Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Discourse & Dischord

The Good

President Obama is sexy (and he knows it)

Who woulda thought that President Obama was such a big LMFAO fan? Turns out he’s been surreptitiously dropping lyrics to Sexy and I Know It into all his speeches. As long as he doesn’t collaborate with Madonna, we’re OK with it. Watch the Commander in Chief bring sexy back below.

Deadmau5 taps fan to collaborate

The Internet has elevated many things to a whole new level: spying on your exes, indulging your cat obsession and, in this case, interacting with your favorite musician. Deadmau5, otherwise known as Joel Zimmerman, streamed an unfinished track on his Web site to give fans a listen to the songwriting process. One industrious follower tweeted the DJ a vocal track, and Zimmerman liked it so much he promised to add it into the song. Oh Internet, will your powers ever cease to amaze? Watch the magic happen below.

The Bad

Jerry Lee Lewis marries for seventh time, to cousin’s ex-wife

File under gross: Jerry Lee Lewis, who is now seventy-six years old, got married to his seventh wife ¦ wait for it ¦ who also happens to be the ex-wife of his own cousin, Rusty Brown. But there’s more! Cousin Rusty is the younger brother of Myrna Gale Brown, who married Lewis when she was only thirteen years old. Lets hope this latest dysfunctional marriage cools those great balls of fire once and for all.

Earl Scruggs dies

Bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs passed away this week from natural causes at an area hospital in Nashville. He was eighty-eight years old. Scruggs, along with Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt, formed the most influential bluegrass acts of all time”the Blue Grass Boys. Scruggs is credited with popularizing the three-finger style of banjo playing. He went on to play with Flatt in the Foggy Mountain Boys (later known as Flatt and Scruggs). His hits”which include the theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies and Bonnie and Clyde”helped bring bluegrass to mainstream audiences. R.I.P.

The Ugly

Wayne Coyne bleeds collaborators for Record Store Day release

For his upcoming Record Store Day release, entitled The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, Wayne Coyne wasn’t content to give fans his figurative blood, sweat and tears. The Flaming Lips front man is including his actual blood as well as the blood of his collaborators on the vinyl and packaging of the record. That means folks like Yoko Ono, Bon Iver, Ke$ha, Biz Markie, Chris Martin, Erykah Badu and more will be donating a sample to this bio-hazardous album. Handle with gloves, people.

Bobby Brown arrested for DUI

Bobby Brown was charged with two DUI counts and a misdemeanor charge of driving on a suspended license after cops pulled the singer over on Monday. Brown faces up to six months in jail if convicted. His court date is scheduled for April 16. Our advice? We think Brown should pack up his group, get a grip, come equipped, grab his proton pack off his back and then split. Oh wait, that only works if you’re a Ghostbuster.



Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sound and Vision: Is Chris Brown's Comeback and GRAMMY Honors Another Slap in the Face to Women?

With Whitney Houston’s tragic, untimely death and Adele’s big sweep grabbing our near-undivided attention, the 2012 GRAMMY Awards were, in some ways, a two-woman show.

But if any guy came close to upstaging them, it was Chris Brown. And not necessarily in a good way. Brown, who performed two songs on the telecast, did not emerge unscathed from what was foolishly touted as his GRAMMY “comeback””as if he is a supernova among stars, and three years is such an eternity. Some viewers were outraged that he was invited to perform at the ceremony at all, after what he did to his ex, Rihanna, during GRAMMY season three years ago.

The unfortunate irony of Houston’s passing on GRAMMY weekend is that, like Rihanna, she had been the victim of domestic abuse by another Brown, her ex-husband Bobby. And the honor of paying tribute to her went to Jennifer Hudson, whose mother, brother and nephew were murdered, allegedly by the estranged husband of Hudson’s sister, just a few years ago. If anyone knows that people often hurt the ones they claim to love, she does.

But that one display of good taste doesn’t let the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences off the hook. Brown’s inclusion in the ceremony almost felt like an unintentional f**k you to Houston, to Rihanna, to any woman who has suffered because of domestic abuse.

The big question, though, is this: Has Brown suffered enough? It has, after all, been three years since he pummeled Rihanna in a car. Is it time for us to move on as Brown and NARAS, apparently, both have.

For Brown’s many GRAMMY-night detractors (which included singers Miranda Lambert and Michelle Branch as well as actors Wil Wheaton and Eric Stonestreet), it might be hard to move on when Brown has never acknowledged the gravity of the situation in any meaningful way that didn’t seem like a public-relations pose. Whether he’s onstage, in videos, plugging his music on the morning talk-show circuit, or ranting on Twitter, he never seems sorry enough.


Whitney Houston: An Icon Remembered

The music industry suffered a devastating loss on Saturday, when Whitney Houston died at age forty-eight in Beverly Hills, California.

Still reeling from the loss of Don Cornelius, the music community was struck again on the eve of its biggest night. The tragic news surfaced hours before Whitney was scheduled to attend Clive Davis’ annual Pre-GRAMMY gala.  Sources say she was found in the bathtub of her hotel room at the famed Beverly Hilton.

Although her recent years were full of turbulent times”merciless public scrutiny, addiction, and a painful divorce”Whitney led a lifetime of glory prior to her pitfalls. Her voice remains one of the most beloved of our time, and her beauty and grace made her an icon.  This weekend, the world lost a true music legend, long before her time.

Music was in Whitney’s blood from the beginning.  Her mother, Cissy Houston, was a gospel singer  while her cousin Dionne Warwick is an R&B star in her own right. By age fifteen, Whitney was singing back-up vocals for Chaka Khan.

Her breakout year was 1985, when she debuted her album, Whitney Houston and became the only artist to have seven consecutive No.1 Billboard hits. Single after single soared to the top, and Whitney quickly became one of the biggest stars in the world. Saving All My Love For You, How Will I Know, So Emotional, Greatest Love Of All, Didn’t We Almost Have It All, Where Do Broken Hearts Go, I Wanna Dance (With Somebody Who Love Me) made her one of the most successful singers in the industry.

Her 1992 blockbuster hit, The Bodyguard, shot her to international crossover success and launched one of the biggest albums of her career. The movie, co-starring Kevin Costner, and subsequent soundtrack spurred hits like Run To You and I Have Nothing and led to her 1998 GRAMMY win for Album Of The Year.

She later starred in a string of successful films including Waiting To Exhale, Cinderella,and The Preacher’s Wife, alongside Denzel Washington. In 1998, she debuted her album, My Love Is Your Love after eight years off the charts; sparking another rise to the top. In 2001, she signed the biggest record deal ever; a whopping $100 million for six albums.

Whitney Houston is the most-awarded female act of all time and the best-selling female artist of all time. She has sold old 170 million albums and broken countless records for singles sales, chart placement and award wins.

Her tumultuous and highly publicized marriage to Bobby Brown ended in divorce in 2007.  After years of suspiciousbehavior and a virtual disappearance from the music scene, Whitney admitted to a serious cocaine addiction in 2009 during an interview with Oprah Winfrey. She sought help for her issues and released her album, I Look To You later that year.  The album and subsequent singles shot straight to No. 1 and it seemed Houston was on the mend.  She gave numerous performances and prompted her highly-anticipated but ultimately ill-fated The Nothing But Love World Tour in 2010,  which ended abruptly after fans complained Whitney wasn’t ready.

Without an official cause of death, it’s unclear whether Whitney’s demons led to her untimely demise.  Reports of odd behavior in the days leading up to her death have surfaced, and authorities say it may be weeks before a clear cause of death could be determined.

Only one day after the tragic news was announced, Sunday’s GRAMMY Awards were noticeably somber, with many of the attendees and organizers mourning the unexpected loss of a legend.

The evening was full of tributes and reflections on the sudden loss, and prompted host LL Cool J to open the event with a heartfelt prayer for her after acknowledging, We’ve had a death in the family.

Jennifer Hudson performed Houston’s biggest hit, I Will Always Love You during the show, prompting tears from friends and fans in the crowd.

Although her life was cut too short, her time here was spent sharing amazing music with millions of people around the world.  Her spirit and legacy of strength, resilience and talent will live on forever.  The industry has truly lost one of the greatest singers who ever lived.


Sound And Vision: Reunited Bands Try To Make Lightning Strike Twice

For the love of money.
According to Sting, when I interviewed him in 1996, there’s no other reason to bring a band back from the dead. Yet one must assume that Sting”who’s had a gold and platinum solo career for more than three times the seven years he was a member of The Police”had more than money on the brain when he reunited the band in 2007, after more than two decades of inactivity, for a thirtieth anniversary world tour.
Think about it: If Diana Ross can try to regroup with Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong (though she ended up with two ’70s Supremes with whom she’d never actually performed and possibly never even met until minutes before the ill-fated 2000 “reunion” was announced), why can’t all other former bandmates get along”or at least get back together. Are you listening, ABBA? Though a musical reunion of Sweden’s fab four, or the UK one from the ’80s (that would be The Smiths), remains as unlikely as a resurgent Rubik’s cube or Carter Country, in recent years, we’ve seen a number of bands”from the Pixies to Yaz to the “classic” original line-up of Duran Duran”come together again.
Some did it for the love of money, some because of fading solo careers and some because as we get older those nostalgic impulses become harder to ignore. One imagines the latter must have been a big part of the reason why rich solo superstar Robbie Williams mended fences last year with Take That”who’d already reformed in 2005, nine years after breaking up”and participated in Progress, their first album together in fifteen years. This month, the original Take That will hit the road with Pet Shop Boys.
On May 10, The Cars, who haven’t released a new studio album since Ronald Reagan was in office, will drive their act into this millennium with Move Like This and a ten-date reunion tour that begins in Seattle on the day of the album’s release. They won’t be the only ’80s throwbacks on the road in the coming months. Bobby Brown recently said that the off-and-on-and-off-and-on-again New Edition has a new album and tour in the works. Perhaps they should join New Kids on the Block (who’ll be performing live this summer with Backstreet Boys) and soon-to-be summer tour mates Tiffany and Debbie Gibson for a Monsters of ’80s Pop package.
Then there’s Soundgarden, the band who along with Nirvana and Pearl Jam created grunge’s holy triumvirate in the early ’90s. They split in 1997, and although Chris Cornell had success as a member of Audioslave, his solo career never quite caught on. Can grunge thrive in 2011? We’ll find out when the Seattle band, set to tour in July, releases its work in progress later this year, but the odds might be stacked against them.
With a few exceptions”the Eagles, Steely Dan and Take That, whose Progress has enjoyed massive UK sales”reunited bands generally have had more success with comeback tours than with new music. Roxy Music, the Pixies and Psychedelic Furs have been back together for years, but neither band has released new albums. And Blondie, whose Panic of Girls is due on July 4, had middling US success with 1999’s No Exit and 2003’s The Curse of Blondie (though the former did produce the No. 1 UK single “Maria”).
In 2008, New Kids on the Block, whose reunion tour year featured Lady Gaga as an opening act, got off to a good start with The Block (first-week sales: 100,000), but the album failed to go gold in the US. The Cars’ new single, “Sad Song,” hasn’t gone higher than No. 37 on Billboard’s Rock Songs chart since its March 1 release, which doesn’t bode too well for the buzz-free Move Like This. Meanwhile, Duran Duran’s nostalgia value makes the group a huge touring attraction, but the new albums featuring the original line up (minus guitarist Andy Taylor) have sold only modestly.
But with album sales continuing to free fall anyway, it might not even matter. Releasing new music keeps the bands from being strictly oldies acts, and if the love of money is their bottom line, most of them are getting exactly what they’re after on the road.
[Ed. Note: Rockers and pop stars aren’t the only ones taking a trip down memory lane. Check out more comebacks and reunions in hip hop.]

Sound And Vision: Where Is the Love? — The Disappearing Power-Ballad Duet

Back in the day, every major female pop star had one: a male pop star (or two, or three or more) who loved her”at least on the record and on the charts. Over the years, Barbra Streisand had Neil Diamond, Barry Gibb and Bryan Adams. Diana Ross had Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie and Julio Iglesias. Olivia Newton-John, Linda Ronstadt and Stevie Nicks had their pick of men (Andy Gibb, Don Henley, Aaron Neville, Tom Petty and John Travolta, among them.) Whitney Houston had Teddy Pendergrass, Bobby Brown, Enrique Iglesias and George Michael. Madonna had Prince. Celine Dion had Peabo Bryson and R. Kelly. Mariah Carey had Luther Vandross, and so did Janet Jackson.
But where did the love go? Though there have been scattered duet hits in recent years (Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown‘s “No Air,” Ciara and Justin Timberlake‘s “Love Sex Magic”), they are fewer and much farther between. On the Billboard Hot 100 dated March 19, 2011, “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson‘s country chart topper, was the only traditional male-female duet, way down at No. 34.
I’d say that part of the blame lies with the faltering power ballad, which isn’t the chart force that it was in the days when Celine Dion ruled the airwaves. Consider pop’s leading single males: Both of Usher‘s and Enrique Iglesias’s two recent Top 10 Hot 100 singles have been not ballads but dance-oriented collaborations with rappers and, in the case of Usher’s “OMG,” Will.i.am. Chris Brown’s comeback-in-progress also has been harder-edged and boosted by male guest stars like Lil Wayne and Busta Rhymes, and of Justin Bieber‘s two Top 10s to date, neither has been a ballad, both were with rappers.
But it’s not just about what the public seems to want” it seems to be what the artists want, too. Why play the conventional good girl, duetting with Usher or Iglesias, when it’s so much more fun being bad? In the past year or so, both Rihanna and Katy Perry have gone Top 10 with rappers (Eminem and Drake, and Snoop Dogg and Kanye West, respectively). Meanwhile, Ke$ha went there with electronica hipsters 3OH!3 (after scoring her first hit riding shotgun with Flo Rida), and Beyoncé and Lady Gaga got there together.
As for the guys, boy-on-boy (or boys) rule: Bruno Mars with B.o.B and Travie McCoy, Jeremih with 50 Cent, Usher and Iglesias with Pitbull, Iglesias and Bieber with Ludacris. If it were 2001, Iglesias, or Ricky Martin, probably already would have zipped up the charts with Katy Perry and/or Rihanna on his arm. But it’s 2011, and just as every good girl wants a bad-boy rapper by her side, it seems the hit-making males would rather roll with the rough boys than mush it up with the ladies.
Will the power ballad survive the current disinterest in them? Can singing couples make a comeback? I’d be surprised if they didn’t. Pop music is cyclical, and if Jennifer Lopez can rise again, so can love (which, incidentally happens to be the title of J. Lo’s upcoming album, minus a question mark). All it needs is the right tag team to deliver it back into the public’s good graces and up the charts. I’d pay money to hear Pink and Adam Lambert together, but would the masses buy it? I’m not so sure, but wouldn’t it be just like them both to try and find out?

Sound And Vision: Growing Up Is Hard to Do, How To Make The Leap From Teen To Adult Pop Superstar

“I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of sound and vision,” David Bowie sang on his greatest hit. Sound and vision: essentials to the life of any great musician. They were the foundation of my beat — music, movies and TV — when I launched my journalism career in New York City as a People magazine writer and realized my dream of interviewing Bowie — twice. Editing stints at Teen People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly followed. Next up was Buenos Aires, where, over the course of four and a half years, I discovered siestas, Mercedes Sosa and blogging. Coming soon: Australia, where, as I settle into this column, I will continue to explore sound and vision, and how those gifts merge to create my greatest love of all: pop music.

In pop music, as in life, getting older can by a tricky, treacherous uphill climb. Growing pains can be as hard on the eyes and ears of fans as they are on a teen star’s psyche. For every Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, both of whom emerged on the scene as wet-behind-the-ears teens and continue to flourish on the cusp of thirtysomething (Timberlake blows out 30 candles on January 31; Spears will on December 2), there’s Aaron Carter, Charlotte Church, Hanson, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, New Kids on the Block, Bobby Brown, and cut-out bins filled with other ex-chart-toppers for whom platinum pop stardom wasn’t meant to last. Brandy, Monica, Christina Aguilera and Avril Lavigne may still be kicking around, but the shining stars of these former teen queens have dimmed considerably.
How did the Justins and Britneys of the world do it? For all those aspiring adolescent pop-stars, the next Justin Bieber looking for a place to happen ” and even, perhaps, for Bieber himself ” here are some helpful hints.
Grow with the musical flow. Pop trends are fleeting, so if you enter the scene latching onto one, know when to let it go. Former ‘N Sync memberTimberlake, who rode the last big boy-band wave to fame, is the perfect example of someone whose perfect timing aided and abetted his staying power. Yes, talent helped, too, but he exited ‘N Sync and went solo just as boy bands were about to go out of style ” again. More recently, Nick Jonas (through his side project Nick Jonas and the Administration) and Joe Jonas (via acting gigs on 90210 and Hot in Cleveland plus an upcoming solo album) have begun establishing individual identities outside of their Jonas Brothers family act. Smart move.
Don’t grow too fast. Yes, Miley Cyrus, I’m talking to you. If your fans fall for you as a squeaky-clean teen, don’t overhaul your image overnight. So far, Taylor Swift has played it wisely, sticking with the tried-and-true girl-next-door persona for three albums. Beyoncé, who turns 30 on September 4th, hasn’t strayed too far from the 16-year-old we met when she was a member of Destiny’s Child. Even LeAnn Rimes waited until she was well into her 20s to leave her husband for another guy.
Grow some funk of your own. You can’t depend on the likes of Max Martin to keep cranking out your hits forever ” unless you’re Britney Spears. Like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson before him, Timberlake has evolved from a perfectly packaged underage singer of other people’s songs into a formidable songwriter, even helping other artists turn out great music (like “Cold Case Love” on Rihanna’s Rated R album as well as Madonna’s “4 Minutes” and several other tracks on Hard Candy). The ability to multi-task may end up working in favor of pop’s other famous Justin. In addition to being a pretty good vocalist, Bieber also writes and plays piano, guitar and drums, skills which should come in handy later on. Twentysomething Katy Perry can have teenage dreams and still go to No. 1, but Bieber won’t be able to get away with frothy pop like “Baby” forever.
When the growing gets tough, keep going. Britney Spears survived scandals, divorces and one seriously embarrassing MTV Video Music Awards performance, and she still comes out on top with her music, like her latest quick hit “Hold It Against Me.” Usher’s taken his private romantic travails and turned them into fodder for hits ” something he did most spectacularly on his 2004 Confessions album, which, in part, documented his split with TLC’s Rozanda “Chili” Thomas. Demi Lovato is the latest teen star staring down personal demons. She entered a treatment center in late 2010 to seek help for emotional and physical issues, thus avoiding any embarrassing Lindsay Lohan-style public meltdowns. Right now, her biggest career hurdle might be differentiating herself from Selena Gomez.
Ah, Selena Gomez! She’s got problems of her own, now that she’s receiving death threats on Twitter after being caught making out with Justin Bieber, which brings us to the final piece of advice: Before you grow up, don’t forget to date a fellow teen idol. Justin and Britney were once joined at the hips and lips. Nick Jonas romanced Miley Cyrus. Both Demi Lovato and Taylor Swift loved and lost Joe Jonas, though Swift rebounded nicely with Twilight‘s Taylor Lautner. It was only a matter of time before Bieber’s Romeo found his Juliet ” hopefully, without the tragic denouement.
Once the furor dies down, and it always does, this might end up being Gomez’s best career move yet. Some girls will go on hating her for it, but they’ll want to be her, too. And that, kids, is key to being both a teen star and a grown-up icon.

Can Tabloid Overexposure Make and Break Pop Stars?

The tabloids giveth. The tabloids taketh away. Where would Jon and Kate Gosselin, Kim Kardashian and the former stars of The Hills and Laguna Beach be without them? Even Jessica Simpson extended her pop stardom when she became a regular in gossip magazines. Most people probably know Tara Reid not from American Pie or anything else in her filmography (which includes movies directed by Robert Altman and the Coen brothers), but from her tabloid trajectory, which began in the early ’00s as the fiancée of then-MTV Total Request Live host Carson Daly. And Paris Hilton owes both her name recognition and “career””which would include the modest success of Paris, her 2006 pop album”to tabloid notoriety.

While tabloid exposure broke down Reid’s career as effectively as it built up her fame, that old gossip mill has never really churned in Lindsay Lohan’s favor. She’s spent so many years starring on the cover of every tabloid in the business that most people seem to have forgotten that she was once a talented actress and promising singer. A similar thing happened to Whitney Houston during her Bobby Brown years and more recently with her failed “comeback.” Where’s George Michael’s career these days? And it took Michael Jackson’s 2009 death to remind the masses of his remarkable music talent.

Then there’s LeAnn Rimes. Once a multi-platinum music star, she spent less time on the charts in the past year than she did in the tabloids after leaving her husband for married actor Eddie Cibrian (both Rimes and Cibrian are now divorced from their respective spouses and publicly an engaged couple, though Rimes and Cibrian’s ex still catfight on E! and elsewhere). Longtime fans who fell in love with her when she had her first hit at age 13 might never forgive and forget watching her sordid romantic drama play out in the press. “Swingin’,” her first single since becoming a tabloid fixture spent only four weeks on Billboard‘s country singles chart last summer, peaking at No. 57, which doesn’t bode well for her upcoming album, Lady and Gentlemen. Even public apologies and “setting the record straight” interviews, such as those resulting from the backlash of her Shape magazine cover  last month, and more recently on her ABC exclusive interview last week, haven’t done much to sway public perception (or record sales) in her favor.

Too bad Rimes isn’t a movie star. Historically actresses seem to have had it easier when it comes to cheating scandals. In the ’50s, Ingrid Bergman had an extramarital affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, got pregnant and left her husband. She spent several years in self-imposed exile from Hollywood”and was denounced by the U.S. Senate”but eventually returned to Hollywood and won two more Oscars. In the ’60s, Elizabeth Taylor was rewarded with the first of two Oscars after stealing Debbie Reynolds’ husband, Eddie Fischer. Whether Angelina Jolie actually stole Brad Pitt from Jennifer Aniston is now almost beside the point since all three of their careers continue to thrive. And even though Julia Roberts, who hooked up with husband Danny Moder while he was married to someone else, is no longer the most bankable woman in Hollywood, her star still shines brightly.

But God help the certified pop star who spends too much time in the tabloids, whether or not cheating is involved. In August, Fantasia Barrino, accused of snatching another woman’s husband, sought relief from public scandal by downing a bottle of pills. Chris Brown is still atoning for his violent sins against Rihanna. Though we’ll have to wait for Amy Winehouse’s next album (rumored to be coming in January and by all accounts seems to be again delayed) to assess the career damage done by her tabloid-documented problems with drugs, alcohol and a wayward husband, her reputation took a major hit. So did Mariah Carey’s after her breakdown in 2001, and the ton of bad press she received because of it nearly ruined her career. When I interviewed her the following year, she complained that the media went out of their way to make her look like an idiot.

Britney Spears probably would say they did the same thing to her. Despite her recent rebound after years of being a punching bag for gossip reporters, she’s no longer the commercial titan she once was. John Mayer’s sales are okay, but he‘s kind of a joke. And it will be interesting to see how Taylor Swift’s apparent preference for high-profile tabloid bait” reportedly including Mayer and, most recently, Jake Gyllenhaal”will affect her career.

As for Rimes, it’s hard to imagine her career recovering any time soon  from her indiscretion unless Cibrian ends up dragging her heart around. The gossip magazines would be all over it”months of “LeAnn Heartbroken Over Being Dumped,” followed by “How LeAnn Put Her Heart Back Together.” Comeback, Phase 1: Complete. Because nothing says, “Please forgive me” and start buying my records again,” like having your heart broken and mended on the cover of Us Weekly.

By Jeremy Helligar

Jeremy Helligar is a former staff writer for People, Teen People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly, who now writes about celebrities and pop culture from his couch in Buenos Aires.