R&B just ain’t what it used to be commercially, period. 2013 has not been a great year to be a ‘soulful’ singer not because of the quality of releases, but because the genre suffers with its sales relevance. Yeah, the motto that ‘sales aren’t everything’ still carries weight as there are times when art for art’s sake is notable. However, when it comes to major labels backing an artist who stands little chance to sell, money plays a key role. Below, here are a couple of examples of how R&B stack up between artists previous solo album and the album they released in 2013.
|Year||Album title||Albums Chart Peak||Copies Sold 1st Week|
|2013||Love in the Future||4||68,000|
John Legend managed to keep himself in the top five after a five-year gap between solo efforts, but his numbers dwindled during the hiatus. How telling are the numbers? Well 68,000 copies certainly wouldn’t be considered to have a very high ceiling. In other words, reaching gold certification (500,000 copies) seems a stretch for the platinum/gold-selling artist. Dig deeper in Legend’s past, and even 2008 effort Evolver underachieved.
|Year||Album title||Albums Chart Peak||Copies Sold 1st Week|
|2010||Back To Me||2||117,000|
|2013||Side Effects of You||2||91,000|
Fantasia has a very similar situation to John Legend. Her previous album, Back To Me, sold six figures, good for a no. 2 bow. 2013 effort Side Effects of You didn’t experience quite the drop in sales that Legend’s Evolver experienced, but did bow with under 100,000 copies sold. As of yet, Side Effects of You hasn’t been certified by the RIAA.
|Year||Album title||Albums Chart Peak||Copies Sold 1st Week|
Same shh, different artist? Yep that’s bout the size of it. Jaheim saw a huge sales drop between 2010 effort Another Round and 2013 effort Appreciation Day. Gold never seemed like a possibility for my boy, who debuted the same week with 10,000 less copies than John Legend.
|Year||Album title||Albums Chart Peak||Copies Sold 1st Week|
Ciara is the only artist in this study to show growth between her previous album and present release. That said, Ciara was at the lowest point of her career when Basic Instinct debuted. While the 58,000 copies Ciara sold is an improvement, like Jaheim, the effort looked like it had little chance to go anywhere from the start.
|Year||Album title||Albums Chart Peak||Copies Sold 1st Week|
**The-Dream also released an album under Terius Nash called 1977 that was originally a free album following Love King.
Talk about a come-down (as opposed to a “come-up”), The-Dream has had a horrid career as of late. His 2010 effort peaked at no. 4 with only 58,000 after his previous effort bowed at no. 2 with 151,000 copies. Now his 2013 effort, IV Play brings a new level of underachievement to the talented singer/songwriter/producer: a tepid 23,000 copies sold. Add to those ugly numbers that the album was critically panned (including myself), and The-Dream must do some soul searching in regards to his career as a viable recording artist.
What does this study show? R&B is sinking fast commercially. I should mention that Robin Thicke and Tamar Braxton were among high points for the genre, moving >100,000 copies. No need to end pessimistically.
- Ranking John Legend’s Five Albums (brentmusicreviews.com)
- The 2013 Fourth Quarter Music Releases Underwhelm… (brentmusicreviews.com)
What this Brent? Another post about Lady Gaga? Yes, and get over it! I realize I’ve already penned a lengthy, analytical review for Lady Gaga’s latest effort ARTPOP, but this particular album, like any Lady Gaga album always leaves plenty or room for analysis. And perhaps you found my colorful take on ARTPOP too lengthy, so here’s a summarization, of sorts. ARTPOP has been drawing mixed reviews from what I can gather, evidenced by its 60s Metacritic aggregate. Even given the mixed view some of us share about this album, there is still plenty of fascinating takeaways, which I’ll colorfully convey right now. “Get ready, get ready get ready!”
1. She wants “art” and “pop” to work as a unified force.
Well, the album first is entitled ARTPOP, which combines the words “art” and “pop”. Often, neither is a word associated with the other, particularly by skeptics who have some critical things to say about modern pop in particular. On “ARTPOP” (the song), Gaga references both the combo and unlikenesses with lyrics such as “A hybrid can withstand these things / my heart can beat with bricks and strings / my ARTPOP could mean anything” or the repetitive chorus lyrics “We could, we could belong together (ARTPOP).” Like many Lady Gaga lyrics, you can come up with multiple interpretations of what Gaga is saying.
2. She likes her records slick with plenty of ear-catching music.
As a music journalist and critic, I like to read what others have said about what the same products and genre of music I am reviewing. Generally, one of the flaws about dance, electronic, or dance-pop albums is that the songwriting (lyrics) and vocals don’t always match the slickness of the production. At times, the highlighting feature of ARTPOP is the production itself. Sometimes instead of crafting a truly moving song, it seems Gaga and producers are equally if not more concerned about sound itself, hence making ARTPOP at times more of a ‘records’ album versus a ‘songwriter’s’ album. The production, in all honesty, doesn’t miss a step.
3. She enjoys sex.
Understatement of the year. Gaga devotes numerous songs and specific lyrics to the three letter word. “Aura” provides the first taste of sensualness when taken literally (“Do you wanna see me naked, lover? / do you wanna peek underneath the cover?”). “Venus” definitely doesn’t seem to be solely referring to the planet, but rather to females as well as possibly and oddly the female anatomy. You just never know with Gaga. On “G.U.Y.”, Gaga proclaims “I wanna be the girl under you (oh yeah),” which is definitely a double entendre if I ever heard one. On “Sexxx Dreams”, Gaga is honest about her fantasies and self-stimulation while on “MANiCURE”, she’s definitely not worried about her nails getting did. Even “Do What U Want” has a sexual element about it, if you read into the chorus literally (“Do what you want with my body…”).
4. She’s a modern day feminist through and through.
“Venus” is among the first instances of this new feminism that Lady Gaga touts. “Donatella” is the perfect example, where Gaga sounds fierce and charged up “I am so fab, check out / I’m blonde, I’m skinny / I’m rich, and I’m a little bit of a b*tch.” Also, “Do What U Want” also has the female empowerment thing going on: “You can’t have my heart and / you won’t use my mind but…you can’t stop my voice, cause / you don’t own my life but…” Gaga is definitely embracing the female during ARTPOP.
5. She could care less what you do to her body.
The previous takeaway goes right along with this one. Gaga doesn’t care what people say about her physical appearance because “You can’t have [her] heart…won’t use [her] mind…can’t stop [her] voice…don’t own [her] life…” Basically, she’s more than her body, which also likely includes her ‘stunning’ wardrobe. Even though she drops “Donatella” and “Fashion”, Gaga makes sure that her following knows she’s ‘more than material’.
6. She seems to (possibly) have / have had some substance/drug issues.
Gaga alludes to drug and substance issues, depending how you read into things. On her hip-hop number “Jewels & Drugs”, she claims “don’t want your jewels, I want your drugs…”, later going on to say “I admit that my habit is expensive / and you may find it, quite offensive / but I won’t die at the hands of another…” Figuratively, ‘drugs’ certainly seems to be how much effort Gaga puts into pleasing fans and that because she grinds so hard she’d be the one that ended her own life. Literally, we know drugs aren’t cheap. “Mary Jane Holland” definitely seems to titularly allude to weed. “Dope” definitely has substance abuse in mind: “I promise this / drink is my last one / I know I fucked up again / because I lost my only friend…”
7. She enjoys double and triple meanings when it comes to lyrics.
Gaga seems like she can both be a clever songwriter as well as a perverted one. “Do What U Want” seems like it is a song initially about a woman willing to let a man have her and use her sexually any way he wishes. Ultimately though, this cut seems less sexual compared to it colleagues, delivering a message of empowerment… sorta.
8. She’s all about fashion.
“Donatella” referring to Donatella Versace and “Fashion” referring to fashion, DUH (“Walk into the light / display your diamonds and pearls in light…”). Maybe Gaga doesn’t care about “jewels” or “what you do to her body”, but she still goes hard when it comes to dressing up… in her own Gaga way of course.
9. She is human, or at least has some human qualities.
Well there are actually numerous references. On “G.U.Y.”, she both wants her man to hold her down and well, do it... On “Sexxx Dreams”, she fantasizes just like everyone else in the world. On “MANiCure”, she wants good love making from a “man” to “cure” her ails. Less sexually driven, on “Swine”, Gaga is totally pissed off and name calls. Finally on “Dope”, her man transcends her demons, which is apparently “dope”.
10. Even though she shows her ‘humanness’, she’s still indigenous to another planet.
ARTPOP is all-over-the-map, period. Both “Aura” and “Venus” are off-putting starters for the album, though also alluring. While “Swine” is emotionally-driven, it is also manic as albeit. And as good as “ARTPOP” is as a song, it is also not your typical, straightforward song. Gaga is still not terrestrial.
- R. Kelly ‘Amazed’ With His Lady Gaga Collaboration (rollingstone.com)
- ARTPOP-Lady Gaga (mostlymusicality.wordpress.com)
- So, Just How ‘Dope’ Is Lady Gaga’s ‘ARTPOP’? (celebuzz.com)
As a music lover, I tend to enjoy artists who possess a distinctive voice – call me a weirdo (I like to think I’m just ‘eclectic’). That said, I also understand that a uniquely voiced artist often causes divisiveness among music listeners. British singer/songwriter James Blunt is no different. While characterizing Blunt’s high-pitched tenor as being ‘left-field’ as say Macy Gray would be quite an overstatement, Blunt definitely sports a unique sound. Given Blunt’s vocal contrasts to other artists, one might expect his music and style to showcase and highlight such. Well four albums in – with most recent effort Moon Landing dropping November 5, 2013 -Blunt’s distinctiveness artistically is only so-so. In other words, blasé. Cast the stones James Blunt fans, cast those stones.
I recently reviewed Moon Landing (see my review here), and while I found it to be both pleasant and sometimes even enjoyable, at times the effort also trended ‘middle of the road’. Among the album’s strongest moments included “Satellites”, a care-free anthem whose chorus states“…for all we know life’s just a dream / who the hell knows what it means…”, poetic folk-pop promo single “Bonfire Heart” (“You’re mouth is a revolver / firing bullets in the sky / your love is like a soldier / loyal ‘til you die…”), and stunning closer “Blue On Blue”. Blunt does do some subtle things throughout to try to keep things interesting, but Moon Landing still could use that extra ‘oomph’ and innovative drive. It lacks ‘I’-word by all means…just sayin’!
As I did some background on recent effort Moon Landing, if I were to summarize Blunt’s intents on this album, it would be that he basically wishes ‘bear his soul’ (“About getting back to basics and rediscovering the power of music to communicate emotion directly and honestly, without too much polish or complication” per his Atlantic Records bio). Honestly, he is both candid and conservative in approach you might say, speaking from the heart as opposed to earnestly searching for his next commercial breakthrough. Ideally, this sort of ‘return’ to his Back to Bedlam sensibilities should also land him commercial rewards as well, right? WRONG! As I study prognostications for albums released on November 5, I see nothing about James Blunt debuting in the top ten. Some Kind of Trouble (2010) bowed just outside the top ten at no. 11 and failed to be certified by the RIAA (Back To Bedlam went double-platinum while All Souls Lost was gold-certified).
That brings me to my ultimate opinion and point of this whole feature on Blunt as an artist in 2013. I feel that while he has remained consistent since his valedictory “You’re Beautiful” and Back to Bedlam days, he hasn’t ascended to the next level. In the States, nothing has come close to the success of “You’re Beautiful”, and whether unfairly or not, that song seems to be the benchmark that Blunt has yet to meet or exceed. As a supporter of Blunt’s pipes where others might characterize his vocal timbre as ‘whiny’, I personally would like to see him ‘spread his wings’. That doesn’t mean the 39-year old needs to be a sellout and start incorporating electro- or hip-hop into his music (can you imagine?!?), but instead of opting for the ‘doubleback’, perhaps Blunt should be more progressive. Middle-of-the-road artists aren’t exactly the most popular commodity these days…
Favorites (from Moon Landing):
“Satellites”; “Bonfire Heart”; “Heart to Heart”; “Postcards”; “Blue on Blue”
Verdict (Moon Landing): ✰✰✰
- James Blunt: Moon Landing (Review) (popmatters.com)
- Why is James Blunt so unpopular? Editorial comment by Busy Elle Bee (busyellebee.wordpress.com)
- Interview: James Blunt Accepts ‘You’re Beautiful’ & Returns to His Indie Roots on ‘Moon Landing’ (news.radio.com)
Let me first state that I have no agenda with this feature, none in the least. My goal is to present some examples of atheism within popular music in 2013. Why? Because it is interesting how artists include their various beliefs and philosophies within their music. It is even more interesting in some cases where references to atheism and religious skepticism aren’t necessarily overt in the forefront. Again, there is no Christian, agnostic, or atheistic agenda. None. NADA! Now with that off my chest and “all minds and hearts clear…”
Atheism (and agnosticism as well) in popular music, particularly rock and roll music definitely isn’t ‘brand new’. That said, the prevalence of religious skepticism in 2013 seems to be in resurgence. Numerous songs and albums have questioned the church, Christianity, and God/God’s existence you might say. I have highlighted a few notable examples that come to mind.
“God Is Dead?”, “Age of Reason”, “Live Forever”, “Damaged Soul”, and “Dear Father”
Boy, oh boy. Who better to highlight the skepticism of God’s existence than Black Sabbath, right? The Brit-metal band’s first album with Ozzy in 35 years definitely had the critics and fans onboard; it debuted at number one on the Billboard Albums Chart. I was onboard too, as I couldn’t resist a little Ozzy Osbourne in my life. Would my pastor be proud? Yeah, probably not. In the intro of my review of 13, I wrote this:
Oh and back to the whole ‘Satanism’ thing, Ozzy and company may not embrace Satanism per se, but raise enough criticism about ‘God’ himself (“God is Dead?” and “Dear Father”). Atheistic themes might tick some off, but the flip side of that is, you know what your getting into with a band named Black Sabbath, right? Right.
So yeah, it’s no hot spot for the extremely devout. The whole album definitely seems more hellish than celestial.
Of the biggest question mark of God’s existence, “God Is Dead?”, I penned:
Having the nerve to title a song “God Is Dead?” takes some serious cojones. Then making the polarizing number a single – that really takes some! But honestly, “God Is Dead?” is the crowning achievement. The assumed-to-be atheistic jabs appear prominently throughout the song, most notably as Osbourne sings on Chorus 1 “The blood runs free / the rain turns red / give me the wine / you keep the bread / the voices in echo in my head / is God alive or is God dead?” Then towards the end of the cut, a loop is thrown: “I don’t believe that God is dead”. What does it all mean? Well, it seems as if Black Sabbath have multiple meanings going on, which actually makes the song even more awesome.
While it suggests multiple interpretations, do we really think Ozzy is, um, a believer? On “Age of Reason”, Ozzy states that “…Politics, religion, love of money too/ it’s what the world was built for / but not me and you…” On “Live Forever”, a theme that could reference God or heaven itself, Ozzy doesn’t seems indifferent and nonchalant about afterlife: “Well I don’t wanna live forever / but I don’t want to die / I may be dreaming or whatever / I live inside a lie.” On “Damaged Soul”, “a preacher tried saving my black damaged soul / possessed by a demon that had full control…” – Ozzy’s soul I suppose? Later the frontman is “…losing the battle between Satan and God.” And to further damn themselves, the band closes with “Dear Father”: “Dear father, forsaken / you knew what you were doing / in silence, your violence / has left my life in ruins…” Um yeah… that’s some deep, fiery, hellish stuff right there.
Modern Vampires of the City
“Unbelievers”, “Worship You” & “Ya Hey”
Let me just say, I don’t think that Vampire Weekend are running to the altar anytime soon, judging by multiple examples of skepticism that grace their valedictory effort Modern Vampires of the City. “Unbelievers” is perhaps the most overt example of ‘liberal’ views of the spiritual:
“Unbelievers” proves to be even sharper, serving as an overt statement of the influence of religious/spiritual ideas that recurs throughout Modern City of Vampires. Several memorable lines are dissectable, including “We know the fire awaits unbelievers / all of the sinners the same / girl you and I will die unbelievers bound to the tracks of the train”, which seems like a nod to atheism – open to interpretation of course. Later on the ‘big’ refrain, Koenig sings “I’m not excited / but should I be / is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?” Also interesting about the cerebral cut is the incorporation of what sounds like a liberal take on Shaker Hymn “Simple Gifts” towards the end. How one takes “Unbelievers” message, it is filled to the brim with musical excellence.
Later on, “Worship You” definitely seems to question the most high. Hey at least it is in poetic, indie-rock fashion:
…Adding to the adrenaline rush is followup “Worship You”, which is similarly uptempo, with Koenig singing rhythmic, hip-hop speed vocals during the verses. The most memorable, eyebrow raising lyric? “We worshipped you / your red right hand / won’t we see once again / in foreign soil, in foreign land / who will guide us through the end?” Koenig, whatchu talkin’ bout Willis?!? cough… atheism… cough, cough.
The biggest slap in the face to the religious right comes with “Ya Hey”, a definite play on Yahweh or God:
“Ya Hey” continues with the upmost consistency and the questions marks. “Ya Hey” certainly seems to making reference to Yahweh (aka God). Continuing on the inquisitive path, Koenig sings “Through the fire and through the flames / you won’t even say your name… only “I am that I am” / but who could ever live that way?” Sure to piss extremly devoted people off, the song itself is superb showing VW at their best.
What’s most interesting about alt-rock atheism is that it may be the most missed among Christians. Sure, hip-hop has plenty of devilish and irresponsible themes that certainly have no place in the church, but what about how Ezra Koenig and company seem to ‘mock’ God titularly on “Ya Hey”? Wonder how many people didn’t notice?
“Here Comes the Night Time”
If anything, alt-rock band Arcade Fire seems like they would be more likely to be associated with God/religion than not – or maybe sophomore album Neon Bible was a mirage or illusion. Regardless, song “Here Comes the Night Time” doesn’t necessarily take too kindly to today’s churches. Maybe it’s a stretch to dub the Montreal band as either agnostics or atheists, but they seem to have some skepticism for sure:
Verse two [from “Here Comes the Night Time”] definitely seems to have some skepticism of religious practices, which seems a message throughout: “And the missionaries / they tell us we will be left behind / been left behind / a thousand times, a thousand times…” Read into the title, and you have to question if the “the night time” refers to the fiery pit or church itself…DUN DUN DUN! I’d say yes: “Now the preachers they talk up on the satellite / if you’re looking for Hell, just try looking inside”
Alt-rock is known for its poetic, widely-interpretable lyrics. Still, from my perspective, I think reading into the criticism of the church isn’t really a stretch here.
Don’t Look Down
Even though she’s ‘worn out’, it doesn’t show on “Religion”, a popular topic of secular music in 2013 (have you noticed). While Grey doesn’t go ‘atheistic’ in the same sense her colleagues (see Black Sabbath or Vampire Weekend), she offers herself as being her boo’s ‘religion’ you might say: “When you don’t know what to believe in / let me be your religion / it’s a f*cked up world that we live in / so let me be your religion.” The world might be messed up, but Skylar, you make it a better place with your music.
As previously stated, Grey isn’t a hardcore atheist in the context of this song, but she certainly doesn’t seem like a ‘believer’.
Falling in Reverse
“F*ck The Rest”
Falling in Reverse definitely don’t seem to be within the Christian ranks, or any other religion for that matter. When I previously reviewed Fashionably Late it was the brash “F*ck The Rest” that sported skepticism of all things religious:
“F*ck The Rest” opens with a WTF moment from the onset, courtesy of a dog named Charlie. Yes, I’m being serious. Anyways, much like Black Sabbath (and numerous other open-minded rock bands), Falling in Reverse deliver the expected ‘I don’t believe in heaven or hell’ sentiment on “…the devil and the Lord won’t keep waging a war…” as well as the bizarre “Gotta March in like an army wearing black-on-black / power of a thousand of these motherf*cking zombie cats / none of them can do it quite like I can…”
Months later, I still don’t know what Falling in Reverse are talking about, but I’m pretty sure they don’t like the church, God, or even Satan.
There were other instances of agnosticism and atheism aside from this rock-driven examples. Tyler, The Creator is an atheist, and he references his non-belief on 2013 album Wolf. While Jay-Z hasn’t associated himself as a nonbeliever, he does have some issues with the church, according to song “Crown”. And with all the ‘god-status’ assertion taking place in hip-hop music, you wonder if any of these rappers are associated with God himself.
- Review: Vampire Weekend, ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ (brentmusicreviews.com)
Eminem⎪ “Rap God” (single) ⎪Aftermath ⎪⎪ U.S. Release Date: October 15, 2013
In rap music in 2013, everyone seems to want to be the ‘Savior’. Kanye West proclaimed himself to be a ‘god’ on the blatantly titled “I Am A God”, even foreshadowing beforehand on Yeezus at the end of “Black Skinhead”. A$AP Ferg even titled his debut Trap Lord. Argue the difference between lord and god all you want, but they seem nearly, if not ‘one in the same’. Jay-Z joined the boat as well on Magna Carta…Holy Grail. Why is everyone trying to be God? I’m unsure, but there sure have been plenty of ‘gods’ this year.
A couple of years ago, it was fine to be merely a ‘king’ (P$C’s “I’m a King” comes to mind as a perfect example), but now everyone has those ‘heavenly ambitions’, no matter how blasphemous they end up being. After Kendrick Lamar seemed to be the pre-season no. 1 of ’god-status’ in hip-hop (without saying so necessarily but insinuating such), veteran shock MC Eminem also seems to have an incredibly compelling, if sinful argument on his epic new single “Rap God”. As the new order of rap seems firmly afloat in 2013, Eminem certainly isn’t out to have his vibe or contributions to the game killed. For those lame-o’s that needed a reminder and for the generation that didn’t grow up with Marshall Mathers, well he’s back in a big way. Let’s analyze Eminem’s, um, gospel… And by the way, I’mma try to keep this as classy as possible, really.
Analyzing the Intro & Hook(s)
Maybe Drake says it best on “Started On The Bottom”: “I done kept it real from the jump…” Eminem does just that as the intro foreshadows both the mood and the duration of “Rap God”:
“Something’s wrong, I can feel it (Six minutes, Slim Shady, you’re on)…” So what exactly is wrong? If you read into it as I do, I believe Eminem is suggesting there is quite a talent gap in hip-hop today and that after his six-minute masterpiece, the game-changing MC will once more restore the order or at least redirect the newbies onto the path of righteousness… err good rapping, LOL. Another interpretation of the end-portion “Six minutes, Slim Shady, you’re on…” is that during the six-plus minute duration of “Rap God” Eminem is truly on fire. Cocky and confident, but true. His relevance to the game is also confirmed by lyric “…you were just what the doctor ordered…”
The hook(s) for “Rap God” are pretty much the same, but the end of each hook relates to the proceeding verse, which could certainly be considered ‘higher level thinking’ in rap music these days. I’ll admit, as a musician and songwriter myself, I could stand to make the form more ‘unifying’ as Eminem does on each of the hooks here. The familiar portion of all three is as follows:
”I’m beginning to feel like a Rap God, Rap God / all my people from the front to the back nod, back nod…”
The end of the first hook is where the segue comes in with the first verse in mind: “…Now who thinks their arms are long enough to slapbox, slapbox / they said I rap like a robot, so call me Rapbot”. Can you guess what Eminem raps about at the beginning of his first verse? Yes, his fast paced, ‘intelligent’ rhymes. Proceding the first verse, the second hook is identical to the first except the final line states “Let me show you maintaing this sh*t ain’t that hard, that hard”.
The final hook is the most drastically different and should be (the third verse deserves such). It is as follows after the familiar portion: “…The way I’m racing around the track, call me Nascar, Nascar / Dale Earnhardt of the trailer park, the White Trash God / Kneel before General Zod this planet’s Krypton, no Asgard, Asgard.” Only Marshall Mathers could make comic books sound cool and gangsta in rap. Yep.
Alternative band MGMT recently released their third effort, MGMT rather dismal commercial fortunes. Three years prior, the buzz surrounding their sophomore effort Congratulations propelled that affair to an impressive number two bow with 76,000 copies on the Billboard albums charts. Despite a quick start particularly for an indie-group, there were many who cried ‘foul’ about the group’s sophomore effort because it was much more experimental than their first (Oracular Spectacular), which sported a more commercial sound. This not only caused the impressive Congratulations to become underrated, but also ultimately sort of doomed ‘the next album’. Sure MGMT was no promotional juggernaut, but even brief but punchy single’s experimental touch didn’t exactly suggest gargantuan numbers would be posted on the charts.
While the experimental release can broaden any artists boundaries, it often can isolate their core fan base as well. There have been numerous ‘experimental’ albums in recent years that have done more ‘harm’ to an artist’s bank account than say even confirmed or cemented their artistry. Kanye West is one of the most experimental musicians within his style, hip-hop. Most of his albums have yielded incredible success both commercially as well as critically. Yeezus definitely received its fair share of accolades from critics and even hardcore fans, but the sales haven’t reflected that West’s most shocking album was truly a success. An underwhelming start for West (327,000 copies) continued to wane, something the West camp is certainly not used to. While lax promotion played a role, the album itself is dark and lacks the commercial appeal of West’s past efforts.
Numerous other examples of the flaws of experimentation can be cited. Remember how shocking Panic! At The Disco’s sophomore effort Pretty. Odd was compared to the band’s debut? I liked it, but I understand the surprise that that was the direction the band went with. What about Lil Wayne’s horrid idea to release a rock album (Rebirth)? Kelly Clarkson wasn’t exactly going ‘experimental’ on My December in the traditional sense, but the rebellious rock-driven album certainly didn’t deliver a home run. Worth noting is the aforementioned albums all suffered commercially. While it could be a generalization to say that all of the sales erosion of the titles was due to contrast and experimentation, it is also quite feasible that experimentation played a role.
The question then must be addressed then, is how much experimentation is too much? From my perspective, it’s a balancing act. If you are an artist who is already established and your style is particularly popular with folks, why would you want to change it considerably? Sure, there is nothing wrong with tweaking or even taking some risks showing artistic license, but in a music industry that is quite unforgiving, why alienate the base that is supporting you? Sometimes experimentation is the risk that can undo the arduous work to build a career.
Here’s what is sad to me. After years of waiting to support a person who I legitimately desired to win American Idol (yay Candice Glover), the bottom seemed to completely fall out from underneath the show the season it occurred. The judging panel was a hot mess, the talent was also questionable (particularly them boys), and everything seemed to overshadow some exceptional talent, particularly within the to three.
Initially, the winner’s album was scheduled overconfidently early during the summer of 2013, something that seemed like a mistake in itself. Thankfully, for the sake of Candice to have any chance, her album Music Speaks was shifted to the fall. The pros of that move was more time to produce something of quality that would overshadow the aging juggernaut that launched her and perhaps establish herself as a true artist. The cons? The fourth quarter is a savage beast… change that to another five-letter word. It’s highly doubtful that an R&B idol winner, no matter how skilled, would’ve easily found herself in the territory of obscurity.
Again, Glover was saved from some of the worst timing I’ve seen from an Idol winner. Basically, it seems that American Idol certainly didn’t want another Lee DeWyze or Kris Allen type, commercially speaking. Now, according to billboard.com, Candice’s ‘anticipated’ debut won’t arrive until 2014, which is definitely an unorthodox move. Like the previous dates I’ve discussed, and as my girl Fantasia sings on her song “Ain’t All Bad”, it truly “ain’t all bad”. On the positive side, Candice can separate herself from the Idol machine some and perhaps her debut will be of upmost quality and won’t have to be centered around underrated single “I Am Beautiful”. The cons are, however, Glover has waited too long and that little support she received from being an ‘R&B idol winner’ wanes upon her debut’s release meaning LOW sales regardless.
How do I think Candice will fare? As I’ve always stated, she faces and uphill battle. Yet another album release date rarely bodes well. It takes away from excitement generally and often suffers so-so promotion after a certain period time has passed in which the late-bowing album should’ve already been rolled out. Maybe Glover’s debut is the rare exception (I hope for her sake), but I’m not convinced.
Albums don’t sell like they once did. This is no generalization, but also a well supported fact. But even in a recession of album sales, a ‘bomb’ is still very much a bomb. My homie Big Sean has been hit with the dreaded ‘sophomore effect’ in a gargantuan way. His ironically titled album Hall of Fame is actually an overall well conceived album, but its quality has done nothing for its lackadaisical sales. Ultimately, Sean is free-falling down the chart. At the rate that Sean has went from a respectable peak of no. 3 all the way to no. 75 in only his fourth charting week, Sean appears to be entering the ‘hall of shame’.
It started out okay for Big Sean, but the 72,000 copies that welcomed Hall of Fame seemed incredibly undercooked for an artists who seems to have been a popular collaborator and blew up more after his debut Finally Famous materialized. But after a disappointing yet respectable enough first week, nothing has clicked for Sean. There seems to always be an explanation as to why Sean’s ‘breakthrough’ moment has become one where he should begin to be concerned about being a ‘major’.
The main reason for Sean’s tepid performance has been matching the caliber of singles from his debut. “My Last” featuring Chris Brown, “Dance (A$$)”, and “Marvin and Chardonnay” were forces to be reckoned with, period. Hall of Fame’s singles lack the same punch, even if they are no slouches. “Guap” wasn’t enough to supersede or continue Sean’s run from the previous album, only appearing on the deluxe editions of the album. “Switch Up”, another deluxe cut featured Common, who with no disrespect, is not exactly a commercial juggernaut himself. The saving grace was “Beware” that features Jhene Aiko and big-name Lil Wayne. Even so, the cut just doesn’t scream ‘hit’ and Lil Wayne has had an off-year by Lil Wayne means. I mean, did y’all hear I Am Not A Human Being II? Sheesh!
Basically, to me, this sounds like another promotional mishap, something that truly hurt Big Sean’s mentor Kanye West on what should’ve been a surefire hit in Yeezus. Instead, West decided to rely on his name to sell albums without releasing a commercial single. How well did that work out? A 327,000 copy start waned extremely quickly. For the less established Big Sean, his numbers had a much lower ceiling than the more innovative, boundary pushing vet. 72,000 copies a left little ceiling for Sean to work with, and it has shown week to week.
Where does the MC who put his mark on Justin Timberlake’s huge hit “As Long As You Love Me” go from here? Hall of Fame seems like a done deal, no matter how much skill No ID put into the beats or how many times Big Sean can rap about the nasty. I’d regroup with haste and incredible skill on my next release before Big Sean finds himself lacking big-time monetary backing.
Justin Bieber lately you get a temporary pass from me buddy… at least until the Miley Cyrus phenomenon, machine or whatever it is ends. I’m hoping it ends soon, for all of our sakes. My new favorite person to scrutinize for irresponsible actions is Billy Ray’s daughter, and rightfully so. Basically, all the criticism and jeering is justified. Miley Cyrus is going through a ‘shock’ phase to get attention and the saddest part is that it is working and that is sad. I understand she needs attention to give her a decent stab at a comeback, particularly after Can’t Be Tamed was pretty tame in sales from start to finish, but still, she’s taken it to a new level.
Sex always garners attention, so Cyrus has decided to sex up her image. Fine, seems the natural course of action for any teen star… good or bad. Add some hip-hop culture to the mix and now Miley has ‘swag’ (“We Can’t Stop”). Perform given breakout single at VMAs, wear provocative clothing, scar children’s minds for ever by destroying the sanctity of the teddy bear, spank someone’s butt, strip, twerk on Robin Thicke and change the purpose of a foam finger forever…Hmm…Okay… Then throw in tears, a wrecking ball, a sledgehammer, nudity, and plenty of tongue action, and you have a number one single (“Wrecking Ball”). Well, the song’s good at least.
Now Miley has taken a page out of Green Day’s book at the I Heart Radio Music Festival by making it more buzz worthy on internet traffic than it would’ve been. Congratulations, maybe? I dunno. Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong had a breakdown on the 2012 festival that led to a stint at rehab and certainly didn’t help propel sales of the band’s trio of albums released in the fall of the same year (they basically bombed). At the 2013 edition, it was Miley’s outrageous outfit that drew attention, though certainly didn’t have quite the disturbing effect that Billie Joe’s um issues. Still, the outfit seems so unnecessary. Why does Miley have to go so, um, trashy? That’s the aspect of the new Miley I just can’t wrap my brain around.
I mean, Miley has a song I actually like in “Wrecking Ball” and I didn’t mind “We Can’t Stop” that much (could’ve done without all the processing and that “molly” lyric). So why can’t Cyrus’s endeavors be about the music and promoting it in a more refined manner? Why does everything have to become sexual innuendo? What makes it worse is that it’s clumsy and awkward at that. I mean there’s nothing wrong with a little naughtiness, but Cyrus’s ‘means’ to achieve a successful album and reinvigorate career seem a bit irresponsible to me. Maybe it’s just hunger for stardom or renewed stardom, but still, the shock value is offensive, at least in my opinion.
- Miley Cyrus Twerks, Puts on First Live Performance of “Wrecking Ball” (thehollywoodgossip.com)
- Miley Cyrus performs at IHeartRadio music festival (thenewstribune.com)
- Miley Cyrus Performs at IHeartRadio Music Festival (abcnews.go.com)
- Miley Cyrus Wears Pasties for iHeartRadio Music Festival Performance (finejoeyoung.wordpress.com)
- Miley Cyrus poses with the Kardashians at iHeartRadio music festival (nydailynews.com)
- Miley Cyrus performs at IHeartRadio music festival (miamiherald.com)
- Miley Cyrus Breaks Down Crying During Post-Split “Wrecking Ball” Performance (finejoeyoung.wordpress.com)
- Miley Cyrus twerks yet again at the iHeart Radio Music Festival in Las Vegas (myfacehunter.com)
- Miley Cyrus Live iHeart Radio Music Festival (coreygman.wordpress.com)
- Miley Cyrus Flaunts Body at iHeart Radio Music Festival Village! (justjared.com)
How about a case study of where I think five artists stand in 2013? Let’s case study it up!
Up. While it is debatable what one’s personal definition of trending up may be, Miley Cyrus for all her illy selected sexual innuendo musically made an upgrade, particularly with “Wrecking Ball”. Yes, the video is strange, particularly her nudity and tongue-action, but the song quickly rose to no. 1 and might just make Bangerz a force to be reckoned with. Oh and that one hit she had before “Wrecking Ball” “We Can’t Stop” is still doing things.
Down. I think that Miley Cyrus has stopped some of Justin Bieber’s PR bleeding with her own antics, but who knows if Justin might actually think some of the attention Cyrus has received is ‘positive’ and now he decides to go nude… oh wait a minute… Bieber has wasted 2013 with irresponsibility, unnecessary and excessive shirtlessness, and a tepid album in Believe Acoustic. Maybe his downward trend has stabilized a bit as of late, but he’s still shirtless and still seems a few brain cells short to me…
Up. Yeah, I had my skepticisms about “Roar”, but had it not been for a nude video and quite the compelling big pop song from Miley Cyrus, mightn’t Ms. Perry still stayed at no. 1? I’ll give it to her, she definitely shows more maturity on “Roar” and there is no doubt that Prism will debut near the top of the charts upon its arrival.
Down, maybe Steady. Ah the newbie. Mahone has been releasing singles trying to find the right one to connect to a teen audience and perhaps even transcend that demographic. “Say You’re Just A Friend” was not the single, regardless if no. 1 hit maker “Flo Rida” upped Mahone’s swag beyond those diamond studs. “What About Love” seemed to be the right single, but now it seems as if teen’s newest heartthrob failed to capitalize on the success of the single and at least rush out an EP. Slow and steady wins the race mind you, but when things are hot, keep them on FIRE!
Up. Basically, my favorite newer MC made everybody mad on his brutally honest “Control” verse, which was Big Sean’s song. He went where so many rappers seem not to go these days as they are too concerned about the cash flow, the girls, and mollies. Lamar’s second album will have a tall task to supersede his classic good Kid m.A.A.d City, but whenever he does go for it, you just know KL is going to live to his newly proclaimed ‘King of New York’ status.
- Miley Cyrus: Now That You’re Single, You Should Date Justin Bieber (hollywoodlife.com)
- Cher: Ashamed of Miley Cyrus Bashing, Sort of Apologetic (thehollywoodgossip.com)
- Justin Bieber shocks on ‘oral sex’ rap track Lolly with Maejor Ali (metro.co.uk)
- Liam Hemsworth Skips Town As Miley Cyrus Releases Topless ‘Bangerz’ Artwork (socialitelife.com)
- Miley Cyrus ‘hasn’t decided’ what to do with engagement ring (nydailynews.com)
- Justin Timberlake praises Miley Cyrus (contactmusic.com)