Exclusive Q and A: Set It Off Talk Orchestral Origins

In a Set It Off song, you’re as likely to find strings and woodwinds as crunching guitars and sugary pop harmonies. The band’s members have been perfecting their unique blend of orchestral pop-punk since 2008 and are about to embark on their biggest adventure yet: a European tour with Yellowcard this spring. We chatted with vocalist Cody Carson about his classical background, love of ’90s R&B, and what advice he would give to up-and-coming acts looking to make their mark.

OS: You guys recently donated over $5000 to the VH1 Save The Music Foundation and you mention the influence of music programs on the band when you were young. What music programs were you involved in when you were in school?

Cody Carson: I went to Tarpon Springs High School in Tarpon Springs, Florida. In second grade, I picked up a clarinet, and I kept playing and I got very heavily involved in classical music. The only reason I went to Tarpon Springs High School was because of their music program; it was incredible. It taught you a great deal of work ethic, and there was also a leadership program that was called Tarpon Springs High School Music and Leadership Conservatory. I learned a lot of valuable life lessons there. I played clarinet and was involved in marching band and wind ensemble and jazz band. Because of the leadership program there, at the end of every year there was always a political campaign and I would run for clarinet section leader and woodwind captain, and those were two positions I held. I met Dan Clermont, our guitarist, there. He was the trumpet player there and he was also trumpet section leader and field commander and stuff like that. The program was incredible to us. (more…)

Sound and Vision: An 'American Idol' Wish List– Who Should Replace Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler?

You couldn’t pay me to be an American Idol bigwig right now. The show is about to face its greatest challenge since the 2008 battle of the Davids (Cook and Archuleta).

The producers and the Fox network already have to worry about sagging ratings (the average viewership in season 11 dropped 23 percent to below 20 million for the first time in nine years, and the show fell from No. 1 for the season”to No. 2”for the first time since 2005), not to mention less commercially viable Idols and external competition from The Voice, The X Factor, and pretty much any reality show that promises to make a nobody a star.

Now, the producers have to deal with pleasing Mariah Carey, who has signed on as a judge next season, replacing either Jennifer Lopez or Steven Tyler, both of whom left after two years in order to focus full-time on their music careers (and in the case of Lopez, her “acting” career, too).

I once interviewed Carey for an Us Weekly cover story, and I found her to be warm, intelligent and surprisingly funny, but she’s a diva through and through. (She actually walked into the living room of her New York City hotel suite cradling her miniature dog!) Idol will reportedly pay her a very diva-like sum of between $12 and $17 million a season (a hefty and not altogether worthwhile expense, considering that Carey is well past her pop heyday), and I don’t even want to think about her list of perks and demands.

Meanwhile, there are murmurings that Randy Jackson, the last remaining original judge, currently in contract negotiations, might be moving from the judge’s table into more of a mentoring role, in an attempt to revamp the show for season 12, launching in January of 2013. Sadly, that restructuring doesn’t extend to Ryan Seacrest, the inexplicably still-highly employable host, who has signed up for another two years at a pay rate of $15 million per season. Is it too late to invite ex-judge Ellen DeGeneres back for the job they should have offered her in the first place?


Sound and Vision: The Fall of R&B: How Pop Is Selling Its Soul for a Dance Beat

Remember the days when R&B and hip hop was the sound of pop? From the ˜90s to the mid ˜00s, music’s most dependable hitmakersMariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Toni Braxton, Boyz II Men, R. Kelly, Usher, Brandy, Monica, Alicia Keys, Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé, among themspecialized in crossover soul, climbing both the R&B charts and the Hot 100 in tandem.

But lately, something strange has been happening on Billboard’s R&B /Hip-Hop Songs chart: A hit is no longer necessarily a hit. Just because a song is big in the R&B sphere doesn’t mean it’s big anywhere else. For the week ending April 7, 2012, only one song in the R&B/Hip-Hop Top 10Tyga’s “Rack City”had managed a comparable placing on the Hot 100.

The song at No. 1, Beyoncé’s “Love on Top,” which had been there for multiple weeks, was way down at No. 54 on the Hot 100. (It briefly entered the Top 40 last September, debuting and peaking at No. 20 after Beyoncé performed it at the MTV Video Music Awards.) Meanwhile, there wasn’t a single R&B diva in the Top 40 aside from Janelle Monae, who got there by guest-singing on rock band fun.’s No. 1 hit We Are Young.

What happened to pop’s soul? There’s a disconnect between the pop and R&B charts that hasn’t been so pronounced since the days when Michael Jackson’s label, CBS Records, threatened to pull all of its artists from MTV if the then-fledgling network didn’t play Jackson’s “Billie Jean” video.


The EditoriaList: Best And Worst #1 Singles 2000-2010

This was a brutal exercise, listening to at least large chunks of every Number 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 for the years between 2000 and 2010 (I should have stopped at 2009, but I’m a glutton for punishment). Anyway, in order to avoid repetition, if a song was a Number 1 in more than one year (carried over from a previous year), I only considered it for the first year in which it hit the top spot. I thought I might see some kind of trend in quality of pop music, but no such luck”highs and lows abound throughout.


Best: Smooth by Santana featuring Rob Thomas. Rob Thomas tries really hard to wreck this song with his awful singing, but it’s still really catchy. Sorry Rob, but I’ve come from the future to tell you that you’ll have more success offending listeners with your solo record.

Worst: The epic and universal terribleness of Arms Wide Open by Creed beats out such dreck as Everything You Want by Vertical Horizon and a song called I Knew I Loved You by a band that wrote the name Savage Garden on a piece of paper, looked at it and said, Yes. Let’s name our band that. That’s not totally stupid at all.

Dishonorable mention: Independent Women Part 1 by Destiny’s Child, for opening the song with a shout out to Charlie’s Angels, the movie in which it is featured, and for kicking off the verse with the lyric, Question: Tell me what you think about me. Yeah, that’s not a question, that’s a command. What do I think about you? I think that you’re too pushy and have a tenuous grasp on parts of speech.


Sound And Vision: Best And Worst Performances In Pop Music Videos — Who's Hot And Not?

Though we’re at least two decades removed from MTV‘s prime, never underestimate the enduring power of music videos. They can send singles zooming up the charts (Katy Perry’s latest jumped from No. 31 to No. 4 the week after the video hit YouTube), make intolerable songs must-hear and must-see (as Ke$ha‘s “Blow” recently did) and drum up just enough controversy to make fairly mainstream acts seem edgy (take a bow, Lady Gaga). But unlike the days when Michael Jackson and MTV ruled, for the most part, they’re no longer trying to change music or do much more beyond promoting the artists whose names are attached to them.

Lady Gaga and Beyoncé still take the art of making videos seriously; Ke$ha, who owes her entire career to a carefully cultivated video image, put an MTV VMA-worthy effort into “Blow” (my pick for the best pop clip of 2011 so far); and Katy Perry shines brightest onscreen. Still, when it comes to videos, most of today’s pop stars offer little more than what’s expected of them. They show up, look fantastic and lip-sync to the best of their ability.

It’s been years since the once always-dependable Madonna has given us the wow factor. Annie Lennox and Bjí¶rk are from a now-bygone era. Michael Jackson is dead. And Adele, who could have done so much with “Rolling in the Deep,” didn’t even bother to get off her ass!

Which pop stars are making the biggest impressions”for better and for worse”on MTV and on YouTube these days? I like Nicki Minaj, but she’s all styling”without the bells and whistles, she’d probably blend into the woodwork. And Jennifer Lopez has never been sexier than she is in “I’m Into You,” but the video is only about how great she looks. The song is throwaway, and the video doesn’t make it sound any better. So who are video’s latest MVPs? Here are my picks for who’s Hot and Not.


Debbie Gibson in Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” The fifth video from Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream album really pulls its weight, doing precisely what a good video should do: It sells the song. It’s a true transformer, turning “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” from a mediocre album track into a Teenage Dream highlight. Interestingly, the best moment involves neither the song nor the star. The usually dependable Perry overplays her geek alter-ego throughout, but toward the end, when ’80s teen queen Debbie Gibson shows up as her mom, the clip morphs from Glee meets Party Girl and Can’t Hardly Wait into a sort of video roast of Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side. Gibson does the perfectly pressed upper-crust glamour mom/wife with confidence and humor. Hollywood! Quick! Get this woman her own sitcom!

Rihanna in “Man Down” Music videos rarely require acting chops. If you’ve got the look”and Rihanna certainly does”three-quarters of the battle is won. In “Man Down,” a controversial gothic drama about the ripple effect of sexual abuse, Rihanna creates a complete character without uttering a single word of dialogue. Watching her tragic response after she’s sexually assualted outside of a club, I find myself wishing that she were making her film debut next year in a dramatic showcase that would require more from her than Battleship, a Hollywood wannabe-blockbuster set for release next Memorial Day weekend.

Kelly Rowland in “Motivation” I’ve never listened to the first hit single from Rowland’s third album, Here I Am, without the benefit of the video visual, so I couldn’t tell you if it stands on its own. But for the first time in her solo career, Rowland does. I’d make some crack about how she’s bringing sexy back, but it’s the first time we’ve seen Rowland bring it period (ah, the wonders of a blue lighting and impossibly sculpted male dancers). After so many years of being a second banana in Destiny’s Child, living her pop life in Beyoncé’s shadow, Rowland at last is the star of her own show.


Jennifer Hudson in “No One Gonna Love You” Hudson proves that her Oscar win for Dreamgirls may have been a fluke, and her underwhelming follow-up performance in the first Sex and the City movie wasn’t. In her (flimsy) defense, the dialogue that begins her latest clip is as awkward as the song’s grammatically challenged title. But a great Academy Award-winning actress should be able to transcend a poor script. Hudson looks amazing, but her sass sounds forced, and she tries too hard to channel Beyoncé in too-the-left-to-the-left female-empowerment mode. Instead, she comes across as kind of cranky and annoyed. No wonder her man can’t get away from her fast enough! Next time Hudson should skip the pillow talk and just sing.

Britney Spears in “I Wanna Go” Where’s Britney Spears’s pop-star spark? Look closely at her in any video from her last three albums: She’s dead behind the eyes. The zombie act continues in the third clip from the Femme Fatale album. Being Britney Spears is hard work, so now she’s trying to be Ke$ha (the attitude at the press conference that kicks off the video is straight out of “Blow”) with a touch of Avril Lavigne (her purposeful strut as she stalks the streets seems to have been lifted from “What the Hell”). Instead, she comes across as a third-string pop star (Mandy Moore or Jessica Simpson back when Britney was on top). Though she gets bonus points for not falling back on the same dance routines that dominate her videography, if she wants to show us that it’s not easy being Britney (yawn, yes, there we go again), the least she could do is be Britney.

Enrique Iglesias in “Dirty Dancer” They don’t make male solo pop stars the way they did back when Michael Jackson and Prince ruled the world. Bruno Mars and Jason Derülo are nice to look at but hardly potentially iconic video stars. Then there’s Iglesias”gorgeous, talented and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of sizing up face to face. But it’s time for him to do something new with his. You can take him out of any of the videos he’s made since his English-language breakthrough in 1999 with “Bailamos,” drop him into another one, and the videos all remain the same. I’m not saying those come hither looks don’t work”only the most justifiably confident pop star would dare to name a song “Tonight I’m F**kin´ You” and probably be right”but when I’m starting to tire of looking at Enrique Iglesias head shots (tilt it just so, look up slightly, smolder), we’ve got a serious problem.

Soundcheck: Don't Call It A Comeback

While there’s always one or two artists trying to get back into the limelight each year, frantically attempting to revive their once vibrant careers; few succeed.  This year, however, the hip hop scene is flooded with one-time favorites who seem poised for positive reception.  Check out the list of this year’s biggest, weirdest and most exciting comebacks, as well as some old favorites we’ll be rooting for.

Nelly: After his 2008 release, Brass Knuckles failed to make a big splash, Nelly released his long-delayed album, 5.0 in November.  Singles, Just a Dream and Move That Body have been in heavy radio rotation for months, and his most recent release, Gone with Kelly Rowland is reminding everyone just how much they used to love the Midwest’s golden boy.

Bow Wow: At age 24, Bow Wow’s been at this game for years and enjoyed unparalleled success.  Now, he’s re-branded himself with a new look, new sound and new label, signing up with Young Money Records in August.    His single, Ain’t Thinkin’ Bout You  featuring Chris Brown is one of his best in years, and his upcoming release, Underrated promises to show us a new side of the one we’ve raised from a pup.

Eve: It has been nine years since Philly rapper, EVE released a solo project, but it looks like this just may be her year.  She is currently featured on singles with Jill Scott, Swiss Beatz and Alicia Keys, and recently told fans to keep an ear out for a “big record she recorded with fellow Ruff Ryder alum, Swiss, called Mama In The Kitchen. Fingers crossed for  a green-lit release date, we expect big things from her upcoming fourth album, Lip Lock.

Dr. Dre: After ten years of rumors and speculation, Dr. Dre made his triumphant return to the mic this year at The GRAMMY Awards.  While his album, Detox, still hasn’t hit store shelves, twosingles, Kush and I Need a Doctor have made notable radio impact.  While some are still skeptical, the label is promising a May release date for the long-awaited project.

R. Kelly: Kelly has been laying low since his 2007 child pornography trial, his viral video circulation and his ill-fated ˜Unfinished Business’ tour with Jay-Z put him on everyone’s sh*t list.  Now, the Chicago-based singer, (who was found not-guilty on all charges) will hit the road with Keyshia Cole for the Love Letter Tour, kicking off this summer.

Eminem: After his 2009 album Relapse failed to impress, many thought this one-time icon had seen his last days of glory.  The world was shocked when he released Recovery bringing him back to the forefront stronger than ever before, and making him the best-selling rapper of the year.  The Detroit emcee racked up ten GRAMMY nominations for the project, bringing home the award for Best Rap Album and Best Solo Rap Performance.  Now, he’s back on top and bringing some friends with him, including longtime friend and mentor, Dr. Dre, and newbie, Yelawolf.

Salt N Pepa: The ladies who put female rap on the map are ready to do it again, celebrating twenty-fve years since their debut, Hot, Cool & Viscious launched them to super-stardom with their Legends of Hip Hop Tour. The three lovely ladies lead a hip hop revival, joined by trailblazers like Whodini, Kurtis Blow, Doug E Fresh, Biz Markie, Naughty By Nature, MC Lyte, Big Daddy Kane, Kool Moe Dee and Slick Rick to name a few.

Chris Brown: Depite making headlines again for his ill-tempered antics, his album F.A.M.E. is certified gold and debuted at Number 1 on the charts. He kicked off his F.A.M.E. Tour in Australia last week to a crowd of adoring fans, and his singles, Deuces, Look At Me Now, and Yeah have been some of this year’s most successful songs.

Kelly Rowland: The former Destiny’s Child member is back to her R&B roots with her new, yet-to-be-titled album.  While she heated up dance tracks internationally with her last project, it failed to register stateside.  Now,  she’s climbing back up the charts with her Nelly collabo, Gone and her sexy single, Motivation featuring Lil Wayne.

Da Brat: Recently out of jail from a 2007 aggravated assault incident, Da Brat rose to fame in 1994 when her hit, Funkdafied made her the first-ever platinum-selling female rapper.  Nowshe’s back and hungry for a comeback, re-joing longtime friend and collaborator, Jermaine Dupri for her upcoming mixtape, due out Memorial Day weekend. She has already released three tracks, Racks featuring YC and Fab 5 Freddy featuring J.D. as well as a remix to Kanye’s All The Lights titled, Turnt Up featuring Dondria.

Lauryn Hill: After some impromptu appearances and rumors of a comeback swirling for months, Lauryn’s Coachella performance gave a big indication that she’s ready to return.  The former Fugee performed fan favorites including That Thing and “Ex-Factor, songs she had previously refused to perform anymore.  She seemed more like the grounded superstar of her Miseducation days than she has in years, and she hinted at a surprise that would shock fans.  Unless it’s a sixth child, we’re guessing she’ll be delivering news of a new album any day now.