Ah, there is always plenty to write about the music industry and the number of trends that come and go, as well as those remaining constant. 2013 was another interesting year, whether merely for its pleasant surprises or its disappointments. Many observations will and can be made of the year musically and pop-culturally in regards to its artists. While my inner musical nerdy side wishes that I could nitpick and analyze every facet microscopically, I’ll rely on a Childish Gambino rhyme to express why that’s not possible: “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” What I do have time for is to share five takeaways I gathered from music in 2013.
Pop music was ‘down’ overall, but had its moments…
Maybe I’ll be stoned (not that I care), but I wouldn’t consider 2013 a particularly great year for ‘pop music’, at least how most year’s are traditionally evaluated. Sure, Justin Timberlake carried the torch single-handedly with his surprise comeback The 20/20 Experience (both albums debuted at no. 1 with 968,000 and 350,000 copies respectively) until things percolated with releases from Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Lorde, and One Direction, but generally, pop’s impact seemed slower than usual. Other than big-time late pushes, who else was there to help a brother out? I mean John Mayer seems to have lost his swagger – Paradise Valley didn’t have a great footing, bowing modestly at no. 2 with 144,000 copies. Yeah 144,000 copies would be great for most, but not considering Mayer’s track record. Pop/R&B starlet Ariana Grande was impressive on Yours Truly, bowing at no. 1 and selling an impressive enough 138,000 copies, but the album hasn’t had sustainable success per se.
R&B music continued to limp commercially compared to other genres.
This isn’t news, but R&B hasn’t been nearly as competitive as it was, say, five years ago. This year, the genre’s artists continue the uphill struggle for commercial footing. The fortunes haven’t improved, with most of the genre’s stars settling for sub 100,000 copies selling bows. It’s sad because there were some exceptional releases courtesy of Fantasia, John Legend, Chrisette Michele, TGT, K. Michele, and Jaheim amongst them. All sold < than 100,000 their debut week with only Fantasia coming close (91,000 sold of Side Effects of You). Still, a few artists got a sound start. Tamar Braxton’s Love and War sold 114,000 copies its first week out while Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines moved 177,000 copies. Take the victories when and where you can get them I guess.
Country wasn’t nearly as dominant or relevant as it’s been in the past…
I’ll admit I slept on country music throughout the year, but can you blame me? There was once a time where new releases from Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, and Toby Keith were among the most anticipated releases regardless of genre. All these folks released albums in 2013, but who’s talking about ‘em? Alan Jackson even managed to release two! Country still managed to have its bright spots with the likes of Blake Shelton and a rising Luke Bryan holding down the fort, but others dropped the ball. The Band Perry didn’t have the commercial impact that I’d have predicted, while Lady Antebellum’s Golden was about as much fun as watching paint dry when compared to previous albums. Then there’s the newbies, who I can’t personally keep up with, mainly because they’re impact is quite minimal commercially.
Rock/alternative delivered some of the years most sensational albums.
Rock and alternative music had a much more triumphant 2013 than other genres from my perspective. That doesn’t mean they were necessarily commercial powerhouses, but they did deliver some knockout punches critically. Black Sabbath’s 13 and Queens of the Stone Age’s …Like Clockwork both outperformed expectations commercially, not to mention how awesome both albums were in regards to the material. Vampire Weekend (Modern Vampires of the City), The National (Trouble Will Find Me), and Arcade Fire (Reflektor) delivered exceptional efforts that also put up respectable chart numbers in the alt department. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Push the Sky Away), certainly no household name to most, STRFKR (Miracle Mile), and Atlas Genius (When It Was Now) were among other alt bright spots failing to receive big-time commercial recognition, but definitely were critically praised for exceptional studio releases. There were others as well.
Like rock, hip-hop/rap was a bright spot in 2013.
You know, for a while, it seemed that it was a popular sentiment to consider hip-hop as being “dead”. Perhaps hip-hop was dead briefly, but 2013 has shown no death or funeral for the genre, which had some gargantuan commercial impacts on the music industry. Big sales from Eminem, Drake, Jay-Z, Kanye West, and J. Cole definitely pumped some meds into a sagging musical economy (792K, 658K, 528K, 327K, and 297K debuts), not to mention had us head-nodding, LOL. Other hip-hop albums also captivated us with solid 100,000+ starts, including Kid Cudi’s Indicud (no. 2, 136,000 copies), A$AP Rocky’s Long.Live ASAP (no. 1, 139,000 copies), and Mac Miller’s Watching Movies With the Sound Off (no. 3, 102,000 copies). Others fell below that ‘threshold of success’, but gained our attention nonetheless: Tyler, the Creator (Wolf, no. 3, 80,000 copies), Earl Sweatshirt (Doris, no. 5, 49,000 copies), and A$AP Ferg (Trap Lord, no. 9, 32,000 copies). “Hip-hop don’t stop.”
Of course there are plenty more takeaways…there’s always more takeaways. Lady Gaga’s underwhelming showing would be worth noting, while Miley Cyrus definitely deserves a headline all by herself. Daft Punk and the successes of electronic music itself are quite notable, but I’ll save those for a later time. Enough analysis and opining for one post!
- Comparing Five R&B Artist’s First Week Sales in 2013 to Their Previous Effort (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Thoughts on the 56th Annual Grammy Nominations (brentmusicreviews.com)
You know, after ‘working’ so hard, Britney Spears had the most lackadaisical sales week of her lengthy career. Sure, there are artists who would salivate over the 107,000 copies Ms. Spears moved with Britney Jean, but if you look contextually, you’ll see ole girl had a tepid showing on the sales front. 107,000 copies in a more robust December would barely give Spears a top ten bow. She manages to land at no. 4, preserving her run of top four bows. Still, 107,000 copies is a very small ceiling for Spears, or any artist.
But the headline is not Britney Spears – it’s Garth Brooks. After debuting at no. 3 with Blame it All On My Roots, he ascends to no. 1 moving nearly as many copies… whoa! After selling a strong 164,000 copies last week for a no. 3 bow, Brooks sells 146,000 more copies, a very small percentage drop. Brooks’ continued success is definitely a bright spot for country music, who save for a few artists/albums (Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton namely) hasn’t had its greatest showing in 2013.
Other than Britney and Garth, things are relatively boring. One Direction plummets in sales after moving a robust 546,000 copies of Midnight Memories its first week. 117,000 copies is the grand total within the second week, but it’s enough to hold off Britney and just slip one spot to no. 2. Kelly Clarkson also managed to scoot ahead of Britney Jean, just compounding Britney’s not-so-good week. No, there’s no animosity between the pop stars, but Clarkson’s album has now been out for several weeks and is a Christmas album (Wrapped in Red).
With holdovers playing their usual role within the top ten, the most notable movements worth mentioning are the ascent of Pentatonix (PTXmas) at no. 7, the re-entrance of Michael Buble (Christmas) at no. 8, and an ascent by Mary J. Blige (A Mary Christmas) at no. 10. Blige’s sales increases are likely attributed to not only the holiday, but also quite possibly the $3.99 amazon.com deal going on with the mp3 version of the effort.
After a return to the summit of the Billboard Hot 100, Miley Cyrus is once more dethroned, but not by Lorde. After several weeks of hovering near the top, Eminem and his favorite female collaborator, Rihanna crown the singles chart with “The Monster”. Does Em have another “Love the Way You Lie” on his hands? We’ll see!
Whose got next? Good question. R. Kelly (Black Panties) and Childish Gambino (Because the Internet) were the two most notable releases of the week, but contextually, I’m not sure that that means much. R. Kelly would be a lock for a no. 1 years back, but his sales have dwindled tremendously in recent times. As for Childish Gambino, I’m curious to see what the sales figures are like. I hope he over-performs, but who knows. I expect a holdover will top the chart.
- On the Charts: Like Old Times for Britney and Garth (rollingstone.com)
- ‘Britney Jean’ nets Britney Spears her worst opening week ever; Garth Brooks and Duck Dynasty carry on (music-mix.ew.com)
- One Direction Claim Yet Another No. 1 With ‘Midnight Memories’ (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Britney Spears Scores Worst Debut Yet With Britney Jean (Roll Call) – ARTICLE (entertainably.com)
- Oops … The Album ‘Bombed!’ Britney Spears’ New Album Set To Debut At #4 With Her Worst-Ever First Week Sales (radaronline.com)
So the Grammy nominations just came out, and guess who is already putting his two cents in about who’s gonna win? This guy is! Yep it is technically ‘way too early’, but who cares? How about some December predictions for what’s gonna go down in January?
The Big Four
Record of the Year
“Radioactive”, Imagine Dragons
“Locked Out of Heaven”, Bruno Mars
“Blurred Lines”, Robin Thicke featuring T.I. & Pharrell
This is one of the most competitive categories, period. All five of these are worthy records, which isn’t always true. If one feels like it’s out of place, it is Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out Of Heaven”, mostly because it is the ‘oldest’ of the bunch.
Both “Blurred Lines” and “Royals” are deserving of love based on their impact, but just because you ruled the Hot 100 certainly doesn’t equate to a Grammy. If one of these two wins, I’d give the edge to Lorde, who doesn’t have various controversies on her back. Still, rock would get a huge recognition if Imagine Dragons’ mammoth hit “Radioactive” was awarded here. Still, doesn’t Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” seem unavoidable here, particularly if the duo is victorious in the Album of the Year category?
Way Too Early Pick:
Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams, “Get Lucky”
Album of the Year
Random Access Memories, Daft Punk
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, Kendrick Lamar
The Heist, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Red, Taylor Swift
I’m not even going to curb my biases – I’m rooting for Kendrick Lamar’s rap opus Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. But I won’t even begin to act like it has a shot after hip-hop has been avoided like a plague in this coveted category; its only been a decade since OutKast’s undeniable masterpiece Speakerboxxx/The Love Below was awarded AOTY. But Kendrick also has killer competition within his own genre with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ breakthrough The Heist, which is certainly considered more ‘friendly’ hip-hop. I think both cancel each other out, which leaves Sara Bareilles, Taylor Swift, and Daft Punk. As good as Red is, Taylor Swift has already won for her career-breakthrough, Fearless. Sara Bareilles’ inclusion over bigger pop albums is shocking, but never count out the surprise nominee… sometimes that’s the album that wins. Personally, I think Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories is the frontrunner.
Way Too Early Pick:
Random Access Memories, Daft Punk
Song of the Year
“Locked Out of Heaven” (Bruno Mars)
“Roar” (Katy Perry)
“Same Love” (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert)
Another big-time category, my goodness! All of the nominees here should be jumping for joy that “Get Lucky” wasn’t nominated in this category. Again, I’m going to eliminate “Locked Out Of Heaven”, no matter how good it is; I don’t think it’s Bruno’s year. While I love Pink and approved of “Just Give Me The Reason” (with Nate Ruess of fun.), I’m not sure the no. 1 hit is the best song of the year. If the voters want to go bold (and political), they vote for the fine “Same Love”, courtesy of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert. If they don’t, they’re left with the inspirational breakthrough “Roar” and the ubiquitous “Royals”. If Katy Perry was ever to win a Grammy, “Royals” would be the perfect song. However, that “Royals” is one unique song contrasting its fellow nominees.
Way Too Early Pick
Best New Artist
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Another category where I’m biased to one artist – Kendrick Lamar! Again though, Lamar is up against heavyweights Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Kacey Musgraves unapologetic brand of country is notable from what I heard, but I’m not sure she outpaces the huge hip-hop nominees. Ed Sheeran feels either a year late or a year early, depending on your perspective, but could certainly play spoils. James Blake’s nod is a ‘trap’ for the hip-hop favorites, amplified by his Mercury Prize victory for superb sophomore album Overgrown. I’m truly torn here, so I’ll go with who I think is most deserving, even if it doesn’t come to pass.
Way Too Early Pick
Justin Bieber • “Confident” – Single • Island • US Release Date: December 9, 2013
Justin Biebers’ Music Mondays is the gift that keeps on giving to Beliebers, pop-cultural buffs, and music journalists alike. I mean, I thought Kanye West had something good going with Good Fridays back-when, but my boy Biebz just keeps on surprising and outperforming expectations. The blogosphere goes ape-sh*t with each new excerpt from JB’s ‘journals’. Speaking of those journals, it was recently reported on billboard.com the Justin Bieber will be packaging his Music Mondays releases temporarily as an iTunes only set called Journals beginning on December 16th, 2013. Basically, the teen-pop star is rolling in the dough, and will likely continue to roll with the singles growing more mature. His latest track, “Confident”, definitely shakes off any remnants that might’ve remained from “Baby” or dare I say “One Time”. Chance the Rapper matches his collaboration with R. Kelly (“PYD”), definitely ‘keepin’ it one hunna’.
So how confident is “Confident”? Well, let’s say the self-esteem and self-efficacy are top-notch for sure. Bieber isn’t referring to his own confidence or swagger (for once), but rather the hot lady’s confidence that he’s got his eye on. Throughout, Bieber’s hormones are going crazy evidenced by lyrical moments such as “Then she started dancing, sexual romancing / nasty but she fancy, lipstick on my satin sheets / what’s your nationality / I wonder if there’s more of you” or the later “She said it’s her first time / I think she might have lied…I’m addicted, something like an addict / got me twisted, but I still gotta have it…” Sure, Bieber doesn’t come right out and say it in R. Kelly fashion, but like “PYD”, the suggestiveness is steered more towards sex than not, a clear change of pace in Bieber’s career.
Serving as the confirmation to the newfound adult themes is Chance the Rapper, who basically does the ‘dirty work’ for Bieber lyrically on his guest verse. “She the first mate wanna rock the boat / she never forget to ride like a bicycle,” certainly would’ve received some flack had Bieber delivered such suggestive slang. Even so, “Confident” seems like an eye-freak sort of a track if I ever heard one. Ultimately, I’m pretty confident that Bieber’s artistic direction is on an upswing – yep, I really just said that.
- Bieber Strikes Gold on Surprising “PYD” (brentmusicreviews.com)
- Justin Bieber Will Release His #MusicMondays Songs As an Album (celebuzz.com)
- #HYPE Justin Bieber F. Chance The Rapper “Confident” (omitlimitation.com)
- Listen to Justin Bieber’s Collaboration With Chance The Rapper “Confident” (complex.com)
- Justin Bieber ft. Chance the Rapper – “Confident” [LISTEN] (hiphopwired.com)
- Justin Bieber teams up with Chance the Rapper for New Jam ‘Confident’ (news.radio.com)
So some things went down in music this past weekend, as they always do. But being December, it’s naturally busier within the holiday season, with more ‘hustle and bustling’ happening. Some of the hustling and bustling was just too colorful not to mention, so watch me ‘go to work’ folks!
Selena Gomez’s Bad Night
Friday, December 6, 2013
Apparently, Selena Gomez got incredibly frustrated on stage at the Jingle Ball 2013 and left her set early after microphone issues. According the Us Weekly, this involved a colorful f-word many frequent during those rebellious teen and collegiate years. Ultimately, from what I gather, didn’t seem like the greatest moment for the young star… I wouldn’t have wanted to “Come & Get It” anyways – remember my review of Stars Dance? Just saying!
Does Carrie Underwood Have an Even Worse One?
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Carrie Underwood apparently didn’t do The Sound of Music justice, or at least the critics give it the big thumbs down. Actually, no only was it the critics, but also one of the original cast members, Kym Karath. I mean, all I have to do is do a Google search of “Carrie Underwood Sound of Music” and the links of reviews and buzz are infinite. USA Today features an article entitled Carrie Underwood ‘proud’ of ‘Sound of Music’, certainly a defense from the country superstar to the critical panning. An obvious sign of frustration from the usually cool, collected singer? Killing ‘em with Jesus via tweet:
Plain and simple: Mean people need Jesus. They will be in my prayers tonight… 1 Peter 2:1-25—
Carrie Underwood (@carrieunderwood) December 07, 2013
Personally, I enjoy Carrie Underwood, but one of her shortcomings for me is how her personality translates artistically. She definitely has a voice on her, but few could also be a credible replacement for Julie Andrews. Classics are difficult to remake for a reason –their classics. I was not privy to the NBC performance, however it didn’t sound like a good idea when I heard it was going to occur.
The Grammy Nominations Are In…
Friday, December 6, 2013
On Friday night, the Grammy nominations were announced at the annual Grammy Nomination Concert. This was the first concert I missed and for two reasons – (1) I forgot and (2) I was more focused on watching my Kentucky Wildcats play a basketball game versus Baylor, which they dropped 67-62. Oh well, at least the nominations were much more up my alley than they have been in previous years, which is shocking. Among the nods that most pleased me were big time nominations for Kendrick Lamar (Good Kid M.A.A.D. City), Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (Thrift Shop), Daft Punk (Random Access Memories), and Lorde (“Royals”). Among puzzlements were an album of the year nomination for Sara Bareilles’ The Blessed Unrest and Justin Timberlake’s snubs in the biggest categories of record, album, and song of the year. Sigh, you win some, you lose some I guess. By the way, Billboard has an interesting read on Grammy Nominations Concert: Things You Didn’t See on TV.
Robin Thicke Gets Support from Soul Vet in Defense of “Blurred Lines”
Saturday, December 7, 2003
There’s been a ton of controversy surrounding “Blurred Lines” despite its monstrous popularity. Before the cool “Royals” came along and dominated the single headlines, there was “Blurred Lines” which just kept on going and going and going – yeah sorta like the Energizer Bunny. Anyways, with a lawsuit pending over whether Thicke ‘lifted’ “Blurred Lines” from Marvin Gaye’s classic “Got to Give It Up”, Earth Wind & Fire’s Verdine White provided his two cents, defending the same point that I made that Thicke did not ‘cop’ “Blurred Lines”. I’ve always said the inspiration was there, but there are differences where the music theory is concerned between both songs.
Disappointing Pending Album Sales for Britney Spears?
Friday, December 6, 2013
Britney Spears’ new effort Britney Jean hasn’t exactly been a critical smash (see Metacritic), but does that always matter if you can offset the bashing with album sales? Why Of course not as money is money! The problem is, Britney Jean’s pending numbers are looking pretty skinny. And we thought that Lady Gaga had a bad week contextually with ARTPOP. According to billboard.com, Spears is expected to sell between 115,000 and 120,000 copies of her latest. While there are artists who’d kill for those numbers, they don’t match the singers past triumphs and may hold her from no. 1. Going back to the critical thing, well, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with Britney Jean, but it had its moments. Single “Work B**ch” was among ‘em.
Joe Jonas’ Confessions
December 1, 2013
So Joe Jonas has revealed he is “not that innocent” this past week via a New York Magazine article, Joe Jonas: My Life As a Jonas Brother. Someone get Usher’s 2004 Confessions album cued up, will ya? What is more surprising is just how rebellious the former Disney star has been considering the façade being ‘put on’. Sure, if any other 20 year old discussed losing his virginity it wouldn’t be shocking (probably just another notch on the belt as they say), but it becomes sensational news with a Jo Bro. I mean, did were we ready for such a brash tone from Joe throughout the article? While Jonas’ sexual history is ultimately his business, perhaps it was his Miley Cyrus / Demi Lovato marijuana dare that is more troubling, considering they are couple of years younger than Jonas and at the time of the great ‘lighting up’, they would’ve been like 14… Hmm. The Hollywood Reporter did a fine job of summing up the confessions.
As far as the reactions, well they range as to be expeced. Dylan Sprouse and Zendaya, both of Disney fame had reactions (Former Disney Stars Respond To Joe Jonas’ Confessional). Personally, I’m both interested yet apathetic. It is interesting to find out that Joe Jonas was more like your normal young adult than Disney wanted to present, but the other side of that is, so what?
- NBC’s “The Sound Of Music” – Starring Carrie Underwood – Is a Massive Rating Success (roughstock.com)
- Carrie Underwood ‘Proud’ Of ‘Sound Of Music Live!’ Performance After Original Star Blasts Her (contactmusic.com)
- Who the Von Trapps Wish Could Replace Carrie Underwood in ‘The Sound of Music Live’ (abcnews.go.com)
- In Defense of Carrie Underwood (entertainment.time.com)
- ‘Sound of Music’ — and Underwood — largely a success (newsday.com)
One Direction do the predictable – debut at no. 1 and move lots of albums. Midnight Memories managed to sell 546,000 copies, giving the Brit-Irish boy band its largest sales week ever. 2012 sophomore album Take Me Home moved 540,000 copies to give the band a second no. 1 in the US. It was history when their debut effort, Up All Night, debuted in the top spot in early 2012, though its numbers were just a fraction of what the last two studio albums have sold (176,000). As for newbies on the chart, Garth Brooks does some work as Blame It All on My Roots sold 164,000 copies good for a no. 3 bow. That is awesome considering it’s a box set. Box sets tend to be more expensive and generally move less copies. Given it’s release during the Black Friday hubbub and its exclusivity via Walmart, it’s not shocking Brooks had some takers. Besides One Direction and Brooks, the week was all about previously releases efforts.
Eminem once more was forced from the top perch to no. 2, but sold 199,000 more copies of The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (already platinum). Others holding over include The Robertsons’ Duck the Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas (no. 4), Katy Perry’s Prism (no. 5), Kelly Clarkson’s Wrapped in Red (no. 6), Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP (no. 7) and Luke Bryan’s Crash My Party. What is significant about those albums? They all sold > 100,000 copies. Miley Cyrus also and Now 48 close out the top ten at nos. 9 and 10 respectively, but sold 79,000 and 77,000 copies, breaking the >100,000 copies sold.
Lorde’s Hot 100 reign is officially over with “Royals” – well at least for the time being. It was a nice nine weeks for Lorde, who has no reason to hang her teenage head. Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” climbs it way back to the no. 1 spot. “Wrecking Ball” is the song that just can’t keep people from talking, really! Better yet, it can’t keep people from making their own versions…
Whose Got Next? Britney Spears of course, but the numbers are looking relatively small, with Billboard prognosticating between 115,000 to 120,000 copies sold. Yuck Britney! Why those numbers suck? Well, Britney is usually a lock for no. 1 or at worst no. 2 like Blackout, however, the numbers may not be strong enough to hold back previously released (aka holdovers) from charting ahead of the pop diva. Could Spears be blocked out of the top 3? Possibly. Besides Britney, it’s a pretty boring week for new releases.
- The 2013 Fourth Quarter Music Releases Underwhelm… (brentmusicreviews.com)
- One Direction’s ‘Midnight Memories’ Tops U.S. Album Charts (variety.com)
- On the Charts: One Direction Making ‘Memories’ at Number One (rollingstone.com)
- One Direction land a third US number one album with “Midnight Memories” (thecelebculture.com)
Justin Bieber – “Change Me” – Single – Label: Island – US Release Date: December 2, 2013
“Girl I’m ready if you’re ready now / oh, as I’m ever gonna be / if you’re with it then I’m with it now / to accept all responsibility…I don’t wanna be the same…” Whoa! For his most recent installment of Music Mondays, Justin Bieber delivers a thoughtful, mostly piano-accompanied ballad entitled “Change Me”. Lacking the sensuality of his pivotal “PYD” featuring R. Kelly and the funkiness of last week’s “Rollercoaster”, Bieber is definitely more moody here and heartbroken for sure. The tempo is slow, matching the drag of Bieber’s own emotions.
A definite pro about “Change Me” is that Bieber shows, perhaps for the first time, his willingness to ‘bend’ within the relationship. It appears to be overdue mind you, but at least it seems Bieber has soul-searched and arrived at that point. This is evidenced by the chorus: “Maybe you could change me / maybe you could change me / maybe you could be the light that opens up my eyes / make all my wrongs right / change me, change me.” That newfound ability to listen and grow is further shown on the second verse, with lyrics like “If I’m screaming, talk quieter / understanding and patient…” or “Be like serenity / help reposition my mind / take a chance, make a difference, in my life.” Say what you will about Bieber, but he’s definitely thinking and aiming deeper than before.
“Change Me” may not possess the same swagger of his two previous offerings, but still Bieber sounds mature and much more ‘grown’ than anything he offered on 2012 studio effort Believe. For once, you feel that at least the ‘bad boy’ is backing up his desire to be a man with more masculine, grown music to match. Another possible takeaway is that Bieber is actually trying to get his act and life sorted out. Maybe that’s reading to much, but the Music Mondays lyrics are his journals correct? Overall, I’m on board.
- Justin Bieber Releases New Song “Change Me” – Listen Now (popnewsint.wordpress.com)
- Justin Bieber Releases New Song “Change Me”–Listen Now! (eonline.com)
- Justin Bieber Is Here With a New Song Called ‘Change Me’ (celebuzz.com)
- Music Monday: Justin Bieber Drops Soulful Ballad “Change Me” (popdust.com)
- Justin Bieber Has a “Bad Day” (Music Mondays) (brentmusicreviews.com)
More mature Britney Jean is a mixed blessing of sorts…
Britney Spears⎪ Britney Jean⎪ RCA⎪⎪ US Release Date: December 03, 2013
Let’s just cut right to the chase people! Britney Jean is different from previous Britney Spears albums, period. While Britney Jean still possesses some of the suggestiveness that typically characterizes Britney Spears (“Work B**ch” being a prime candidate), it also seeks a more mature script to convey her deepest emotions. Is Britney Jean always exciting because of this departure? That’s a definite no; it’s no Britney (2001) where we were all shocked and captivated when Ms. Spears presented “I’m A Slave 4 U”. Put into perspective, however, Spears is no longer that spunky teen singing “Oops (I Did It Again)” or even a rebellious, liberated twenty-something. I’m not sure if we’ll see another “Circus”. Sigh, she’s 32 (or will be come December 2). I wouldn’t let mature Britney completely dissuade you – Britney Jean still has it’s moments. It also has its question marks as well.
“Alien” is the first indication that this isn’t quite the same Britney you grew up with – if you were around for the teen-pop invasion of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s that is. The production work is solid (as to be expected), opening with mysterious, building synths and vocal cooing in the background. Eventually, stronger, thudding 808 drums anchor things down. Spears’ lyrical statements are what is more interesting or surprising than the sound itself. “But the stars in the sky / look like home, take me home / and the light in your eyes / lets me know, I’m not alone…,” Spears sings on the refrain. Essentially, Spears deals with loneliness, likening her loneliness to that of being an extraterrestrial, aka “alien” (she’s E.T. perhaps?). However, her loneliness is now a thing of the past because she’s found “her everything”, as Mary J. Blige would put it. Not a bad start.
👍 “Work B**ch” definitely shows more of the risqué, unapologetic Britney Spears… well sort of. Take a closer look at a seemingly ‘shallow’ message from Spears on the chorus: “You want a hot body? You want a Bugatti? / You want a Maserati? You better work b**ch / You want a Lamborghini? Sip martinis? / Look hot in a bikini? / You better work b**ch…now get to work b**ch!” Sure, Spears is using the overt, shock value of today’s generation to her advantage, but she’s also suggesting to attain the things you want in life, specifically the ‘fame’, you’ve gotta work for it. Basically, the double entendre number is all about “work” effort, and no, not the kind on a pole. Additionally, through the adversity, Spears seems to be suggesting to keep working hard (“Hold your head high, fingers to the sky / they gon’ try and try ya, but they can’t deny ya…”). “Work” actually shines brightly due to its superb, danceable production, and a playful, energized Spears.
👍 “Perfume” is a fine contrast to the honest “Work B**ch”, sporting a much less aggressive sound. Even so, Spears is still in serious mode to an extent. She’s struggling with paranoia and jealously throughout the cut, a narrative in which Spears fears her man is cheating (remember on “Alien” he’d eliminated her loneliness). Because of this, Spears sings as follows: “I put on my perfume, yeah I want it all over you / I gotta mark my territory / I’ll never tell, tell on myself, but I hope she smells my perfume…” So basically, she wants to ensure no one gets her man. There it is.
“It Should Be Easy” follows up “Perfume” fairly well, but lacks the same ‘latch’ of the former. will.i.am enters in the picture collaboratively, delivering the chorus: “Baby love / it should be easy / it shouldn’t be complicated / it should be easy / I don’t know how or where else to say it.” Huh? Is this serious will.i.am who usually goes as ‘dumb’ as they come? Yep, yet another ‘thoughtful’ message in regards to how true love feels – ‘easy’ as opposed to ‘labored’. Spears toys with this as she sings “I let you in but don’t you break my heart / don’t you rip me apart” (verse one) and “I’ve got visions boy, I’ve got visions / of me and you happily just livin’ / I know they’re out there, them beautiful men / but you my future baby…” (verse two). Even through Spears’ newfound seriousness, the cut is still futuristic and danceable in the modern pop sensibility.
👍 If “It Should Be Easy” was too tame, “Tik Tik Boom” keeps Queen Britney lively. Hey, there are very few songs that couldn’t be exciting with lyrics like “You got sex drive in your face / let me get up on it, let me get up on it.” Throw in T.I. literally “hitting all the right buttons” on his guest verse (“Right there in my wife beater / she like the way I eat her, beat her, beat her / treat her like an animal somebody call PETA”) as well as a naughty hook from Britney (“better make me tik tik tik tik tik tik boom…”), and it seems Spears is still “A Slave 4 U”. If the ‘ticking time bomb’ wasn’t enough, Britney knows what’s best for you on the equally alluring “Body Ache” (“I know you feel my fire / draw you into my flame / tonight we take it higher / what I got ain’t no game…”). My quibble with “Body Ache” would be that Spears’ thin vocals leave plenty to be desired. Sure, grit is not the expectation, but the performance is a bit too ‘cool’.
The remainder of Britney Jean lacks some of the bite of both the beginning and the standout cuts. “Til It’s Gone” is again prudent, with Spears teaching “You never know what you got ’til it’s gone…” on the chorus. Still, the aforementioned line is the extent of the depth of the chorus. How seriously can you take a song still filled with a bag of production tricks (synths, gimmicky vocals, predictable cues, etc.). On “Passenger”, Britney’s vocals on the verse are emotional in effort, but I don’t feel they show her in her best light per se. Even, so, you can see where Spears was going, considering this cut is all about “losing control” of being the “driver” to become the “passenger”. Basically, Spears is letting go of ‘control’ and letting her man / love lead her. For concept, it gets my blessing, but as a song, I wouldn’t call it the ‘second coming.’
“Chillin’ With You” seems like Spears’s lighthearted approach to contemporary R&B utilizing acoustic guitars and harder drum programming – two unlike things. The end of each chorus has a more hip-hop oriented sound, contrasting the rest of the song itself. True to its title, “Chillin’ With You” is indeed incredibly chill, though I’m not sure how ‘important’ it is to Spears’ musical legacy or even Britney Jean itself. She gets the assist from sister Jamie Lynn Spears here. “Don’t Cry” closes the album, but sorta sits never catching fire. Sure, B is once more emotional touching on the real aspects of life as opposed to youthful sexual endeavors (“This is going to be our last goodbye / our love is gone but I’ll survive / hide my tears and dry my eyes…”), but she’s also a bit less exciting in the process. I would never associate Britney with ballads because I don’t think her voice is best suited for that regardless of the fact she’s had a few that’ve worked in the past. I’m not sold on “Don’t Cry” though.
So Britney Jean, what does Brent think of thee? A mixed blessing of sorts. I appreciate the maturity, and I believe that some of Britney’s fans that progress alongside her will also appreciate this more grown-up Britney who is not ‘young’ anymore (contextually). On the other hand, there is so much truth and maturity, it sometimes causes Britney Jean to lack to the luster of what Britney Spears has been known to be. Sure, she gets in a “Work B**ch” to balance out fun and real life, but the album sags some towards the end, something big given it’s tight 36 minute duration in standard form. Good, not her best; the post-twenty-something album.
“Work B**ch”; “Perfume”; “Tik Tik Boom”; “Body Ache”
Okay, I’m thankful for plenty in my young life. One thing I’m most thankful for besides those traditional things like God, family, friends, employment, etc. is of course music. Previously, I issued a playlist of “Songs of Thanks” which featured titles that all had the words “Thank” included within them. This ten song playlist is a more ‘personal’ and merely my opinion of some songs I enjoyed. No this is not my top ten and no these are in no particular order. Yes, there are plenty of songs I left off and could’ve easily supplanted in favor of some I chose. Why didn’t I include them all? Well, that would just be incredibly time-consuming. So here’s Ten Random Songs I’m ‘Thankful For’ from 2013. Enjoy!
“This is for the girl that can get down low / the whole club wanna see you go / ay, shake, shake like you’r famous, girl / head back, lay it down like a Vegas girl…” Sigh, it’s truly something when I find myself nodding my head to some young kid’s jam. Sure, I’m not THAT much older than British pop star Conor Maynard, but I’ve got a couple of years on the recently turned 21-year old. Still, I just couldn’t resist “Vegas Girl” given the addictiveness of both the urban-styled groove and Maynard’s swag-tacular approach. Yeah, I know ‘swag-tacular’ is not even a word, but I can still wish. BTW, he’s a bit risqué too, see “Another One” from the same album (“For once I hit the spot real early / quickly spotted this beautiful girlie / she had me going damn oh la la / said she wanna pell my banana-na”).
From No Beginning, No End
If you say the words jazz or R&B, I’m usually there. José James offered the best of both worlds on his underrated, yet exceptional album No Beginning, No End which materialized in January 2013. While the majority of No Beginning, No Ending tickled my fancy, nothing did more so than the hip “Trouble”. Incredibly soulful, James bears his soul, epitomized by the refrain:
“I need someone like you to understand my heart and my soul / it’s on my mind babe, it’s always trouble, trouble, trouble / trouble, trouble, trouble / all my life lately call on me to / struggle, struggle, struggle…” I feel ya homie, I feel ya!
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite
“We Can’t End This Way”
From Get Up!
I have a soft spot for a mix of blues and gospel music… I’m certainly the eclectic listener. Ben Harper’s collaboration with harp player Charlie Musselwhite Get Up! Was easily one of my favorite albums from 2013 and yet another underrated one. Out of all of the killer joints, the gospel-infused “We Can’t End This Way” was most relatable for me for some reason. Maybe its the gospel backing vocalist or perhaps that churchy, addictive 6/8 groove. It doesn’t hurt that my boy Ben has some serious vocal grit going on. Whatever it is, I’m thankful “We Can’t End This Way” graced my playlist in 2013.
Harry Connick, Jr.
“S’pposed To Be”
From Smokey Mary and Every Man Should Know
Harry Connick, Jr. Knew he had a good thing going with sensational gospel-blues infused number “S’pposed To Be” as he featured it on both his 2013 studio albums (Smokey Mary and Every Man Should Know). I’ll leave you with what I previously wrote about one of my favorite jazzy jams of the year:
“S’pposed To Be” is nothing short of a showstopper. Written in a distinctive southern gospel-jazz style, Connick delivers one of his more distinct cuts of his career, using a gospel choir on the chorus (“…Every road leads back to you / be with you when I’m s’pposed to be…”). Kim Burrell & Tara Alexander and the Frontline Vocal Movement guest, giving the brilliant number even more oomph. #LetTheChurchSayYes
“Strictly Reserved for You”
From Victim of Love
I adore soul music. While I know that soul music in its most pure form is a thing of the past, I also adore the retro-/neo-soul movements. Neo-soul has fallen by the wayside, but there are still some key proponents within the retro-soul movement still doing their thing. What’s more fitting than a 66-year old who’s been grinding for years just to get his chance to be doing what he should’ve been doing in his heyday? No matter though, as Charles Bradley is a true proponent of soul music. “Strictly Reserved For You” was Mr. Bradley’s electrifying promo single from an equally alluring sophomore album, Victim of Love. As you listen, you can hear the undeniable influences of the late great James Brown. Bradley’s grit is something many new-school singers couldn’t even hope to achieve.