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Sound and Vision: Jennifer Lopez–The Most Powerful Woman in Pop?

Every superstar worth his or her weight in durability (See: Cher, all-time queen of the comeback) has been up, has been down, has seen fire, has seen rain, has had one of those full-circle careers that’s come around and around again and again. Professional fluctuations is a part of Hollywood life, and those who can weather those particular storms, come out in a better place, because as Kelly Clarkson sang on her recent No. 1 hit, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, stronger.

And just how stronger is current comeback queen Jennifer Lopez these days? She may not be quite the tabloid draw she was a decade ago, but if you’ve watched American Idol during the past two seasons, or heard her 2011 hit “On the Floor” on the radio, on TV, on YouTube or, well, on the floor, you know that she’s flexing again.

Forbes magazine just ranked her atop its 2012 Celebrity 100 (up from No. 50 in 2011), which lists the most powerful people in entertainment. With an estimated income of $52 million in the last year, Lopez came in ahead of last year’s champ Lady Gaga (No. 5), Oprah Winfrey (No. 2) and Adele (No. 24).

Forbes‘s criteria for its 2012 appointment: being hotter than the rest (23,000 press mentions, 46 major magazine covers) and most sought after by fans (530 million YouTube views for “On the Floor,” 12 million Facebook “likes” and more than 6 million “followers” on Twitter). Not bad for someone who was so over”or so everybody thought”just a few years ago.

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Lady Gaga on Media Blackout

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey on Oprah’s Next Chapter, Lady Gaga announced her decision to sever all communication with the press.

“I do not intend to speak to anyone for a very long time,” she says, stating that it was just as much a personal choice as it was a creative one. Following the success of her latest album Born This Way, the singer has chosen to lay low in 2012, instead focusing on a new album and an overseas tour, as well as her Born This Way Foundation.

As for her own media consumption? “No press, no television,” says Gaga. “If my mom calls and says, ‘Did you hear about?’ I don’t want to know nothing about anything that is going on in relation to music. I shut it all off.”

Can Mariah Carey Rise Again?

Since the turn of the century, Mariah Carey’s once-seemingly indestructible career has twisted and turned, going up and down and back around like that roller-coaster ride in the video for “Fantasy,” one of her biggest songs from the last century.

Ups: The Emancipation of Mimi, the best selling album of 2005 in the US, which featured “We Belong Together,” the biggest solo single of Carey’s career, and a well-reviewed supporting performance in the Oscar-nominated 2009 film Precious. Downs: a flop film/soundtrack combo (2001’s Glitter), under-performing albums and singles and that public meltdown that sent her star shooting in the wrong direction for most of the first half of the millennium.

Now that star is in a state of flux, teetering, thanks to her last album, 2009’s Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, which yielded mixed results. Though it received decent reviews, it launched only one Top 10 single (the Eminem-dissing “Obsessed”), and became her first studio album not to at least go platinum. A Memoirs remix album, Angels Advocate, was scrapped, and not even a tacked-on Nicky Minaj cameo could pull “Up Out My Face,” the first single from the aborted project, higher than No. 100 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

But through the rain (to quote the title of one of her downs), nobody ever accused Carey of being over. In fact, the timing might be perfect for her to launch a full-scale comeback, which unofficially began on March 1 with a forty-minute show at New York City’s Gotham Hall, her first performance since giving birth to twins Moroccan and Monroe on April 30, 2011.

Adele is helping to make the Hot 100 once again safe for sisters with voices, and the death of Whitney Houston has increased the void that she and Carey spent the ’90s filling. Like Houston, she specializes in the sort of big, melismatic R&B ballads that have been MIA from the tops of the pops for several years now. Carey could use one to claw her way back to the top of the diva heap, but she’ll need a sturdy comeback plan. Here are five guidelines she should scribble on it.

Choose your collaborators wisely. Carey has released little new music since 2009, aside from her second holiday album, 2010’s Merry Christmas II You, and a re-recording of her own “All I Want for Christmas Is You” with Justin Bieber for Under the Mistletoe, his 2011 Christmas album. Though that’s precisely the kind of collaboration she should avoid in the future (a forty-something woman need not be seen and/or heard cavorting musically with a teenager), the recent news that she’s been in the studio with Jermaine Dupri, who co-wrote and co-produced “We Belong Together,” is already music to these cautiously optimistic ears.

Sure Carey could probably score at least one quick hit by hooking up with Dr. Luke, will.i.am or David Guetta, but why chase after the scraps that all of those other pop divas have been picking on, or invite such overexposed rappers like Minaj and Lil Wayne into the studio to spice up whatever she’s cooking up? She and her longtime cohort can produce a gourmet meal that fans won’t be able to feast on anywhere else.

Keep leaving “dem babies” at home. It was wise of her to refer to her twins with husband Nick Cannon only in onstage banter at the New York City show and not actually trot them out. Sex sells, and although motherhood is sexy, nobody wants to see Carey pushing around twin baby strollers in a little black dress.

Get involved: Sign up for as many extracurricular activities as possible. It’s hard to imagine that Jennifer Lopez would have scored a comeback hit last year with “On the Floor,” or a plum spot Oscar-presenting with Cameron Diaz at this year’s Academy Awards if she’d never signed on as an American Idol judge. (Does that mean she has Idol to blame for that unfortunately exposed nipple while co-presenting Best Costume Design and Best Makeup?)

Carey was at one point mentioned to fill the Idol seat that Lopez eventually snagged. Now that Paula Abdul is gone from the US X Factor, Carey should lobby hard with Simon Cowell to take her place and then use the show to launch the first single from her next album.

And don’t forget, you’re an actress, too. After a few false starts, Carey finally proved herself in Hollywood with her small but pivotal performance as a supportive social worker in Precious. Since Whitney Houston is no longer around to reprise her role as Savannah in the planned sequel to Waiting to Exhale, Carey should make sure that she, and not Oprah Winfrey, as has been suggested, is next in line to replace her.

Act your age, not Katy Perry’s. Carey once told me during an interview, that her baby-doll persona is totally wink-wink: those sideways glances, the fluttering of her eyelids, calling fans her “lambs”all an act. I got the joke, but unfortunately, it only made it easier to believe she’d suffered a serious breakdown in early 2001, since she’d always acted a little… off.

Now that she’s in her forties, it’s time to overhaul the life-size-Barbie image. Adele became the biggest pop star in the world without a single gimmick. Carey should follow suit and rely solely on her voice. It’s still in working order, and for all her ups and downs this century, it’s the one thing that hasn’t failed her yet.

Soundcheck: Beyoncé's '4' Will Score…Eventually

By now, Beyoncé‘s fourth album, 4 has been out for a week and staked its claim on the charts. We’ve all read the mixed reviews and ponderings of pop-culture commentators debating whether or not this one is a “flop”. For me, it couldn’t be.  Beyoncé does not know the meaning of words like that.

4 is an obvious transition for Bey, pushing her audiences to grow with her and inviting them through a journey they may not have expected.  Sprinkled with tinges of the B we know and love are songs like “Countdown” and “Best Thing I Never Had” while the mid-tempo “Party”, featuring Andre 3000, is more of a stretch but equally endearing.  She challenges fans to be open-minded, telling MTV, “I’m not in a box. It’s not R&B. It’s not typically pop. It’s not rock. It’s just everything I love all mixed together in my own little gumbo of music.” While some are surprised by the unconventional tracklist, her formula hasn’t changed all that much.

I remember being equally perplexed upon first listen of her 2006 hit,  “Ring The Alarm.”  I was not immediately drawn to the harsh, aggressive, angry-sounding B and unusual tempo changes of the song.  Then came the video, and live performance at the VMA’s, and I was hooked.  The song became an instant anthem, and I had visions of Beyoncé whipping her ponytail every time it played.

“Run The World (Girls)” was the 4‘s first single, and had an equally mystifying effect the first few times I heard it.  It was weird.  Disjointed. Chaotic.  I didn’t get it. The video, of course, did not disappoint and I was once again enamored with the Texas-born beauty.  Then came her Billboard Awards performance. Phenomenal.  She literally brought the house down and delivered one of the best television performances in the show’s history.  If that wasn’t enough, she decided to immortalize the once forgettable single by singing it to THE girl that run’s the world, Oprah Winfrey at her farewell show.  Now, every time “Girls” comes on the radio, I find myself dancing relentlessly and feeling empowered. She did it again.

Beyoncé can sell anything.  That’s what makes her great. She aired “Year Of 4″ two days after the album’s release on MTV and BET, inviting fans into the making of the album.  In it, she invites us into the secret world that is “Beyoncé’s real life” and makes the case for her album’s creation.  She forces fans to become truly invested in her journey, and the resulting records.  She lovingly pushes us onto her page, challenging us to doubt her.  We wouldn’t dare. “Sometimes we don’t reach for the stars, sometimes we are satisfied with what people tell us we’re supposed to be satisfied with, and I’m just not going for it.” The intensely guarded star shows us footage of life with husband, Jay-Z while seducing us with songs like “1+1″ in the background. Genius.

The only thing more astounding than Beyoncé’s unrivaled ability to make us love her is the effortlessness with which she pulls it off.  I know she’s tricking me, and I don’t mind at all.  I don’t feel forced, only more hypnotized, by her charm, her talent and her swag.   The truth is, it doesn’t matter what I think I like, Beyoncé will surely get me there willingly, one way or another.  She’s just so damn good.

 

Teen Spirit

Alexandria Maillot

Alexandria Maillot is far from an ordinary teenager. Unless you consider graduation at 16, followed by music awards, performances overseas, songwriting credits on gold-selling records, and spot in Oprah’s Search for the World’s Smartest and Most Talented Kids ordinary. Think of her as a more grounded version of Miley Cyrus”an artist blessed with an equally powerful voice, a pretty face, but more likely to spend her free time volunteering with charities than trolling the streets in minuscule jean shorts. Hope and the power of positive thinking are common themes in Maillot’s songcraft. All We Need is a mercurial little number that segues from a doleful piano intro to a sailing power pop chorus. The message may be sappy but it’s sweet: You’re all good as long as you have a hand to hold. Revolution is soulful pop with a percolating bass line, where Maillot invites her fellow youth to rebuild society. If all the feel-goodness makes you queasy, put on Confession for a sexier, edgier kiss-off. Maillot is wholesome, sure. But she’s not squeaky clean. And in that one regard, she’s a completely ordinary teen.

Discourse & Dischord

The Good

OK Go get dogged in new video

If you’ve ever watched an OK Go video, you know choreography is key. Exhibits A, B, and C right here. This latest installment is no different, but adds man’s best friend to the mix with heart-warming results. If one of these furry little rapscallions doesn’t get a gig on Dancing With The Stars then there is no justice in this world. Oh, and 10 points if you can spot the goat.

And then, these guys jumped on the bandwagon …

Ever heard of a band called OK Go? Quirky, ambitious videos? Winsome electro-pop? Subject of blurb Number 1 in this column? Here’s video that lampoons their whimsical, electro-pop methodology … using a giant pie!

The Bad

Aretha Franklin’s son beaten at Detroit gas station

Eddie Franklin, 52, son of soul singer Aretha Franklin, ended up in the hospital on Monday night after three men jumped him and beat him severely in a Detroit gas station parking lot. Franklin underwent emergency oral surgery and was released on Wednesday. Charges have not yet been filed.

The-Dream and L.A. Reid fired from Def Jam

L.A. Reid and The-Dream

Word on the street is that producer L.A. Reid (responsible for cultivating the careers of Mariah Carey, Pink, Usher, Ciara and countless other stars) and R&B singer/producer The-Dream were just fired from Def Jam Records due to disappointing sales figures and exuberant spending. If true, this would be The-Dream’s second break-up of 2010. If he gets strapped for cash, maybe he can sell the pointless hyphen in his name.

The Ugly

50 Cent threatens his dog with a knife

50 Cent and Oprah

In an attempt to be funny, 50 cent posted pics to his Twitter page of him threatening his yorkie, Oprah Winfrey, with a knife. Totally lame, and kind of disturbing. Seriously, someone call animal rescue on this tool. In happier news, here’s a video of kittens massaging each other.

Miscellany

Discourse & Dischord

OSBlog02_Discourse_Jan10_Week2The Good

Blonde Redhead score new Dungeons & Dragons documentary

Dragon Tamers: Blonde Redhead

Dragon Tamers: Blonde Redhead

Attention wizards and dwarves: Put down your copy of Fiendish Codex 1: Hordes of the Abyss and listen up. A new documentary on Dungeons & Dragons entitled Dungeon Masters is scheduled for release on Amazon’s Video On Demand on February 12. Exult! Even better ” the elder statesmen of hipster rock, Blonde Redhead, scored the entire film. Not even a meldshaper could produce a more potent jolt to your soul. Click here for the trailer.

Kings of Leon release line of pricey hipster garb
Those in the market for expensive bandanas and plaid shirts will love the new line by Kings of Leon, KOLxS2A. Nothing retails for under $100, but it’s worth the price to look like THE COOLEST ROCK BAND IN THE WORLD. The band’s line of clothes will be sold exclusively in the UK at The Shop at Bluebird, Chelsea, and can be seen here. We wonder if the fabric on those pants is flame retardant in case your sex catches on fire.

The Bad

Jay Reatard dies

Jay Reatard

Jay Reatard

A sad day for fans ¦ Jimmy Lee Lindsey Jr., better known as lo-fi garage punk artist Jay Reatard, passed away on Wednesday in his home in Memphis at the age of 29. Reatard was signed to Matador Records and had released a string of successful singles in recent months. R.I.P.

Simon Cowell announces he’ll leave Idol
Simon Cowell, America’s favorite purveyor of caustic one-liners, announced this week that he will leave American Idol after this season to serve as executive producer and judge on The X Factor, a show he created originally in England which debuts stateside on Fox in the fall. Does losing its biggest (and crankiest) personality signal the demise of the most popular television program in the country? Somewhere Paula Abdul is giddy at the thought” or maybe it’s just the meds.

The Ugly

M.I.A. rips NYT a new one

Twit Fit: M.I.A.

Twit Fit: M.I.A.

When the New York Times named Sri Lanka the Number 1 destination in its 31 Places to Go in 2010, Sri Lankan native and global pop phenom M.I.A. responded by posting horrific photos of atrocities from the country’s civil war on her Twitter page. F**K New York Times! Do you really think you need to go here on vacation? she tweeted. Get your priorities straight. Shocking, but point taken. In other Twitter news, Paris Hilton just had an “amazing” facial.

Miscellany