For at least another year or two, all of the U.K.’s up-and-coming sisters (and brothers) with voices will have their work cut out for them. As if it’s not already tough enough to rise above the pop pack, they’ll also have to contend with all of those inevitable Adele comparisons.
Is she (or he) the next Adele, the future of U.K.-bred pop talent hoping to achieve global domination?
Admit it: You wonder, too”every time a great new voice emerges from the British music scene. With the ruling pop diva of the last two years now between albums (perhaps she’ll be back in the autumn singing the theme for the next James Bond film, Skyfall) and expecting her first child with boyfriend Simon Konecki, the battle is on for the keys to the kingdom that the princess hasn’t even yet vacated.
If you’ve got a great voice and/or a slightly unconventional pop sound and/or look, if you’re more substance than style, to the front of the line you go. It’s the latest greatest aspiration in pop since the days when it was all about being the next Amy Winehouse, whether you sounded anything like her or not. Challenging Adele might be as scary a proposition as walking in the late Winehouse’s scuffed shoes might have been (terrifying for reasons that had everything and nothing to do with Winehouse’s talent), but at least fans are in for some great music. Recently, I heard a Rumer (the off-the-beaten-pop-path singer behind 2010’s Seasons of My Soul and this year’s Boys Don’t Cry), and my first thought was “Is this it?”
Rumer isn’t the only talented singer who’s making me listen and wonder. Here are three others:
Emeli Sandé (Current hits: My Kind of Love and Next to Me) In June, a friend sent me the video for Sandé’s recent single, Next to Me, on Facebook, with a short and sweet message: love… After watching the clip, my first impression was Sara Bareilles with a really dated look. White on black is so mid-˜90s! My second impression: How is it that everybody all over the world doesn’t already know her name (which, incidentally, is actually Adele Emeli Sandé)? (more…)
Susan Boyle seems like a sweet woman. Preternaturally talented with an agreeable disposition, Boyle is one of the more pleasant creations of the reality television machine. But if reports from the UK this week are to be believed, living next to the “I Dreamed A Dream” singer sounds like a nightmare.
Boyle’s neighbors have filed a noise complaint with local authorities, stating that living next to the multi-platinum singer is “unbearable.” Allegedly, Boyle has a penchant for singing at all hours of the day, belting out some of her signature tracks like “Unchained Melody” and “I Dreamed A Dream” over and over, for hours on end.
“It is so loud, you can’t hear the telly,” says Teresa Miller in The Sun. Miller is one of the neighbors that shares a wall with Boyle’s flat and who, most likely, possesses an extremely pronounced English accent. “You wouldn’t get Bono from U2 standing in his house singing his songs at the top of his voice. Maybe she’s practising for her next track or the next time she’s going to see Simon Cowell, but it’s unbelievable.”
Boyle and her neighbors have apparently had a long standing row, with Boyle becoming more of nuisance since achieving her fame in 2009. Friends of Boyle have come to the singer’s defense, saying that it is Miller and the neighbors that are really the troublemakers. “They are the ones causing all the trouble,” one anonymous source told the The Daily Mail. “Susan doesn’t even do her practice in that house. She has her piano in what she calls her posh house on the other side of town and does all her practice there. So it is very unlikely she would disturb these neighbours with her singing.” Neighborly drama and posh houses? How droll.
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…)
Over the course of writing this column, I’ve come across some pretty sensational vocalists, and I had the chance to pick many of their brains about the most important aspects of being a professional singer. I’ve also observed many of the biggest voices in music, and the way that their voices have developed and changed over time. Getting up and singing for an audience, whether you’re a professional singer or just someone who loves to sing, is not easy. So, here is a list of some of the advice I’ve encountered while writing Vocal Points that may help the aspiring singers out there:
- Everyone can sing. This is probably the most important piece of advice I’ve encountered because so often we feel that only certain people are blessed with a beautiful voice. As vocal therapist Mark Baxter said in his OurStage interview, “Singing came before speech. Humans are instinctively wired to send and receive melodic passages of emotional statements.” So if you love to sing, don’t let anyone else stand in your way.
- Nobody is perfect. Its important to remember that our favorite vocalists got to be so good because of hard work and practice. As Kevin Devine explained to me, “I think I’ve embraced my limitations as a singer and tried to re-frame them as strengths. “
Susan Boyle. Discovered on Britain’s Got Talent, she shocked the judges with her incredible voice and became a worldwide sensation just weeks after the show’s airing. And she continues to build her success, with another album which was released November 1st. What wows fans about Boyle is the fact that she is a simple, middle-aged woman who came out of nowhere. She is not the most beautiful nor is she thin, she does not put on a crazy pop show with insane choreography. She offers fans one thing, her voice, and that voice continues to be enough.
Not many stories like Boyle’s exist. Sure, there are variations between singers. Some have a better stage presence than others, some are more glamorous. But we rarely get the chance to see performers raw, uncut, and without all the other stuff that makes them stars. Many times, we don’t want to see our favorite singers without all the extras (full band, cool clothes and dramatic effects). We want all of it. After all, that’s what we’re paying the big bucks for. And yet, when Susan Boyle sings, we don’t care about any of the other details.
Adele is similar to Boyle in that she is a simple performer. Without a crazy backdrop or fancy moves, Adele wows audiences with her voice (that is, when she’s not canceling tours because of recurrent health problems). It truly seems that her simplicity is what makes her fans so crazy about her. Despite not looking like your stereotypical pop star, her killer voice shines through.
If video killed the radio star in the 1980s, television is still hammering the nails into its coffin three decades later. Yes, radio still has its place in the selling of pop music, but nothing says, “Prepare to scale new chart heights,” like a plum spot on a popular TV show. I’m old enough to remember when General Hospital turned Christopher Cross‘s “Think of Laura” from just another song on a flop sophomore album into a Top 10 single in 1984 and Days of Our Lives made a 1986 hit out of Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson‘s “Friends and Lovers.” But recently, television has been sending singers and songs up the charts like never before.
Radio didn’t make Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Adam Lambert and Susan Boyle stars. Had it not been for their small-screen exposure on American Idol and Britain’s Got Talent, “Since You’ve Been Gone,” “Before He Cheats” and millions of Glamazons never may have been thrust onto the world, and Blackburn, West Lothian, Scotland (Boyle’s hometown), certainly wouldn’t be on the map!
Which TV show is the most effective hit/star-maker? This past TV season, it would have been a toss up between Idol and Glee. Idol may have taken a season off (No. 9) from creating a new superstar, but it relaunched an old one while spawning and boosting a number of hits in its 10th round. Idol judge Jennifer Lopez probably owes her musical comeback to her gig and the airing of the “On the Floor” video on the March 3 results show. The following week, the single soared into the Top 10, becoming Lopez’s first hit in four years. And everybody loves wacky uncle Steven Tyler, but would “(It) Feels So Good,” his first-ever solo single, have debuted at No. 35 on Billboard’s Hot 100 had the video not premiered May 12 on Idol? (If only the show had had so much chart influence for non-contestants during the Paul Abdul years!)
Katy Perry, too, has benefited from Idol. Her “E.T.” single rebounded to No. 1 after she and Kanye West performed it in a pre-taped results show segment. And then there’s Adele, who may owe her US stardom to a lucky performing slot on the October 2008 Saturday Night Live episode in which Sarah Palin made an appearance and blasted the ratings into the stratosphere. “Rolling in the Deep” was doing just fine before Haley Reinhart took it on in Top 7 week. She landed in the bottom three, but Adele zoomed from No. 10 to No. 2 en route to No. 1.
Soon after, Jared Leto’s band 30 Second to Mars found itself on the Hot 100 at No. 99 the week after James Durbin performed its song “Closer to the Edge” (not to be confused with the Robert Palmer song by the same name!). In recent weeks, Beyoncé has taken to TV (Idol, the Billboard Music Awards) to turn her dead-on-arrival “Run the World (Girls)” single around (as a result, it jumped from No. 75 to No. 50), but by the time the Idol finale rolled around on May 25, she’d moved on to new material: a ballad called “1 + 1.”
Getting back to Adele, she got a further boost a few weeks after her Idol exposure when “Deep” was featured on Glee, and I’m pretty certain that Cee Lo Green‘s “F**k You” owes its second or third wind on the charts to Gwyneth Paltrow and her rendition of the song during her first appearance on Glee last November. Of course, Glee has done more for its own cast”who now have had more entries on the Hot 100 than any act ever and have produced eight Top 10 albums and three Top 10 EPs”than it has for any of the artists they’ve covered. But perhaps no after-shock of the Glee treatment was more unexpected this past TV season than the one following the May 3 episode devoted to Fleetwood Mac‘s landmark Rumours LP. The nearly 35-year-old album re-entered Billboard’s Top 200 album chart way up at No. 11, selling nearly 30,000 copies, 1,951 per cent more than it had the previous week. Matthew “Mr. Schuester” Morrison’s self-titled album debuted at No. 24 one week later, but he might have been better off making it a Glee soundtrack.
The Bevery Hills 90210 spin-off 90210 may not have the ratings to kickstart hits the way Idol and Glee do, but by blending the latest greatest hits (which last season included “Rolling in the Deep” before it was a big hit) with music from more obscure artists, it’s done more for buzz-bin bands (including Australia’s the Temper Trap, Angus & Julia Stone and Boy & Bear) than any TV entity since the days of MTV’s 120 Minutes.
Award shows, though not as dependable as all of the above, can occasionally be good for launching a chart success. Florence and the Machine‘s Lungs album and “Dog Days Are Over” single became hits after a performance on the MTV Video Music Awards last September, and major GRAMMY wins are always good for a one-week bump in sales. More recently, country hunk Blake Shelton became a pop star when his “Honey Bee” single landed on the Hot 100 at No. 13, after the singer debuted it on the April 3 Academy of Country Music Awards telecast, becoming the highest debut for a male country artist since the Garth Brooks/Chris Gaines 1999 song “Lost in You” (not to be confused with Rod Stewart‘s ’80s hit!) entered at No. 5. Shelton is now a judge on The Voice, so look for him to reap more benefits from TV, along with his fellow judges, Christina Aguilera (who could use a J. Lo-style comeback of her own), Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and Cee Lo Green, whose post-GRAMMYs chart momentum for “F**k You” lasted months.
Good Morning America also has gotten into the hit-making act this year. I’m not sure that morning news and talk shows influence album sales in any significant way, but Chris Brown‘s temper tantrum after his interview with Robin Roberts and the ensuing publicity surely had something to do with helping him earn his first No. 1 album with F.A.M.E., which was released the day of his GMA visit.
Will radio ever go out of style? Probably not completely. But these days, stars are born (and reborn) not there, but on TV.
This year’s Golden Globes generated more buzz than any awards show in recent memory and the reason is simple: Ricky Gervais killed. Even though it’s technically GRAMMY season, the culture still can’t seem to shake Gervais fever. The latest news?”February 1st’s report that Gervais has been invited to host the Globes next year, after all. But it seems a shame to have to wait til then for a reboot. Especially in a year in which F**k You was its anthem, how could anyone but an insult-artist like Ricky Gervais host the GRAMMYs? Call it thought-experiment, fan fiction or just my own insatiable craving for MORE RIGHT NOW, but here’s one fanboy fantasy of Ricky Gervais hosting the 52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards.
Applause from the audience at the Staples Center as Gervais, dressed as the Devil is elevated through a trap door on-stage. Smoke billows out from under him and Gervais takes a puff from a cigar as the audience rises to its feet.
Thank you and hello. Welcome to 2011 GRAMMYY Awards or what some people are calling the year Justin Bieber’s balls finally drop.
Bieber grins and winks at his left ball, which winks back. Gervais’ eyes light up as he notices Lady Gaga in the front row.
Lady Gaga, your highness. Lady Gaga isn’t just a pop star, she’s a fashion icon. In fact, she showed up at the VMAs dressed in meat, which was all fine and dandy, til Big Boi lit a fire underneath her chair and attempted to shove a spit up her ass¦On the way in here I saw Cee-Lo talking to Big Boi and for a second I thought it was an Al Roker before-and-after photo.
Not many people realize but Drake is a Jew”which explains how a Black guy could be such a pussy¦ All kidding aside, Drake’s come a long way since his rowdy childhood growing up on the mean streets of Toronto: When he 13 he was caught on the corner hustling trigonometry homework. When he was 16, the principal found a fully loaded water balloon in his locker¦ I actually bumped into Drake on the way in here and he was holding an icepack. So I joked, ˜Lil Wayne punch you again?’ ˜No,’ he replied. ˜But Justin Bieber gave me a really painful noogie.’
Drake’s back is turned towards the stage as he fights off Bieber, sitting behind him, now giving him a wet willy.
And speaking of hip hop stars, Eminem is here. Eminem, I gotta say, you look great. You remember when Eminem ballooned up? It got so bad people said he was starting to resemble Jessica Simpson.
And how about that Susan Boyle? Some call her an inspiration, some call her a virtuoso. I call her ˜Katy Perry minus two and a half pounds of makeup.’¦ And what can you say about Katy Perry that hasn’t already been said? I mean, other than: ˜She’s an incredibly gifted singer who only became successful after years and years of struggle and a stubborn refusal to reinforce the most sexist caricatures of our age?’
Katy Perry”simply aghast as she adjusts her nipple-illustrated nipple-coverings.
Paul McCartney pushing 70 and still going strong”how about that? This year he’s nominated for his latest hit, ˜Helter Skelter.’ Money that tight, Paul? Who’s playing backup on that, Heather Mills’ accountant? C’mon, that song is so played-out it made Charles Manson try and get somebody to stab him to death.
But like every GRAMMY show, this one had its fair share of controversy. Despite 5 Top Ten hits in 2010, Ke$ha was not nominated tonight. But the thing I told her to remember is that the GRAMMY’s aren’t a popularity contest. As the nomination of Kenny G for best pop instrumental album amply proves.
Kenny G mouths the words, You’re dead, bitch.
As his nomination for This Is It attests, Michael Jackson’s spirit lives on. In fact, just yesterday, that spirit was caught molesting Caspar the Friendly Ghost. Yeah, he claimed he had an amusement park inside his coffin called, Foreverland.
Boos erupt from the audience. Someone finally screams: For Godsakes, get this guy off the stage.
As you know, I am very grateful to God for making me an athe¦.
At that instant, a bolt of lightning crashes through the roof of the Staples Center and instantly fries Gervais. The audience is speechless. The well-modulated Voice of God fills the room:
Geez, I haven’t heard a room so quiet since the premiere of Ghost Town.
At the other end of the noise spectrum, Ke$ha began 2010 with her debut album, Animal, and ended it with an EP, Cannibal. Her sound-alike singles all have been hits, but her buzz has yet to reflect the success of the singles”Put her on a red carpet with Gaga, Justin Bieber and Adam Lambert, and who is most likely to be overlooked?” suggesting that either fans are connecting more with the songs than the artist singing (croaking?) them, or that a little Ke$ha goes a long way. Rihanna, pop’s most prolific woman who has released an album a year (including 2008’s expanded repackaging of Good Girl Gone Bad) since her 2005 debut, hasn’t had any trouble establishing a diehard fan base, but despite her incredible run of hit singles, she’s yet to land a No. 1 album or one that has sold more than double-platinum in the US. Perhaps if she’d let her absence make the hearts of fans grow a little fonder…