No discussion of the last twelve months in music would be complete without a proper shout out to Adele, the blue-eyed, soulful Brit who ruled 2011 with one album (the multiply GRAMMY-nominated 21) and two No. 1 singles (“Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You”), so here we go.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s what was hot and not about the rest.
1. Drake: Last year, he called his debut album Thank Me Later, so now feels like the right time to express our genuine appreciation for the Canadian rapper who balances tough and tender so perfectly. With his second album, Take Care, and two of its key cuts, in particular”the fantastic first single “Headlines” and the title track (featuring Rihanna)”he brought sexy back to rap for the first time since ladies loved (LL) Cool J.
2. Girls on film: From Britney Spears’ “Till the World Ends” to Lady Gaga’s “Judas” to Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Into You” to Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” it was an excellent year for women in pop videos. But it was Ke$ha in “Blow,” Kelly Rowland in “Motivation” and Rihanna in “We Found Love” that injected new energy into a decades-old art form and elevated it above and beyond promotional tool to indispensable companion piece.
3. Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams “Moanin'” on American Idol: I didn’t love the bulk of their solo performances during the 10th season of Idol, but when Reinhart and Abrams came together on the Top 8 results show for the vocalese version of Charles Mingus’ “Moanin’,” the unexpected result was the best musical moment I saw all season.
4. Diana DeGarmo on The Young and the Restless: Speaking of Idol losers, season three’s runner-up’s stint as Angelina on daytime’s No. 1 soap hasn’t been so well-received by critics or fans, but I dissent. There’s both artistry and comedic gold in DeGarmo’s portrayal of a tone-deaf “singer” and daughter of a New Jersey mob boss, and I’m looking forward to being as wowed by her Pygmalion-style makeover as I was by her Idol rendition of “Don’t Cry Out Loud” all those years ago.
“I get high with a little help from my friends,” Ringo Starr sang on the Beatles‘ 1967 classic. These days, so do many of music’s top stars. Two’s company, and so is three and sometimes four. The more the merrier, the higher and higher they get.
On the charts, that is.
In the Top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100 for the week ending December 10, seventeen songs were collaborations between separate recording entities. Four of them featured Drake, and three apiece featured Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, who both appeared on tracks with Drake and with each other. But will.i.am featuring Jennifer Lopez and Mick Jagger”and debuting at No. 36 with “T.H.E. (The Hardest Ever),” which the threesome performed on the November 20 American Music Awards”was probably the one that nobody saw coming.
Old-school Rolling Stones fans must be cringing at the idea of Jagger going anywhere near Lopez and will.i.am so soon after Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera went to No. 1 by invoking his hallowed name on “Moves Like Jagger.” But for a sixty-something legend like him, hit records”even if in name only, a la Duck Sauce‘s GRAMMY-nominated “Barbra Streisand”are a near-impossible dream unless they’re in tandem with other, often younger, stars.
Once you’re a hugely successful musician, with lots of people telling you how awesome you are, making the leap into acting (or painting, or politics, or baseball, or aviation, or molecular biology) must seem like a piece of cake. There are so many object lessons to teach us how untrue that is (Britney Spears’ Crossroads, anyone?). But there are a few double-threats out there who have successfully made the leap.
10. Queen Latifah
It’s pretty aggravating to see a talented actor take an opportunity to do quality work, wipe their ass with that opportunity and flush it down the toilet. Queen Latifah has done this a couple of times. She could have had a solid career as a supporting actress after The Bone Collector and Bringing Out The Dead, but then she kicked America in the crotch by being part of The Country Bears, among other debacles. She was then lucky enough to be cast in Chicago, and it was inarguably a star-making performance. Finding herself in that enviable position, she accepted roles in a bunch of utter garbage, including Taxi and The Perfect Holiday. Sigh. But dammit, she’s always fun to watch on screen, whether it’s comedy or drama, and I suspect she’ll continue to appear in quality movies from time to time. Just don’t expect consistency.
Along with the onstage duets of black mentors and white mentees, the now annual ritual of proclaiming the crossover of country and the ubiquity of pyrotechnics, one of the big themes that ran through last night’s GRAMMYs Awards Show was the legacy of the great female performer. From the ten-minute tribute to the Queen Aretha Franklin to Lady Gaga‘s conspicuous (and borderline Dadaist) thanking of Whitney Houston while accepting the award for Best Pop Vocals to the night’s climactic moment”Barbra Streisand‘s proclamation of the winner of the Album of the Year, there was a sense that the show was bending over backwards to address a panalopy of female perspectives”so much so that if you looked really quickly at Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride, Yolanda Adams and Florence Welch singing together on stage, you might’ve thought you had tuned into a musical performance of The View.
So this made it all the more disappointing that Ari Up!, the pioneering front woman from the seminal reggae-punk outfit, The Slits, was omitted from the GRAMMYs memorial tribute. Ari (see Ariane Forster), who died of cancer this past October at the age of 48, was subverting genres and deconstructing female archetypes while Lady Gaga was still saying, Ga-ga, goo-goo. During her heyday, Ari and The Slits broke into the punk boy’s club and helped establish the sonic and visual vocabulary that would spawn the early ˜90s riot grrrl movement. Unlike many of her punk rock contemporaries, however, the dreadlocked singer-songwriter never stopped evolving. Her legacy isn’t just of being at the right place at the right time, but is of a career of perpetual risk-taking”from founding a band (at the age of fourteen) with a name that virtually no DJ at the time would dare to utter to performing what she called space age reggae with the New Age Steppers to moving to Jamaica and starting to perform under the new moniker, Medusa to reuniting with The Slits in 2006.
In fairness, this year’s GRAMMY show was one of the most entertaining in ages and the truth is that someone deserving always gets left out of the memorial montage at every awards show. Moreover, having had the honor of calling Ari my friend, it’s hard to even imagine her wanting her image to dissolve in to Lena Horne and out to Teena Marie. She likely would’ve laughed at the number of cutaways during the telecast to The Apprentice‘s Cyndi Lauper who has long since thrown out the torn fishnets and pink tutus that she took from Ari and shared with the mainstream. She would’ve found perverse pleasure in the fact that the only slits being discussed last night were the ones in the gowns of Heidi Klum and Lea Michele.