Sound And Vision: 10 Things to Look Forward to in 2012 (Featuring Soundgarden, the Stone Roses and Freddie Mercury — Alive Again!)

A US Presidential election, Summer Olympics mania (London’s calling”again!), Rihanna’s film debut (in Battleship, out May 18) and the possible end of the world. Those are a few of the things I won’t be looking forward to in the coming year. Fortunately, music will offer enough thrills to distract us from all that we’d rather forget. Here’s what’s topping my 2012 anticipation list:

1. Madonna makes fiftysomething fabulous all over again. Although I’m curious to hear what Madonna does with Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. on the final cut of “Gimme All Your Luvin'” when the single is released the last week of January, that’s not the main reason I’m excited about her upcoming twelfth studio album (due in late March), her first since turning fifty in 2008.  “Masterpiece,” a new song featured in the Madonna-directed W.E. (which goes into wide release on February 3, two days before her Super Bowl XLVI performance) and her reunion with her Ray of Light producer William Orbit, is an achingly beautiful ballad that recalls the best of ’90s Madonna while gently proving that she can still create pop magic all on her own.

2. Madonna vs. Elton John vs. Mary J. Blige vs. Chris Cornell vs. Glenn Close (!) at the Golden Globes. Too bad the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has disqualified Madonna’s “Masterpiece” from competition at the February 27 Oscars. Why? Because it’s the second song featured during the closing credits, and eligible songs must either be in the body of the film, or the tune that plays when the credits start to roll. Oscar’s loss. The January 15 Golden Globes showdown featuring five monsters of pop, rock and soul and acting will be just as star-studded”and as tough to call”as George Clooney vs. Brad Pitt vs. Leonardo DiCaprio vs. Ryan Gosling in Best Actor in a Motion Picture Drama.


Sound And Vision: Disappearing Acts—Music's M.I.A. Stars

“The waiting is the hardest part,” Tom Petty once sang. And for fans of David Bowie, Kate Bush and Fiona Apple, none of whom have released studio albums of new material for the better part of a decade, that couldn’t be more true. Meanwhile, Red Hot Chili Peppers, once a reasonably prolific alternative-rock outfit, has made nary a sound since 2006’s Stadium Arcadium. Like Apple and Bush, the band supposedly has new music in the works, but I’ll believe it when I hear it. (As for Bush’s Director’s Cut, due May 16, it doesn’t count, as it features reworked songs from 1989’s The Sensual World and 1993’s The Red Shoes and will likely make her fans miss her even more.)
There once was a time when the average music star released a new album every year or so. In the ’80 few things in life were more certain than death, taxes and a new Prince album every calendar year. In the ’90s, Mariah Cary took the prolificacy baton and dashed off with it. Nowadays we can go years without hearing a peep out of her. Overexposure can damage pop careers (proceed with caution, Rihanna, Ke$ha, Justin Bieber, Pitbull and all those other ubiquitous rappers), but underexposure can be just as bad, for AWOL recording artists and for their fans, especially if it means being stuck with the same songs by the same ten artists on repeat all day and all night.
When Justin Timberlake was a member of ‘N Sync, he released four albums between 1997 and 2001. Now it’s been five years since FutureSex/LoveSounds. If I didn’t know better”and I kind of don’t”I’d think he’d abandoned pop for Hollywood. It’s nice to occasionally get him guesting on someone else’s album”Timbaland‘s, Madonna‘s, Sheryl Crow‘s, Ciara‘s, Duran Duran‘s”but right about now, it feels like he could be the one to save us from the auto-tuned mess that modern pop has become.
Or maybe Amy Winehouse could come back and help Adele shoulder the burden of making pop safe again for female singers offering more than a pretty face and manufactured beats. Since breaking through with the five-GRAMMY-winning Back to Black album in 2006, she’s been sort of everywhere”and nowhere at the same time. For a while, she dominated the tabloids and was in and out of court. She did vocal duties on Mark Ronson’s 2007 hit “Valerie,” she formed a still-unrecorded group with ?estlove from the Roots, and she’ll be singing with Tony Bennett on his upcoming duets album (due in September), but there’s still no follow-up to the modern classic that gave us “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good.”
Every time I hear the latter as the theme song to Secret Diary of a Call Girl, it makes me miss her even more. Hopefully, La Roux (second to Winehouse among my favorite British imports of the last few years) won’t drag their feet that way Winehouse has been, and Lily Allen, who has said she’s out of the pop-star business, will have a change of heart.
Absence does indeed make the heart go fonder, but out of sight out of mind? Stay away for too long, and you risk being forgotten and replaced by younger models. It happened last year with Christina Aguilera‘s Bionic, which came four years after her previous studio set Back to Basics, and Avril Lavigne‘s recently released Goodbye Lullabye may have fared better had it come out a year or two ago (first week sales: 87,000, down nearly 200,000 from 2007’s The Best Damn Thing). May Kelly Clarkson”only out of circulation for a couple of years, though it feels like so much longer” make a safe solo return with her new studio album in September (a new release date she recently announced on Facebook).
But if she doesn’t, there still might be a silver lining. Sade returned last year after a decade-long break to massive sales, and the band is now on tour. No doubt hoping to follow Sade’s lead, Shania Twain just announced that she’s working on her first album since 2002’s Up. Maybe she and Faith Hill, also M.I.A. for far too long and reportedly working with rock producer Brendan O’Brien on a 2011 comeback, can team up, go on tour together and show Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert how it’s really done.

Jeremy Helligar's 10 Best Things About This Year in Pop

The year seems to be ending as it began: with Susan Boyle practically interchangeable snoozaks ruling Billboard’s Top 200 album chart. Who would have guessed? Well, I did, but enough dwelling on the bad. Let’s focus on the good stuff that happened in the last 12 months, and dream a dream that next year’s gift is a Boyle-free holiday season. And now (in roughly chronological order), the best of the rest…

1) Journey’s trek to the tops of the pops. Glee still makes my ears bleed, but by helping Journey score its first-ever UK hit”the band’s ’80s classic “Don’t Stop Believin'” piggybacked on the smash Glee cover all the way to No. 6 in early 2010”those kids finally earned a round of applause. (We’ll spare you the Glee link. Instead here’s Sam Tsui covering Glee covering Journey)

2) Alicia Keys’ sleepless nights. Sunshine from rain. Pleasure from pain. “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart” was the finest of Keys’ string of great 2010 singles. I’m still up all night myself, tossing and turning, trying to figure out how it never climbed higher than No. 27 on the Hot 100.

3) Pink goes up in the air. When I met Pink in 1999, before the release of her debut album, I was impressed, but I never suspected that a newcomer named after the hue of her hair would be a hitmaker a decade later? Topping off her continued chart success in 2010, the now-blonde, now-mom-to-be took the GRAMMYs over the top (in the very best way) with her highwire-acrobat act while performing “Glitter in the Air.”

4) Leon Russell lives! Susan Boyle isn’t the only one who began and ended 2010 on top. Russell kicked off the year wowing us at the GRAMMYs alongside the Zac Brown Band and finished it wowing us again, on the GRAMMY-nominated The Union alongside Elton John. Old Hank Wilson is back”but then he never really went away.

5) Sade returns, with guns blazing. Out of sight, out of mind, yes, but in the case of Sade, absence made the heart grow fonder indeed. Soldier of Love, the band’s first album in nearly a decade, made one of the splashiest debuts of 2010, and” in a rare, welcome twist”was worth the wait. May the long-MIA-from-the-charts Shania Twain follow suit in 2011.

6) Carrie Underwood hooks Ted Mosby. Britney Spears’s How I Met Your Mother guest spot got more hype in 2008, but Underwood, in her acting debut, was just as good in March’s “Hooked” episode, nailing her stunt casting as a pharmaceutical-selling hottie stringing Ted along. Not even that adorable teacup pig could upstage her. More, please.

7) Robbie Williams hearts Gary Barlow in the “Shame” video. Boy meets boy, boy falls for boy, boy and boy live happily ever after in the newly reunited Take That members’ send up of Brokeback Mountain. If only real life were so simple.

8) Vanity projects that rock. Timbaland’s “If We Ever Meet Again” (featuring Katy Perry, from Shock Value II) and Mark Ronson’s “Bang Bang Bang” (with Q-Tip and MNDR’s Amanda Warner, from Record Collection) were pop rarities in 2010: distinctive producer-as-artist singles that matched the behind-the-scenes best of the guys who created them. David Guetta, king of the sound-alike musical tricks, this is how you do it.

9) The British are coming… again! With Coldplay and Amy Winehouse in a holding pattern, La Roux and Florence + the Machine picked up the UK slack. La Roux became the first UK act in forever to reach the US Top 10 with “Bulletproof,” and Florence + the Machine finally became more than hipster darlings as their debut disc, Lungs, burst into the Top 20, while their “Dog Days Are Over” single became a big enough hit to get the Glee treatment.

10) Girls girls girls! Love or loathe them, it was refreshing to see single ladies like Katy Perry, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, Ke$ha, Gaga and others continue to transform music from a man’s man’s man’s man’s world into an estrogen-fueled empire. What are you waiting for, Shania? Come on, join the party!

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.

Gym Songs for the Indie Rocker

For discerning music fans, there’s no more frightening experience than visiting the gym. Not only does it mean your pasty-white thighs are exposed to outside air for the first time in weeks, but you’re generally faced with two choices: bring your iPod, and experience the certain thrill of constantly re-stuffing a white piece of plastic into your ear while trying to figure out the best way to wrap a cable around a leg-extension machine. Or be subjected to 24 Hour Fitness’s satellite radio”which no doubt is playing techno, or hip hop or Top 40, or, well, anything other than then new Arcade Fire album.

Thankfully, some mainstream music isn’t as horrible as others”or, conversely, is just so horrible that it becomes music you want to run away from, which is exactly why the treadmill was invented. Below is a (totally subjective) list of songs that you actually want to hear in the gym:

  1. Cooler Than Me (Mike Posner): A smooth-voiced, overproduced popster sings about NOT getting laid, for a change; you can relate.
  2. Airplane (B.o.B. featuring Hayley Williams): A slow-building hip hop song with a soaring chorus from the Paramore girl” and an instrumental track that, sans drums, you could convince yourself is actually unreleased, sampled Radiohead.
  3. Bulletproof (La Roux): Perhaps the least-guilty guilty pleasure of them all: originally an 80s-sounding indie-dance hit, now a remixed techno classic; if you do have your iPod, check out Steel Train’s acoustic-rock re-re-reinvention.
  4. OMG (Usher featuring Wil.I.Am): Nerdspeak from the Black Eyed Peas guy and that dude who dances like Michael Jackson, at exactly the rate of your bike-pedaling.
  5. Whip My Hair (Willow Smith): There is something totally wrong (and yet, alarmingly right) about Will Smith’s pre-teen progeny singing the best stripper song of the year. Seriously.
  6. Rockstar (Nickelback): Actually, no. This is the worst song ever recorded.
  7. Love the Way You Lie (Eminem featuring Rihanna): Fortunately, a great chorus; unfortunately, you’re the only person in the gym who understands the irony in Rihanna singing the lyric “I like the way it hurts.”
  8. Any remix with Sweet Disposition (The Temper Trap) or Use Somebody (Kings of Leon): the more techno-y, the better: “Cause you know what they’re supposed to sound like.”
  9. Dynamite (Taio Cruz): A no-apologies ode to self-awesomeness, which can be good for self-motivation, especially if you yourself are also awesome.
  10. I’m Yours (Jason Mraz): No matter how overplayed (or how many commercials it makes you think of), there’s something ultra-satisfying about watching all the sweaty people around you try to pretend they’re not singing along too.

By Jeff Miller

Jeff Miller is the LA editor of and has been writing about music professionally for over a decade for publications including the Los Angeles Times, Relix and

The Celebrity Social Network: Pop Stars on Twitter

Twitter, it gets stars into trouble. Big trouble. In March, Justin Bieber‘s manager was arrested for not tweeting to discourage fans from descending on the mob scene that was a Bieber mall appearance on Long Island, New York. That was just about the time Chris Brown was re-opening his Twitter account following three months of inactivity due to an embarrassing tweet tirade that accused U.S. retailers of conspiring against him by not stocking his latest album, Graffiti. A month later, David Archuleta was accused of being homophobic after tweeting first and thinking later. Meanwhile, Britney Spears, Lily Allen and even U.S. President Barack Obama have all fallen victim to various Twitter hackers, one of whom spread a rumor from Spears’ account that she had died.

You’d think by now celebrities would be more wary of Twitter, especially Kanye West, quite possibly the artist most likely to publicly put his foot in his mouth. Yet the rapper, and so many of his fellow pop stars, can’t stop till they tweet enough”reaching out to fans and to each other. In the last week alone, West used it to apologize to Taylor Swift (whom he “follows” on Twitter), presumably for interrupting her onstage at last year’s MTV Video Music Awards, to give props to fellow rapper Lloyd Banks and to declare his favorite unit of measurement “a shit load.” But his most revealing Tweet of all: “I just told Mike Dean put some the soulful drama juno chords on that new La Roux track … Don’t tell Elly I’m messing with the beat though.” Who knew West was down with the “Bulletproof” duo?

And what did La Roux tweet about this past week? On September 6, they, too, paid tribute of sorts to Taylor Swift, quoting one of her hits: “Today was a fairytale, you wore a dress I wore grey t shirt.” As for Swift, her recent Twitter activity includes raving about going to see Paramore and New Found Glory in concert in Nashville, sending messages to Perez Hilton, Miranda Lambert and her mom, and revealing her favorite rap song of the moment. Drumroll: It’s not West’s “Power.” “I’m so in love with that new Nelly song,” she shared on August 25th. Sorry, Kanye. Maybe next time.

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.