Mary J. Blige Wins Christmas Music Race, Streams Holiday Song

Every year, the Christmas season starts earlier. It seems like more and more marketers view the beginning of October as the starting line to the holiday shopping season. Stores begin to include holiday merchandise on shelves, talk of the infamous ‘black Friday specials’ begins, and at least one major record label rushes to get their big seasonal releases on shelves ahead of the competition. In 2013, the winner for the first big seasonal release is Mary J. Blige, and starting today you can stream her version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” via our friends at VIBE.

If you’ve heard one over-orchestrated version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” you’ve heard them all, and though Blige’s signature voice is as pristine as ever, there is simply not much unique about her take on the classic song. Still, Mary blesses us so rarely with new material these days it’s comforting to know she can still deliver when she wants to, and surely fans of Blige and fans of, well, Christmastime, will fall for this reinterpretation.

If you would like to hear more holiday classic reworked by Mary J. Blige, you’re in luck! The pop icon will release her seasonal album, A Mary Christmas, on October 15.

Miley Cyrus To Team Up With Dr. Luke Again On New Release

It’s not even worth asking if you remember “Party In The USA.” Of course you do. Miley’s 2009 hit was so infectious that it would have taken a blood transfusion to get rid of it that fall. But it wasn’t just Miley who created that monster hit. Aiming for total chart domination, she teamed up with mad pop genius Åukasz Gottwald a.k.a. Dr. Luke, the same man who masterminded hits like “I Kissed a Girl,” “My Life Would Suck Without You,” “Tik Tok,” “We R Who We R,” “Teenage Dream,” “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” and practically every other chart-topping pop song that you’ve heard in the past half decade. The man is a pop music machine, and he’s not done with Miley yet. After inking a new deal with RCA records, Miley will once again be collaborating with Dr. Luke on her new album along with other big names like Tyler The Creator and Mary J. Blige. Prepare your ears for complete invasion.

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'The Voice' Is Back: What's New For Season 3?

It’s hard to believe that The Voice is already back, but we’re not complaining.

The second season of the hit singing competition, which stars Christina Aguilera, Maroon 5‘s Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, and Cee-Lo Green as judges, only just wrapped in May. With the third season kicking off tonight, here are some exciting new twists you can look forward to.

  • Bigger teams: The teams have been increased from 12 up to 16 contestants, which is twice as many as were on the Season 1 teams. The result? Battle rounds AND “knockout rounds.” This is going to be intense.
  • Stealing: We’ve all seen this happen: Two amazing contestants go up against each other, their coach rambles on about how much s(he) loves both of them, and said coach eventually has to make the heartbreaking elimination. Now, the other three coaches will have the ability to steal the eliminated contestant and add them to their team. This is sure to cause some drama (and heightened competition between the coaches).
  • New mentors: The Voice is all about musical diversity. Last season, we had the opportunity to see contestants of all backgrounds get mentored by the likes of Alanis Morissette, Kelly Clarkson, Lionel Richie and Ne-Yo. This time around, they’ll be working with mentors from completely different genres than their coaches, which is sure to make for some great TV. Offering up their pearls of wisdom will be Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day (Team Christina), Mary J. Blige (Team Adam), Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 (Team Cee-Lo), and Michael Bublé (Team Blake).
  • More familiar faces: Viewers of the first two seasons may have noticed some singers they already knew, including Dia Frampton of Meg & Dia, Juliet Simms of Automatic Loveletter, and singer-songwriter Charlotte Sometimes. This season, we’ll be seeing former Hey Monday vocalist Cassadee Pope…and maybe even an OurStage artist or two?
  • More singing from all contestants: In the past, we’ve gone too long without seeing certain contestants sing, depending on the competition schedule. This season, all current contestants will sing during live shows, so you won’t miss your favorites.
  • More Purrfect: We all know that the real breakout star of Season 2 was Purrfect, Cee-Lo’s snow-colored, sour-faced cat. She randomly showed up in his arms about halfway through the competition, and was soon immortalized on his clothing (and on Twitter). Judging from her most recent tweets, the famous feline will be back on Mr. Green’s lap for more vocal warefare this fall.

Season 3 begins with a three-night premiere starting tonight at 8PM EST. Check out a special preview of the blind auditions below!

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Can D'Angelo Save Contemporary R&B's Soul?

D’Angelo who?

If you’re a music lover of a certain age, too young to remember when contemporary R&B wasn’t joined at the hips with rap, or didn’t come dressed up in a shimmering electro-pop sheen, we’ll forgive you for asking.

Now let the history lesson begin! Flashback to 1995, back when 21-year-old D’Angelo (born Michael Eugene Archer) was quickly becoming one of the hottest things in music. Released that year, his debut album, Brown Sugar, helped usher in the era of neo soul, and with Voodoo, his long-delayed 2000 sophomore album, for whose “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” video he bared both body and soul (literally!), he became an R&B rarity: a sex symbol capable of seducing both fans and critics with his bulging talent.

The only way was up, it seemed. But instead of ascending, D’Angelo dropped out. In some ways, it wasn’t so surprising. When I met D’Angelo in the mid-˜90s before a taping of MTV Unplugged, I was immediately disarmed by his cheerful but low-key and unassuming manner. He easily could have passed as any guy in the audience who’d wandered into the performer’s circle by mistake”and I mean that as a compliment. Modesty in a hunky package, D’Angelo, unlike the egocentric superstars crowding the charts today, clearly wasn’t in it for the star trip. Whether sitting at the piano or plucking a guitar, he was playing for love of the game, not the “F.A.M.E.” and “Fortune” (to quote the crass titles of the two most recent albums by Chris Brown, D’Angelo’s modern-day antithesis).

After taking five years to release his sophomore effort, D’Angelo spent the next decade well outside of the spotlight, only making occasional scattered appearances on leaked songs and other people’s records (including Mark Ronson’s Record Collection). And like so many musical geniuses before and after, he was plagued by demons, which may or may not have shaken up his turbulent romance with fellow singer Angie Stone, the mother of his teenage son Michael, and which definitely led to several legal scrapes, including a 2005 arrest for drunk driving and drug possession, and another in 2010 for soliciting a female undercover police officer for sex in New York City.  (more…)

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Your Country's Right Here: Madison Violet Begin to Blossom in U.S.

For all the heavy-duty bluegrass star power at the most recent DelFest in Cumberland, Md., it was the Canadian folk duo Madison Violet that arguably was the most exciting “find” of the event.

Known individually as Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac, the duo has won an array of awards and has ardent fans throughout their native Canada, in Europe, and beyond. Yet the two are just now making a name for themselves in the U.S. An unexpected illness forced the duo to cancel the last two dates of the U.S. tour behind their latest album The Good in Goodbye, but the pair hope to be back in American clubs soon.

“We haven’t toured in the U.S. very often in the 13 years we have been playing together,” said MacEachern citing work permits and other red tape that has kept them away. “Now we have more of a focus on the States and that’s great. Our music shouldn’t be a struggle in the States; it’s kind of got an Americana feel.”

Although that’s true, the music clearly also has international appeal as underscored by the many fans” especially from Germany”that fly to Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere, to catch Madison Violet shows. Perhaps that’s not surprising when you consider the judges, including Elton John, Wyclef Jean and Mary J. Blige, that chose Madison Violet as the 2009 Grand Prize Winners of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. The duo are the first Canadians to win the award.

While the prize certainly bolstered the group’s confidence in their own abilities, they still see a long road ahead as they work to establish their names in the States. The joy for them is that fans are fans and seem to have similar responses to their music, wherever they play. If they can just get before a crowd, as they did on Memorial Day weekend at DelFest, chances are they’ll win converts.


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.


Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Soundcheck: Did Nicki's Grammys Performance Go Too Far?

Ever since her controversial GRAMMY performance last week, tongues have been wagging about Nicki Minaj.  Critics say she crossed the line with her Exorcist-themed theatrics, while others commend the hip-hop hybrid for her creativity and the guts to pull it off.

Lil Kim had some choice words for Nicki, and used the performance to rekindle their feud.  During an appearance on Bravo’s Watch What Happens: Live, Kim bashed the Young Money maven, calling her music’s most overrated artist.

“If you have to make a song called ‘Stupid Hoe,’ you must be the stupid hoe,” she said in reference to Minaj’s current record-breaking single.  She went on to compare Minaj to Fire Marshall Bill a character from the hit ’90s television show, In Living Color.

But Kim isn’t the only one firing shots at Nicki.  Last week, the Catholic League’s President, Bill Donahue, released the following statement:

“Nicki Minaj, fresh off looking like a fool with Madonna at the Super Bowl, showed up last night (February 12) on the red carpet at the GRAMMYs with a guy dressed like the pope. This was just a prelude of what was to come. Minaj’s performance began on stage with a mock confessional skit. This was followed by a taped video depicting a mock exorcism. With stained glass in the background, she appeared on stage again with choirboys and monks dancing. Perhaps the most vulgar part was the sexual statement that showed a scantily clad female dancer stretching backwards while an altar boy knelt between her legs in prayer. Finally, “Come All Ye Faithful” was sung while a man posing as a bishop walked on stage; Minaj was shown levitating.”

His sentiments echoed any voices across the country who called Minaj’s performance disrespectful, demonic, and over the top prompting her to defend herself and her motives. She told the Associated Press, I don’t know what is the big issue?”

Minaj has made no secret of her passion for acting, and she explained the display as a segment of a larger project for the future. “You know how people write plays and movies? That’s what I did,” she said. “I wrote that and I gave the world a tiny little preview of what was to come. And so I have to perform it on the set in which it would be in the movie, right?”

Of course, when Lady Gaga hit the stage covered in blood and hanging from the ceiling, apparently dead; no one batted an eyelash.  However, Minaj’s portrayal of an onstage exorcism apparently sent people over the edge.

While I can understand how the Catholic League may take offense to a large-scale portrayal of priests and choirboys on the GRAMMY stage; I’m puzzled by the reaction of Minaj’s fans. Anyone who has followed her career, or listened to her albums shouldn’t be surprised by the exorcism/ multiple personalities concept.  She has been gearing up for this kind of roll out since she started doing press.  She has referred to Roman Zolanski numerous times, as the devilish little boy who says what she can’t”who surfaces when provoked.  The character of his British mother, Martha has also made numerous appearances; constantly pleading with Roman to behave, as she did in the stage performance.  Minaj has also made no secret that her sophomore album will be centered around Roman’s character; making this kind of teaser completely appropriate and relevant.  If anything, it was characteristically Nicki.

Although her detractors have been flooding the Internet with their criticism, others have come to Minaj’s defense.  Her label mate, Lil Twist, told XXL, “I love Nicki’s whole swagger. She doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. That’s what I really love about my sister and how she goes about herself. That performance was Nicki. That’s all I can, say”it was so Nicki.”

Now, Minaj is gearing up for her NBA All-Star game appearance.  She will perform a medley of her hits while the players are introduced during the big game.  She’ll also be joined by some other heavy-hitters including Mary J. Blige, who will perform the National Anthem, as well as Ne-Yo, and Pitbull who will take over the half-time show. We’ll see how this next performance compares to the GRAMMY’s.