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Sound And Vision: Why Hasn’t Tabloid Notoriety Turned John Mayer into a Total Joke?

“John Mayer Gets a Haircut After Katy Perry Split!”

As breaking news of the day goes, it’s not exactly groundbreaking. Still, there it was, in multiple variations, splattered across the online pages of E!, Us Weekly, Entertainment Weekly (which called it a hair break-over), People magazine and so many other websites devoted, in large and small part, to such trivialities. You’d think Samson had risen from the dead and taken up guitar.

But wait! Shouldn’t Delilah ” I mean, Katy Perry ” have been the star of this life (and a new ˜do)-after-love story? Traditionally, the celebrity tabloids and gossip websites pursue female celebrities about whom they date, whom they marry, whom they divorce, to search for baby bumps, and fashion dos and don’ts. Guys generally get in only when they’re dating one of them. (Why do you think Nickelback singer Chad Kroeger, who once went from long to short without causing so much as a media ripple and is now engaged to Avril Lavigne, is suddenly “newsworthy”?)

By those standards, John Mayer must be some kind of publicity-baiting genius. In the last several years, he’s made himself as much of a tabloid fixture as an A-list starlet by dating a succession of them: Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston, Taylor Swift, and most recently, Katy Perry, his pop-star paramour of a few months. (more…)

Your Country's Right Here: Chris August Adds Soul to 'The Upside of Down'

Chris August still can’t quite believe that a skateboarding accident almost ended it all. Instead, this week he’s celebrating the release of his highly anticipated sophomore album The Upside of Down.

The accident that resulted in a serious head injury was the latest roadblock that almost ended August’s career before it began. August had fought his way up from what he calls “a broken family,” to a record contract and a large dose of success in the Los Angeles music industry. Industry turmoil threatened to stall his career, but he released a debut album that went to #1 and won multiple awards. Just before the release of his much-anticipated sophomore album, he was hospitalized with a serious head injury from the skateboarding accident. Although he still suffers from the injury and is susceptible to pneumonia, heat exhaustion, and other maladies, he returned to work just months after the injury. (more…)

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sound And Vision: Fake Pop Stars — The Rise and Continued Rise of Rebecca Black

Paris Hilton.

Kim Kardashian.

Heidi Montag.

Julianne Hough.

In a world where making a record is as easy as starring on reality TV, and even easier when you have your own show, Rebecca Black was bound to happen.

Don’t worry. Black, the fourteen-year-old from Anaheim, California, who made us wonder if she was making fun of shallow pop stars or being one herself in her viral YouTube video “Friday,” hasn’t gotten her own reality show. Yet. But isn’t it only just a matter of time?

What she does have is a level of fame”or infamy, depending on how you want to look at it”without having any discernible singing talent. Before it was yanked from YouTube in June over a dispute between Black and her former record label, Ark Music Factory, her “Friday” video had logged some 161 million views. Black became an Internet favorite, with article after online article devoted to her and her music”well, her song. Some people loved her; some people hated her; everyone was talking about her. Everybody’s still talking. Katy Perry even invited Black to costar in her “T.G.I.F. (Last Friday Night)” video.

Yes, Rebecca Black is a huge hit. Ironically, though, she has yet to have one. For all of the hoopla surrounding it, “Friday” was never a commercial success as a single. It peaked at No. 58 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and didn’t fare much better anywhere it was released.

Australia, one of the few places where “Friday” made it to the Top 40, is about to launch its own fourteen-year-old star, Jack Vidgen, recent winner of Australia’s Got Talent. Sadly, it’s gonna take a miracle”or maybe a Black cameo in his video”to give Vidgen’s career any momentum in the US, which Justin Bieber aside, has been resistant to young male solo pop (i.e., white) stars since Justin Timberlake went Hollywood.

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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.

HOT!

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.

NOT

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.

Sound And Vision: Attention, Pop Stars! Can't Get on "Glee"? Try "How I Met Your Mother"

Several weeks ago, I was watching a new episode of How I Met Your Mother, and there she was”another A-list pop singer. This time, Katy Perry, guest-starring as a dumb brunette the guys call Honey because they can’t remember her real name. That’s when it dawned on me: Though it has absolutely nothing to do with music (Is there ever even anything playing on the jukebox at McLaren’s?), HIMYM attracts more pop talent than any TV comedy this side of Glee.
A musical flashback: Enrique Iglesias had a two-episode arc at the beginning of the third season as Robin’s post-break-up-with-Ted Argentine holiday fling, while Mandy Moore appeared in that season’s premiere as Ted’s tattooed rebound bad girl. Britney Spears also worked two appearances into her comeback plan during season three, popping up as a receptionist who was obsessed with Ted but ended up getting sucked in by womanizer Barney.
So did Jennifer Lopez. Before scoring her American Idol gig, she showed up in 2010 as a The Rules-type author who tried (and failed) to beat the man-slut at his own game and ended up breaking her own rules. Last year, Idol alumnus Carrie Underwood also waltzed into McLaren’s as a pharmaceutical sales rep who swept Ted off his feet and strung him along, and earlier this season, Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger did her own guest stint as Robin’s former BFF from Canada.
What do the hitmakers of pop see in How I Met Your Mother? Why that show and not, say, The Big Bang Theory? A few, um, theories: HIMYM is a popular, trendy sitcom with cool characters (unlike the nerds that populate, say, TBBT), and though it won’t boost anyone’s thespian cred the way a stint on Modern Family might, it could certainly raise the hipness quotient of very mainstream pop stars.

Also, there isn’t much real acting involved. Iglesias, Underwood and Perry merely had to memorize their lines and look good. Scherzinger got to do what shedoes best: sing. And Spears, Lopez and Moore were required to do no more than they’d have to do in a Saturday Night Live skit. Getting onto HIMYM is an excellent way to tell the world, “Look, I’m still in,” without having to exhibit any Emmy-caliber acting talent or even be particularly funny. (Six seasons in, the show’s crack ensemble does all the heavy lifting without so much as breaking a sweat.)
Compared to Will & Grace, which in its later seasons depended too much on celebrity stunt casting, How I Met Your Mother still uses big-name guest stars pretty sparingly. You can accept a spot on the show without feeling like everyone else already beat you to it. And unlike on Glee, you don’t have to sing unless you want to, which must be music to the ears of lip-syncing, Auto-Tuned pop stars.
Who’s next? Jessica Simpson is too five years ago, Pink is too cool for Barney or Ted, Gaga is too Glee. (Despite the presence of Neil Patrick Harris, she’d no doubt want to go more gay than HIMYM for her first big TV guest spot.) Usher would be a great match for Robin, and Beyoncé would be an interesting choice for the titular “Mother,” but I can’t imagine the ultra-white show going there.
So might I suggest Ke$ha, the whitest pop star on the planet, as a tart who drinks Ted under the table, leaves blue lipstick marks all over Barney and cat fights with Lily. In other words, she’d basically be playing herself. They can even invite back her “Blow” video costar and season-three guest James Van Der Beek as Robin’s loser ex, a washed-up musician who gives Ke$ha a hard time and a preview of what might be in store.

Can't Miss Country Christmas Albums For This Holiday Weekend

Months of pre-holiday music can make even the most ardent country music fan weary of the traditional tunes. Yet it’s easy enough to rock around the Christmas tree or ring in the New Year by downloading some of the plentiful, just-released holiday songs by your favorite country artists. Check out our picks for the Top 10 don’t-want-to-miss albums”old, new and re-issued.

1.”A Merry Little Christmas” by Lady Antebellum. Six GRAMMY nominations, and a sleigh full of CMA, AMA and Teen Choice awards indicate the trio’s time has arrived. Not bad when you consider that Hillary Scott”who joins Charles Kelley and David Haywood in the group”tried out for American Idol and never made it past the first stage. Despite all the hoopla surrounding the band and it’s Need You Now album and single, the trio has released a new six-song CD with such classics as “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” and a country cover of “Silver Bells.” Want an original? “On This Winter’s Night,” co-written by Tom Douglas, is made even more haunting with the addition of a children’s choir.

2. “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” by Suzy Bogguss. You know Suzy from her platinum and gold songs and albums plus her CMA awards, but she has recently turned what many call the best country vocals in contemporary music to the holidays. Her new release includes classics such as “White Christmas” and “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” and her own spunky versions of songs including “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch.” All the songs were recorded with her band that just completed a holiday tour.

3. “Holly Happy Days” by the Indigo Girls. Combine Amy Ray’s rock sound, Emily Saliers folk tendencies, add a dose of bluegrass thanks to guests including renowned banjo player-guitarist Alison Brown and bassist Viktor Krauss (brother of Alison Krauss) and you have the makings of a classic. The duo recorded the album”which is a mix of nine classic holiday tunes and three originals”during two weeks in Nashville.

4. “The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection” by Taylor Swift.  In this celebrity news-heavy world, Swift must hold the title of most famous 21-year-old on the planet. The most commercially successful country (or country-pop) artist in music history, according to Nielsen SoundScan”who seems to win awards daily”released a holiday collection last year. With all the news that swirls around Taylor, it’s understandable if you missed it. Check it out though, and when you hear Swift crooning such classics as “Santa Baby” and “Silent Night” you’ll understand why Taylor’s gorgeous voice has placed her at the top of the country music world.

5. “Merry Christmas” by Shelby Lynne. Even if you missed the first tour between Lynne and her singer-songwriter sister Allison Moorer, you can still ring in the holidays with Lynne’s first holiday album. Besides the usual standards, Lynne included two new originals. One listen to her charming versions of “O Holy Night” and “Sleigh Ride/Winter Wonderland,” and you won’t be surprised that Lynne learned the songs as a child when her mom drove her and her sister to school.

6. “Merry Christmas” by Jessica Simpson. Before you scoff, remember that Simpson hails from Texas and has the twangy vocals and country sensibility to prove it. Her new release is a lot of fun because she only tackles a few classic holiday tunes such as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” but concentrates more on lesser-known-but-still-loved songs including “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Mary Did You Know?” You won’t want to miss her duet with Willie Nelson on “Merry Christmas Baby.”

7. “Christmas is the Time (to Say I Love You)” by Katherine McPhee. We know you think of McPhee”the American Idol alumni”as more pop than country, but let’s just agree that she’s a terrific all-around performer who’s scored both pop, holiday and country success. This new release debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard Top Holiday Albums charts. Plus her rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” hit No. 16 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart. And don’t forget her single “Love’s Never Leavin,'” a song McPhee co-wrote with country singer Chelsea Field. The Tammany Humane Society of Covington, La., will receive 100% of the proceeds. Check out the music and you’ll under McPheever.

8. “Christmas Comes Alive” by the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Setzer has come a long way since his days of singing “The Stray Cat Strut” as the frontman of the rockabilly band The Stray Cats. But don’t think that means he’s dulled down his sound. In this new holiday collection, which includes “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and “The Nutcracker Suite,” Setzer mixed rockabilly, big band and jazz sounds for a hot holiday sound.

9. “Christmas Music Live,” by Kenny Rogers. Looking at Kenny’s dozens and dozens awards from the CMT, AMA, CMA and GRAMMYs gives you only a piece of insight into the man who made songs such as “The Gambler” and “Lucille” beloved country anthems. Don’t forget that Rogers has made holiday songs and his annual “Christmas & Hits tour” a holiday tradition for many. Now he’s released his first live CD of holiday tunes Christmas Live, so you can join Kenny in singing “Joy to the World,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” other holiday classics as you sit in front of the fireplace.

10. “Christmas with Glen Campbell” by Glen Campbell. Baby boomer alert! Remember when Campbell’s weekly variety show was must-see TV in your house? Now the 1995 holiday album by the Rhinestone Cowboy has been re-released so you can hear him belt out “Jingle Bell Rock,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,” and other holiday faves that Campbell recorded in Branson.

By Nancy Dunham

Nancy Dunham writes about music for Country Weekly, AOL Music’s site The Boot, The Washington Post, Relix and other publications.

Cortney Wills' Top Pop Christmas Songs Of 2010

It’s that time again, when artists cover classic Christmas songs while others attempt to create a few of their own.

This year’s best picks come from an eclectic bunch, from rock stars to pop stars, Idol cast-offs to global icons.  Here are ten tracks worth downloading this season.

Mariah Carey: “Oh Santa”

Sixteen years after releasing the best-selling Christmas album of all time, Merry Christmas, it looks like the diva has done it again.  Her new release, Merry Christmas II You packs a serious seasonal punch with beautiful renditions of old classics along with some new ones too.  Her single, Oh Santa holds court with the holiday heartbreaker, I Miss You Most (At Christmastime). The mom-to-be has lots to celebrate this year, and we’re glad she invited us along for the ride.

Jessica Simpson: My Only Wish

While Simpson’s new Christmas album, Happy Christmas, isn’t a best seller, this new track is fun, festive, and reminiscent of Jess’ better days.  It’s obvious she has maintained her vocal prowess and her knack for subtle sex appeal shows up even in a holiday song.  The album is Simpson’s first release from Ellen Degeneres’ ElevenEleven Records and features an unexpected R&B/ pop vibe, compliments of producers Tricky Stewart and The Dream.

Coldplay:  Christmas Lights

Not so much a feel-good holiday song, Coldplay’s Christmas Lights is an unconventional Christmas tune that evokes a quiet sadness, spawned from watching everyone else be merry and cheerful.  The band also released a music video for the track, featuring Chris Martin and pals rockin’ out in front of a paper moon stage.

Katherine McPhee: It’s Not Christmas Without You

The dough-eyed Idol alum hit the mark with her new album, Christmas Is The Time (To Say I Love You). Full of silky-smooth, jazz-tinged renditions of old favorites like Jingle Bells and O’ Holy Night she offers an effortless update to the tunes. Her single, It’s Not Christmas Without You, may very well become a new holiday classic for those who are young and in love over the holidays.

Rihanna: “A Child Is Born”

The sexy siren released this track on Now That’s What I Call Christmas! (Volume 4) and stamped the Christian classic with her island style.  The bouncing beat and reggae/pop sound offer a refreshing twist to the old favorite.

Train: “Shake Up Christmas”

The Soul Sister singers cooked up this ditty for Coca-Cola’s holiday campaign.  In an effort to boost spirits in tough economic times, the upbeat track reminds us what this time is all about; not the cash we spend, but the company we keep and the happiness we feel.

Kelly Rowland: “Wonderful Christmastime”

Kelly’s cover of Paul McCartney’s classic receives an R&B makeover from the former child of destiny. Featured on the Now That’s What I Call Christmas, (Volume 4) compilation, Rowland’s performance is fun, fresh, and certainly enough to revive the track for a new generation.

Hurts: “All I Want For Christmas Is New Year’s Day”

If you’re heartbroken for the holidays this year, Hurts got you covered.  The British-born duo created a Christmas carol that acknowledges how painful the holidays can be when you’re longing for a loved one at Christmastime.  While it may not be the most festive track on the list, it’s real as can be for so many of us.

Kara DioGuardi & Jason Reeves: “New York in Wintertime”

The former American Idol judge and prolific songwriter, Kara DioGuardi has teamed up with Jason Reeves for a truly unique take on Christmas in the city.  While we expected DioGuardi to pen great lyrics, it was her standout vocal performance that was the real surprise.  We can’t help but wonder if the track, featured on the holiday compilation, Gift Wrapped II: Snowed In, will lead to an album from the unlikely duo.

Lady Antebellum: On This Winter’s Night

The country crooners lend their signature style to holiday classics in their six-track holiday album, A Merry Little Christmas.  The single, On This Winter’s Night is the only original track they recorded, and it’s on its way to becoming a family favorite.  Featuring a child’s chorus in the background, the ballad strikes a perfect balance of reverence and gratitude, two sentiments many of us can appreciate this year.

By Cortney Wills

Cortney Wills is a pop culture journalist born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She has lived in LA, Chicago and NYC and enjoys all things entertainment.