra Heart. Then she has others who crave the indie Marina of yore. They want The Family Jewels Part 2. I suppose I fall somewhere in the middle. I want her to progress without sacrificing her natural knack for melody or lyricism, and I don't think those two things are mutually exclusive or oppose each other in any way. Proof? We shall get to that later.

Marina originally planned to make a concept record about female archetypes, each embodying a part of American womanhood that represented the worst part of the American dream. Sound confusing? That's because it is; much too much, Marina. This record was meant to be a Greek tragedy. In other words, she planned to showcase the character's self-induced downfall in order to represent the tragedy of American culture/materialism. However, this album has no tragic ending. For example, there seem to be no consequences for the album's Homewrecker archetype; she'll go on breaking up marriages like it's the coolest thing since an ass-wax. As a result, we at Unapologetically POP have come to see all of this rhetoric as an excuse for Marina to act like the bitchy, elitist POP star she always aspired to be. She just needed a character to scapegoat so that she wouldn't receive flack for being an egotistical ass. Harsh, but true. I understand that people change. You might say you'll never do something, and then go around and do it later. People are bound to contradict themselves and change their minds. However, posturing as someone who is better than everyone else and trying to justify it by occasionally chiming in with "this is just a character I'm playing" is an act I'm not buying. If she wants to be a douche bag, she should own it and not hide behind some bitchy character. Madonna does, and I respect her all the more.

Marina Del Rey?
Anyhow, this album has been said to be about so many things - the downfall of the American dream, the downfall of the American POP star, Marina's POP star fantasy brought to life (as she claimed she had always wanted to sing POP and die her hair blonde), an aggressive record about a lost love (making her the anti-Adele, according to Marina) - that the concept seems to drown under all of these goals. To make things worse, the aesthetic Marina had been planning on - a tragic retro-glam American Princess - was executed by Lana Del Rey while Marina was still in recording sessions. Now she looks like an unoriginal copy cat, though the idea was actually quite innovative to begin with.

I'm a big fan of this album's sonic intentions. I love pure mid and up-tempo electronic music with heart & soul (a la Madonna's Ray of Light album and everything that followed it). However, the execution is hit or miss. I love Primadonna's production. Dr. Luke did a great job creating a sound that was fresh and radio-friendly, but sufficiently warm to suit Marina's fatalistic style. However, the lyrics are completely idiotic, and so are those who think "Fill the void up with celluloid / Take a picture, I'm with the boys" represents lyrical depth. I'd rather ride the Homewrecker's "Boys and their toys and their six inch rockets," as unappealing and unbelievable as that sounds coming out of Marina's mouth via the grossest spoken word ever! I love Rick Nowels' production of Homewrecker, but the verses are simply horrible. Marina wants to sound like Madonna in Vogue, but comes off disingenuous. It's as if she's playing POP star dress up, instead of actually being one. Very few people have been able to adopt spoken word effectively - the few who've accomplished the feat include Lana Del Rey and Ke$ha, and it's because they don't try to copy someone else's style - they make it their own. On Homewrecker, the spoken word is laughable, reminding me of Countess Luann De Lesseps' supremely cheesy Chic C'est La Vie. Excuse me for restricting my Real Housewives to Bravo watching hour.

The rest of Rick Nowels' Marina tracks are sub-par. He's said to have collaborated with Madonna over 15 years ago, but only completed one non-single for her, so that doesn't really count in my book. Most recently, he's written with Lykke Li and Lana Del Rey. I will say that I'm glad Marina wrote with him. Why? It's a learning experience. Writing with someone else always adds more tools to one's box. Now, when Marina wants to write a song on her own, she has new methods to tap. Rick redeems himself in the song Valley of the Dolls, where in the line, "got a hole inside of me, OF ME," he takes Marina's voice to a place that's a cross between Enya and Dolores O'Riordan of The Cranberries.

Where's Radioactive?
Speaking of Dolores, Rick Nowels' production aims to be beautiful, atmospheric electronica and '90s pop - rock. The horrible Bubblegum Bitch, the record's first song in which Marina introduces the character of Electra Heart, is an example of solely the latter. Marina said that she kept Radioactive (an early single) off the album because it didn't fit in sonically. This is true, but Bubblegum Bitch fits in to an even lesser extent! It's excuse for a rock sound is so loud and grating, and the melody is completely amateur, to boot. In Rick's other songs, namely The State of Dreaming, Valley of the Dolls, and Hypocrates, the production begins with some gorgeous, ethereal synths, but then transitions into a cross between poor recreations of '90s pop-rock and karaoke Disney Princess. Once again, this causes Marina to sound as though she's playing POP star dress up. P.S. For some reason, I get the sense that Marina wrote the lyrics for Hypocrates about her father, as during her last album cycle, she always spoke about her dad instilling within her a sense of skepticism in regard to commercial superficiality. Though I'm sure she'll claim the song is about a former boyfriend, I have a feeling that in her new found love for all things fake, Marina took a shot at her dad for keeping her from what she enjoys.

Marina has said that with this record, she put less pressure on herself melodically. If she wrote a verse but couldn't figure out the chorus, or vice versa, she would go to a producer/songwriter for a complementary chorus or verse, respectively. Unfortunately, I suspect this was the case with The State of Dreaming, in which the lovely verses and pre-chorus don't quite fit the chorus, which I reckon was composed by Mister Nowels. However, the two tracks where this hodge-podge method works wonderfully are the Greg Kurstin - produced Starring Role and the Dr. Luke and Dipo - produced Lies. Both have gorgeous melodies and production, with the former featuring bone-chilling wind chimes peaking through the synths at the start of the song. My one issue with these two tracks is their hip-hop beat, which does not suit Marina in the least. As much divatude as she possesses (and I mean this in the best and worst ways), she has absolutely zero swagger. Leave the hip-hop beats to Lana Del Rey and Rihanna, please. This is why I prefer the acoustic version of Lies to the one on the album.

Greg Kurstin is the second best part of this project. While promoting her last record, Marina said that Oh No! (produced and co-written by Greg) was indicative of the bubblegum electro direction she wanted to head in. I imagine she came to this conclusion after listening to Lily Allen's masterpiece of a second album, It's Not Me, It's You, on which Greg created exactly that. Thus, she wrote and recorded the first song for Electra Heart with him two years ago. It is known as Living Dead, and it is absolutely gorgeous. The production and melody are fantastic, but what I like best are the lyrics. They tap into Marina's depressive state, something she wrote about ad nauseum on The Family Jewels, making that album utterly relatable and life-like, as opposed to Electra Heart, which is far more love-centric. I've already discussed Greg's work on Starring Role, above. The third and last track he worked on for this album was Power & Control, rumored to be the next single. While most of what Greg touches turns to gold, this song just doesn't do it for me. This is the one track Greg produced but did not write with Marina. Instead, she chose to pen it with Steve Angello of Swedish House Mafia. It seems that Greg does his best production work on the songs he co-writes; otherwise, he has trouble translating the emotion of the lyrics and melody into the production. My case in point? Kelly Clarkson's Stronger, which Greg produced, but did not write. Most people will say that song is amazing, and I do think it's good, but Greg has set such a high standard for himself on his co-written work with Lily, Ke$ha (Animal - I want to cry every time I listen!), and Marina, that it's hard to settle for anything less.

Now, to the best two cuts! Liam Howe, the man behind most of The Family Jewels, contributed two songs to Electra Heart, and those were the only ones solely composed by Marina. Teen Idle is an absolute heart-breaker, but not for the reason you may think. Rather than recreating Katy Perry's Teenage Dream, Marina sings about the sense of regret some of us face when looking back at our teenage years, wishing we had lived them to the fullest, partying and socializing "instead of being 16 and burning up a Bible, feeling super, super, super suicidal," which I relate to quite literally. Those sentiments were brought to the surface when Marina attended a fashion show by British designer Ashish, where she spotted a bubble-gum grunge sweater featuring the wordplay Teen Idle.

It's quite interesting that the person who best reshaped Marina's sound is the one who initially built it. Liam has adapted incredibly to Marina's vision, allowing her to evolve, instead of revolve. In Teen Idle, she maintains the straight-shot honesty and melodic creativity of The Family Jewels, but adopts a fresh electronic coating while shedding the New Wave. My favorite part is when a chorus of children joyfully yell out "feeling super super super," as though they're about to follow it with "awesome." Instead, Marina breaks up that happiness by singing the intellectually expected (seeing as most of the song is quite depressive) but emotionally unexpected "suicidal."

Marina and Liam recording her debut, The Family Jewels

Liam repeats his success on Fear and Loathing, a piece that reminds me of Madonna's Power of Goodbye. This is the most honest song on the album, where Marina shows us her true self without any character B.S. The track is about Marina's journey. On her first album, she shunned radio friendly POP in order to make herself seem credible. She claimed to loathe the genre, when in fact, she quite enjoyed it. Her search for credibility didn't pay off, as Marina struggled to find the success encountered by other alternative artists, like Florence Welch and Ellie Goulding. When she finally realized that her angst against mainstream POP stars like Katy Perry was based in her own insecurity, she wrote a song about it (and subsequently toured with Katy, but this is irrelevant), and thus, we have the truly brilliant Fear and Loathing.

What seems to boggle my mind is Marina's desire to get away from writing her own melodies when she is one of the best composers of her time, fusing theatrical hooks with those that are quite POP. Interestingly enough, her lyrics are actually more poetic and honest when she devotes time to writing the music and not just the words. Does she have faith in herself? Does she not realize the magnitude of her own musical talent? Maybe Marina's lack of formal training / technical knowledge causes her to question her abilities. Or, maybe her perfectionism causes unbearable amounts of stress and OCD, so she'd rather limit the pots she places her hands in and leave some responsibility to others. This I can understand, but a better solution might involve learning some relaxation techniques so that she can depressurize and comfortably do it all, as she is one of the few who truly can.