About a month ago, after One Direction dropped their latest release, Midnight Memories, most reviewers couldn’t help but point out the album’s shameless knock-offs of some of the biggest pop hits of the ’80s including “Jessie’s Girl,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” and pretty much any song by Asia, just to name a few. And, yes, while the songwriters behind the squeaky clean boy band’s smash singles make their musical points of reference pretty obvious to any listener older than 12, they also manage to pull off some patently ingenious lyrical references that slipped by most recaps of the album “ mostly because that was precisely what they were designed to do.
Upon a first listen, the first verse of “Better Than Words” sounds like pretty standard fare for a One Direction song: a just-generic-enough description of crazy, undeniable love that sweeps you up in its whirlwind of affection and excitement.
Better than words
But more than a feeling
Crazy in love
Dancing on the ceiling
But, if you haven’t noticed it already, each line is also a song in its own right. The second line. The third line. And, you guessed it. These aren’t just lyrics in a One Direction song, they’re built-in references to seminal pop hits. And they’re placed directly next to the title of the One Direction song, itself the very first line of the song.
Time flies, they say, when you’re having fun (probably more so when you’re having fun in fun.!), and 2012 appears to be whizzing by at a faster clip than usual. Not everyone is having such a blast, though. Yes, these are the best of times”still!”for Adele, but how could they not be? She continues to hover around the top of the charts with 21 more than a year after its release.
What about her brothers and sisters in pop? Here’s a scorecard for the first half of 2012.
Rihanna with a beat A word of advice to Rihanna: Don’t stop the dance. After she spent 10 weeks at No. 1 with “We Found Love””her collaboration with Scottish DJ Calvin Harris and the first single from Talk That Talk, her sixth album” neither Jay-Z (on the album’s title track), nor Chris Brown (on the single remix of “Birthday Cake”), nor Coldplay (on whose Mylo Xyloto track “Princess of China” Rihanna appears) could boost Rihanna back into the Top 10.
It took a return to strobe-light pop, with Harris as co-producer (along with Dr. Luke and Cirkut), to give Rihanna her first new Top 10 hit of 2012, with Where Have You Been.
Lady Gaga in Southeast Asia The year began pretty quietly for Gaga until she kicked off her The Born This Way Ball tour in Southeast Asia in April. Then everything that could possibly go wrong did. Christian groups in South Korea, where she played Seoul on April 27, slammed her less-than-holy stage antics, resulting in government-imposed over-eighteen age restrictions for the opening-night show. Meanwhile, the protestations of the Muslims in Indonesia led to the cancellation of her June 3 show in Jakarta.
In Thailand, things went from bad to scandalous. First, she incited the ire of locals by touting Bangkok’s supply of “fake Rolex” moments after arriving for her May 25 concert there. Then they ripped her apart some more for wearing a traditional Thai headdress with a bikini and for sitting on a motorbike with a Thai flag tied to it during the show. At least she didn’t simulate sex with a statue of Buddha.
White boys with an edge Nothing but the beat isn’t just the title of David Guetta’s latest album. It’s become pretty much a mantra for most of the women in pop (see Rihanna) and many of the artists formerly known as R&B and hip-hop stars (Usher, Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj).
But in reality, it isn’t all about the beat. The two biggest No. 1 singles of the first six months of 2012”fun.’s “We Are Young” and Gotye‘s “Somebody That I Used to Know””are both quirky pop songs that have little to do with the prevailing sound of the times (dance music). Where either act goes from here is anybody’s guess, but it’s nice to know that in 2012, you can still score a big hit even if you can’t dance to it.
Madonna’s latest album Okay, so the Queen of Pop is in no danger of being evicted from her throne and sent to the poor house anytime soon. She can still demand top dollar (as in hundreds of them) for mediocre seats and sell out her current MDNA world tour anyway. And her 12th album, MDNA, did debut at No. 1 with 359,000 copies sold in the week after its March 26 release.
Alas, it spent only a pair of weeks in the Top 10 (dropping a record 86.7 percent in week two), and by the time the MDNA tour kicked off in Tel Aviv on May 31, it was out of the Top 100 completely. Meanwhile, Give Me All Your Luvin’, the first single, hit No. 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100, but it was on and off the charts within two months, and thus far, there’s not a follow-up hit within earshot.
Lionel Richie Sometimes it’s not where you start but where you end up a few weeks later. Although Richie’s latest album, Tuskegee, entered Billboard’s Top 200 album chart in the runner-up position to Madonna’s MDNA, it didn’t stay there for long. It eventually crawled up to No. 1, and by May, it was the second best-selling album of 2012 (with 789,000 copies sold), right behind Adele’s 21.
Adam Lambert His sophomore album, Trespassing, did debut at No. 1, making him the seventh American Idol contestant to get to No. 1. Unfortunately, Lambert did so with only 77,000 copies sold”the lowest sum for a No. 1 debut since February of 2011, when Amos Lee’s Mission Bell began on top with first-week sales of 40,000. And it was only downhill from there. After four weeks on the Top 200 album chart, Trespassing was way down at No. 54.
Where were those Glamberts when Adam needed them? Did they defect to Team Beliebers?
These are exciting times for Darius Rucker. Not only is he out on the “Own the Night” tour with Lady Antebellum but he’s ready to release his third album. The hotly-anticipated record will follow the much-loved 2010 release Charleston SC 1966 that debuted at the top of the country charts and his now-platinum debut album Learn to Live, which was released in 2008. And that’s just the beginning.
He’s musically partnered with a host of other artists, including Lionel Richie for a duet of “Stuck on You” which is on Richie’s album Tuskegee. He also remains very involved in several high-profile charity events, including this month’s Third Annual “Darius and Friends” benefit show in Nashville which raised money for St. Jude Children Research Hospital.
Rucker took time out from his busy schedule to talk to OurStage about his new album, his current tour, and just what inspired him to become a musician, anyway.
DR: We will probably be playing the new single soon. When I play, audiences can expect a lot of music from both records [Learn to Live released in 2008 and Charleston SC 1066] and some cool cover songs. I’m just trying to have fun.
OS: On the fan boards, some folks say you always play Prince’s “Purple Rain.” Why do you play it so often?
DR: I always wanted to play it! The funny thing was, I was rehearsing with the band and my drummer (the band leader) said “Have you ever wanted to play ‘Purple Rain?'” I had never played it because I didn’t know if it would work in a country set. Now we always play it. If I don’t play it, I get nasty emails. So we are always playing it now.
Life is full of surprises, and sometimes, so is pop music. In recent weeks, it’s recovered its long-dormant ability to shock, or at least catch us off guard with the unlikely hit, or the unexpected comeback.
Several months ago, I never dreamed I would ever ask the question that is the title of this article. It had been more than twenty-five years since Lionel Richie’s commercial heyday, and on the charts, he had been succeeded by younger romantic leads in pop and R&B many times over (Babyface, Usher, Ne-Yo, among others).
Then came one of those surprise developments seldom seen in pop anymore: On Billboard magazine’s Top 200 album chart for the week following the March 26 release of Tuskegee, Richie’s first studio album since 2009’s Just Go (which didn’t make the US Top 20 and failed to go gold), he debuted at No. 2 with first-week sales of 199,000 copies, right behind Madonna’s latest, MDNA.
On second thought, don’t.
That might have been what Justin Bieber was thinking in March when he found out he might be facing legal action for tweeting a fake phone number minus one digit to his 19 million Twitter followers, resulting in more than 1,000 phone calls being made to a man and a woman in Texas who threatened to take him to court. (The potential plaintiffs’ requests: an apology, concert tickets, free publicity and financial compensation for out-of-pocket expenses.)
It was a harmless enough prank, yes, but the next time Bieber tweets something, he might want to consider doing what so many pop stars are doing and tweeting it to someone who’s also famous”like his new BFF Carly Rae Jepsen, the recipient of several recent Bieber tweets, including one wishing a happy easter to his fellow Canadian and fellow Top 10 resident on Billboard’s Hot 100 (Bieber with Boyfriend, Jepsen with Call Me Maybe).
Who else is connecting on Twitter? I love you, you cray, Katy Perry tweeted on March 31 to Rihanna, who made news when she began following her ex Chris Brown on Twitter. Rihanna’s sometime collaborator Nicki Minaj had a brief war of words with Cher last November on Twitter over a third party’s misinterpretation of Minaj’s lyrics: “@cher did you know that b***h @NICKIMINAJ dissed you in her song DID IT ON EM.” Cher flipped. Minaj fans flipped, too, explaining that it was a “rap metaphor,” not a jab. Cher conceded defeat. Minaj offered, simply, “@Cher #stopit5.” Case closed.
After several weeks of blind audition shows, battle rounds on The Voice finally began on Monday night…and they didn’t disappoint. For those of you unfamiliar with the structure of this show, each team has twelve members after blind auditions. The coaches then create six one-on-one battles, for which they also choose the song and celebrity mentor to help train the contestants. The contestants sing the song as a duet, with the coach choosing the winner immediately afterwards.
It’s always interesting to see how the judges match up their battle pairings. More often than not, they’ll choose two artists with very similar styles in order to make their final set of six as strong and diverse as possible. Other times, though, it kind of seems like they just picked names out of a hat. On Monday night, we saw a little of both… (more…)
From Justin Timberlake (The Social Network) and Tim McGraw (The Blind Side and Country Strong) to Janet Jackson (For Colored Girls) and Christina Aguilera (Burlesque), pop stars no longer act just to fill dead space between albums. And the career exchange is working the other way around, too. Charlie’s Angel Cheryl Ladd had a hit single in the ’70s; Bruce Willis, Patrick Swayze (may he rest in peace), Don Johnson and Eddie Murphy had one Top 10 apiece in the ’80s; and Jennifer Lopez spent the early ’00s as one of the hottest women in pop. But lately, what every actor (and reality TV star) seems to really want to do isn’t direct”it’s sing.
Leading the current musical parade is Gwyneth Paltrow, who scored a Billboard No. 1 Adult Contemporary hit in 2000 with a cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’,” a duet she mastered with Huey Lewis. Now she’s targeting Nashville and possibly a second Oscar with her role as an alcoholic singer in Country Strong (opening December 22). She’s already getting country radio airplay with the title song and performed it live, to a standing ovation, at the Country Music Awards on November 10. She also just made her superstar guest appearance on Glee.
Meanwhile, Paltrow’s Country Strong costar Leighton Meester, who’s also a regular on Gossip Girl”which features moonlighting rocker Ed Westwick (Chuck Bass)”is releasing an album on the Universal Republic label, and already hit the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 last year as a featured artist on Cobra Starship’s “Good Girls Go Bad.”
Paltrow’s Iron Man costar Jeff Bridges won an Oscar in March for playing the male version of her Country Strong character in Crazy Heart (music from the film, by rising country star Ryan Bingham, who also acted in the film, received plenty of accolades as well). Iron Man 2‘s Scarlett Johansson released Anywhere I Lay My Head, an album of Tom Wait covers, in 2008 and Break Up, with Pete Yorn, in 2009. And Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr., has sung on the soundtracks to several of his films and onstage at the 2008 American Idol finale, appeared in an Elton John video and released a CD called The Futurist.
Joaquin Pheonix, Paltrow’s costar in last year’s Two Lovers, performed his own vocals for his Oscar-nominated performance as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line and spent the entire 2010 documentary I’m Still Here trying to make it as a rapper.
Maybe it’s the rebirth of the Hollywood musical”and/or the drive to hang on to fame by all means necessary”that’s convinced so many actors that they can make it in music, too (no, not you, David Hasselhoff). Phoenix’s Walk the Line costar Reese Witherspoon won an Oscar for her singing efforts as June Carter Cash. Catherine Zeta-Jones scored both an Oscar (Chicago) and a Tony (A Little Night Music) for musical performances. Penelope Cruz just got nominated for uncaging her inner songbird in Nine, alongside fellow Oscar winners Daniel Day-Lewis, Dame Judi Dench, Sophia Loren and Nicole Kidman, who”like Kate Winslet and the late Britanny Murphy (may she rest in peace)”has hit the Top 10 in the UK as a singer.
Even Oscar queen Meryl Streep has gotten into the song and dance, massacring the ABBA catalog in the 2008 musical Mamma Mia! And recent Academy honoree Mo’Nique delivered a song-stealing monologue on “Don’t Take Your Hat Off,” a track on Toni Braxton’s last album. Jamie Foxx, who won his Oscar for reincarnating music icon Ray Charles in Ray, has released two platinum albums and has a third set, Body, due on December 14. Kevin Bacon, Dennis Quaid, Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe, Zoey Deschanel, Adrian Grenier, Juliette Lewis, Keanu Reeves, Jason Schwartzman and Robert Pattinson all have moonlighted as musicians; Jared Leto’s band 30 Seconds to Mars seems to have become a bigger priority than acting; veteran actor Chris Mulkey (HBO’s The Boardwalk Empire) is also a well known country singer and Steve Martin’s The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo won a 2010 Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album.
Among the younger set, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez were all Disney stars before becoming successful recording artists (as were Fergie, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Jennifer Love Hewitt) and Aubrey Drake Graham spent eight years playing Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi: The Next Generation before becoming platinum-selling rapper Drake. Will and Jada Smith’s actor kids are also making musical noise. Son Jaden, 12, had a Top 40 hit earlier this year rapping with Justin Bieber on “Never Say Never,” and his 9-year-old sister Willow‘s “Whip My Hair” is a current pop smash that has some calling her a future Beyoncé. Then there’s, Josh Groban, who will release his fifth album, Illuminations, on November 15 and also costars with Steve Carell in the 2011 comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. He initially set out to be an actor, getting his big break in a 2001 episode of Ally McBeal, before detouring permanently into singing.
Since talent is optional in pop, and sometimes all you need is a good producer and auto-tune, reality stars are entering the mix, too. (No diss intended to Project Runway host Heidi Klum, who sang on “Wedding Day,” a track on her husband Seal’s 2007 album, System.) The Hills’ Heidi Montag and The Simple Life’s Paris Hilton, perhaps inspired by the pop careers of dueling starlets Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff in the mid ’00s, both released their own albums. Montag already tanked early this year (Earth to former reality star: If you want to be taken seriously in music, don’t call your debut album Superficial), but at least Hilton earned a Top 10 hit and decent reviews for Paris in 2006 and has a follow-up in the works.
Of course, Kim “I’ll do anything to stay in the spotlight” Kardashian is working with producer The-Dream (Rihanna, Beyoncé, Mariah Carey) on her debut album, and has said, “I would like the music to sound a bit like Lady GaGa, Britney Spears and J.Lo with a bit of an R ‘n’ B twist to it.” Such lofty ambitions!
Down south, The Real Housewives of Atlanta‘s Kandi Burruss, who had several hits with the girl group Xscape in the ’90s and co-wrote Destiny’s Child’s “Bills Bills Bills” and TLC’s “No Scrubs,” among other hits, is about to relaunch her music career with her second solo album, Kandi Koated, on December 14. And it’s probably only a matter of time before Hiltons’ The Simple Life costar, Nicole Richie, follows her dad, Lionel Richie, and her fiancé, Good Charlotte’s Joel Madden, into the family business.
But no Hollywood star has made as much of a recent dent in pop as the cast of Glee, who just surpassed the Beatles’ record for the most hits on Billboard’s Hot 100. Their schtick of taking other people’s songs for one-week spins on the chart is wearing thin”I never got the show and probably never will”but these days in life, Hollywood and pop, only a few things are certain: death, taxes, another actor-turned-singer, and a weekly barrage of Hot 100 entries by the cast of Glee.
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.