Summer and songs. They fit together like Santa and snow, like sex and the city, like Coldplay and Rihanna in the Princess of China single and video, which both acts no doubt are hoping will be the song of the summer of 2012. (And if it’s not, Rihanna’s got another shot anyway, with Where Have You Been, the fifth single from her Talk That Talk album.)
But the songs of summer aren’t just about the latest, greatest hits when warm weather starts to roll around. If they were, we all would have been stuck with Adele’s Rolling in the Deep, Nicki Minaj’s Super Bass and LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem on an endless beach loop last summer (and certainly some of us were). The hottest season has been figuring prominently into pop since the beginning of time, regardless of the temperature outside.
This year, it will be no different. So while the rest of the world is sweating it out to Rihanna and Coldplay, or Rihanna on her own, or brand new music from Justin Bieber, Usher, Chris Brown, or Fiona Apple (my personal beach pick), feel free to pad your summer mix with these ten entries, some of the best summer’ songs ever.
If this is going to be just another case of recent history repeating, a first blush of modest success (his Idol winner’s single “Home” entered Billboard’s Hot 100 at No. 10, with 278,000 downloads), maybe even a platinum post-Idol album (like his predecessor, Scotty McCreery), then… nothing much. Unlike American Idol‘s early seasons, which made durable stars out of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, taking the grand prize no longer comes with guaranteed gold or platinum (if only for one album).
Even Adam Lambert, Idol‘s eighth runner-up and the show’s lone international star launch in the past several seasons, is in the throes of a sophomore slump. Although Trespassing, his second studio album, released on May 15, entered Billboard’s Top 200 album chart at No. 1, it did so with only 77,000 copies sold its first week. That’s 120,000 less than his 2009 debut, For Your Entertainment, and the lowest one-week total for a No. 1 album since last August, when Adele’s 21 sold 76,000 copies in its 12th non-consecutive week at No. 1. (more…)
The late ˜70s gave us a plethora of short-term disco stars who lived”and quickly died”by the groove, while the Tacos, the Kajagoogoos and the After the Fires of the early ˜80s, arrived wielding synthesizers and tressed for fifteen minutes and less of success. More recently, in 2005 and 2006, sensitive singer-songwriter guys Daniel Powter (Bad Day) and James Blunt (You’re Beautiful) helped usher out the pre-Rihanna/Katy Perry/Lady Gaga phase of pop.
In 2009, as a higher number of headlining newcomers than usual ascended to the summit (Lady Gaga, Jay Sean and Jason DeRülo, among them), at least one, Owl City”the act behind Fireflies”was bound to never fly anywhere near those heights again. And last year, with dance music dominating the airwaves more dramatically than it had since the aforementioned disco age, we got indie-pop with a beat for exactly one massive hit single, courtesy of Foster the People, who went all the way to No. 3 with Pumped Up Kicks.
Which of 2012’s first-timers so far are most likely to not still be succeeding by their next single? fun., the rock trio that recently spent six weeks at No. 1 with “We Are Young”? Or Gotye, who rode a quirky song and an even more oddball video all the way to the top?
At a quick glance, Gotye seems to have all of the trappings of a one-hit wonder. Interesting name that one might need a pronunciation key to get right? Check. Song that sounds unlike anything else on the radio? Check. A colorful video that jumps off the screen for reasons that have as much to do with the high concept as the song itself? Check.
In pop music, you’re nobody until everybody loves you or hates you, and few recording artists polarize everybody the way Lady Gaga does. Mad genius or plain mad? A true original or hopelessly derivative? Hit or miss?
That last question easily could apply to Gaga’s second full-length studio album, Born This Way, which was released to near-unprecedented fanfare in May of last year. The music press gave it generally favorable reviews, according to Metacritic, which assigned the album a score of 71 out of 100. Madonna, however, was less than blown away by the title song and first single, which many declared a too-blatant rip-off of her 1989 hit Express Yourself.
The woman who has spent her entire career nicking sights and sounds from other people, apparently agreed and recently joined the song’s chorus of detractors. When I heard it on the radio¦ I said that sounds very familiar, Madonna told ABC News’ Cynthia McFadden in January. It felt reductive.
As for the parent album, whether it’s good or bad is a matter of personal taste. Hit or miss, though? Commercially speaking, it depends on how you look at it. Born This Way sold 1.1 million copies in the week after its release, making it the biggest debut since 2005. However, Gaga’s sales feat becomes less impressive when you consider that some 440,000 of those copies were sold in the digital format by Amazon, which practically gave the album away for 99 cents.
By week two, sales of Born This Way had plummeted 84 percent, down to the mere-mortal level of 174,000 copies. In its third week, it sold 100,000 copies, and was replaced by Adele’s three-months-older (in the US) 21 at No. 1. When the dust settled and 2011 ended, Born This Way was the third-biggest seller of the year, with cumulative sales of 2.1 million copies, which means it did half of its business last year in its first week. The No. 1 album of 2011, Adele’s own sophomore effort, sold nearly three times as much (5.8 million).
If Born This Way were a Hollywood event movie, and in many ways it was marketed like one, it would be considered a disappointment, as aspiring blockbusters that only double their opening-weekend haul during their box-office runs are generally considered to be. Worldwide sales in the vicinity of 5 million lack luster when an album’s pre-release set-up positions it to be the biggest thing since sliced bread”or Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Then there are the five singles from Born This Way. Aside from the aforementioned title track, which spent six weeks at No. 1, they’ve performed somewhat below Gaga’s usual Hot 100 standards. The second to fourth singles all reached the Top 10, but none of them enjoyed industry buzz or runaway success on par with previous Gaga hits like Telephone and Bad Romance. Meanwhile, the fifth single, “Marry the Night,” only reached No. 29 on Billboard’s Hot 100, making it Gaga’s first official single to miss the Top 10.
There’s always the February 12 GRAMMY Awards to provide a nice Gaga rebound (she’s up for three awards), but they probably won’t, not with Adele in the running (and performing). In fact, Adele might have been the one thing most responsible for blocking the view of Gaga for much of 2011.
The antithesis of all things Gaga, she’s a singer who gets by without gimmickry and flash, just strictly on the power of her voice. Her 21 singles have had considerably more staying power than those from Born This Way”the third, “Set Fire to the Rain,” just became the third to hit No. 1”which means that when the dust settles (again) and 2012 ends, some other 21 single probably will still be jerking tears (“Turning Tables”?) or rocking the house (“Rumour Has It”?).
Even Gaga’s videos and live award show performances are no longer the talk of every town, not when Adele hits the same stage, accompanied by a tremolo piano melody, effortlessly knocking rare notes way back into the nosebleed seats, and bringing on the heartbreak with Someone Like You. She did just that at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards in September, and she walked away with the most-talked-about live TV performance of the year (without having to reveal that she was pregnant!). Gaga performed You and I at the VMAs, but it was Adele whose song was No. 1 on the Hot 100 within days of the ceremony.
Adele will likely steal Gaga’s GRAMMY thunder, too. Gaga scored her third Album of the Year nomination for Born This Way (her second was for the 2009 EP The Fame Monster), but there’s no stopping the Adele express, which is likely to run over everything in its path. Gaga may have to settle for Favorite Album of the Year at the January 11 People’s Choice Awards.
So hit or miss? I’d say Born This Way falls somewhere between stunning success and magnificent failure, definitely closer to the former when both artistry and commerce are accounted for. Derivative first single aside, the album was an uncompromising pop opus, one that is musically to the left of the one that made Gaga a superstar.
Had its more difficult tracks””ScheiíŸe” and, say, Heavy Metal Lover”been recorded by someone like M.I.A. or an obscure European electronica act, they probably would have been declared masterpieces of iconoclastic electro-pop. “Judas,” for sure, would have had considerably lowered chart expectations (it hit No. 10). Released under any other name, Born This Way, far as it is from the mainstream that Katy Perry and Rihanna call home, probably would have sold a small fraction of what it did sell with Gaga’s name plastered on the cover.
There’ll be future hits for her, though, more GRAMMY nominations. And even if her reign as the hottest thing in music is over for good, Adele shouldn’t get too comfortable at the top. In pop, nobody stays there forever.
It’s been nearly eight years since George Michael released an entire album of new music, and three since he put out a single that wasn’t a cover of New Order’s “True Faith.” But in 2011, the singer-songwriter starred in what must have been one of the year’s most gripping YouTube videos, two minutes as gripping and heartfelt as anything on Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, his essential 1990 album.
There was no music, and Michael didn’t sing a note. In the clip, which was posted on December 23, Michael gave a press conference in which he discussed his recent near-death experience that began on November 21 on the Vienna stop of his forty-eight-date European tour and which he described as “the worst month of my life.” The normally robust singer, who had contracted a chest infection that was later diagnosed as life-threatening pneumonia and spent a month in hospital in Vienna (including ten days in the intensive-care unit), appeared gaunt and gray, often struggling to catch his breath.
In a year that took so many of music’s greats (R.I.P., Amy Winehouse, Nikolas Ashford, Phoebe Snow, Vesta Williams, Clarence Clemons, Dobie Gray, Billie Jo Spears), Michael is truly lucky to be alive ”and he knows it. So what’s next? First, as he said in the interview, he will reschedule the cancelled dates on the Symphonica Tour that he was staging throughout Europe and the UK when his illness struck. The shows featured Michael performing his own hits and non-hits as well as select covers (including Winehouse’s “Love Is a Losing Game”) with a symphonic orchestra.
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.