Last night was late-night history: Jimmy Fallon took over the coveted spot as host of NBC’s fabled “Tonight Show.” It felt like an event, something that had to be watched. Turns out, it was a bit of a soft opening. It was pretty vanilla. But some help from Fallon’s friends made it at least somewhat memorable.
The Roots seem extraordinarily front-and-center. Folks who pull sound bytes out of Tariq and Quest are now a little preoccupied with the notion that they could have this job for decades—that they’ll grow old backing Fallon up. And it’s really something that they can be a corny, PG and ma-and-pa-friendly intro and improv-for-a-joke band, then turn around and make a record like undun. They were more exciting to see than U2, Fallon’s first musical guest, which is just a little bit on the terrible tip. I actually listened to Boy (1980), October (1981) and War (1983) recently, to try to cool it on the U2 hate, and was reminded that they used to be really sick. But for now, they’re half-UN ambassadors and half-corporate puppets—in my eyes, anyway.
Fallon’s opening monologue turned into a really watered-down description of himself and the show. I did dig his upstate NY shout-out (Saugerties is a 30-minute drive from where I grew up, Red Hook, and home to the delicious El Rancho on Route 32), but his showing us where he’ll stand (on a four-leaf clover) and where he’ll come out (that big, beautiful curtain) was pretty unnecessary.
He finally got to an actual bit, saying that he was owed money for a bet, and a friend would be stopping by to settle up. Uh, there were several. Among them, Robert DeNiro, Lady Gaga, Sarah Jessica-Parker, Seth Rogen, Mariah Carey, Lindsay Lohan and a scene-stealing visit from Stephen Colbert—who poured his bet money out in pennies,then took a selfie while Fallon rolled his eyes.
Will Smith, more Philly representation, was his “first guest ever,” and frankly, he was boring. Minus the uber-fab “Evolution of Hip-Hop Dancing” (Please watch it below), they kind of just smiled at each other a lot while Fallon asked boring questions about the Olympics and Will’s kids. Yawn.
U2 did a rooftop performance of a song that I basically tuned out. I really hope I’m not the only one who thinks Bono is insufferable. One of my favorite bits, in fact, was poking fun of Bono’s willingness and ability to give an acceptance speech, for all the manifestations of his unrelenting philanthropy. He was dared to give one about his water mug, and he did. It almost felt like the humor was lost on him, and that added to the deliciousness.
Tonight’s guests look way better: Jerry Seinfeld, Kristen Wiig and Gaga. (Why couldn’t that have been the lineup last night?) Or will he continue to explain that this is his second night, that he’ll sit at a desk, or that his unsung hero, Steve Higgins, will periodically save his bombs? C’mon, Jimmy—don’t make me regret my thrill that Jay Leno’s gone and the show’s come back to New York.
FYI: Brad Cooper and Tim McGraw are Wednesday night; First Lady Michelle Obama, Will Ferrell and Arcade Fire are on Thursday night, and a full night of Justin Timberlake’ll conclude Week One.
Not wholly unlike record releases, shows tend to dry up in the winter doldrums. But even halfway through January (Cate, Cruiser, The Sword, Royal Bangs, Johnny Flynn), in the homestretch of the first month of 2014 (Damien, Jay Z, Brazilian Girls, Bone Thugs) and into early February (Katie Frank, Deerhunter and Darkside, Maria Taylor and Mutual Benefit) do things start getting heated up. You can almost feel the spring thaw coming, and when it does, we will party. Of course, as the coming weeks unfold, and you, our good human readers, note gaps and holes in the below-listed favorites, this list will be updated and beefed up and improved with time. Links are provided for each venue so that you can hunt down tickets.
BOOT & SADDLE
1/17: Cate Le Bon
1/18: Rosetta with Grimace Federation
1/23: Buried Beds
1/25: Damien Jurado
1/28 & 1/29: Young Widows
1/30: Ron Gallo
2/1: Mirah with Divers
2/2: Whirr with Nothing
2/5: Maria Taylor
2/6: Mutual Benefit
2/18: Those Darlins with Diarrhea Planet
2/21: Gardens & Villa
3/13: Com Truise
3/15: Xiu Xiu
3/20: Adam & Dave’s Bloodline
3/21: Sam Smith
4/3: Pattern is Movement
4/16: We Are Scientists
SUSQUEHANNA BANK CENTER
3/1: Demi Lovato
3/6: Robin Thicke with Jessie J
3/7: Imagine Dragons
THEATRE OF THE LIVING ARTS (TLA)
1/18: Action Bronson
1/25: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony with Freeway
1/30: Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe
2/15 and 2/16: G. Love & Special Sauce
3/1: Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
3/8: Nipsey Hussle with Gillie Da Kid
3/28: Mobb Deep
3/29: 3rd Annual East Coast Beard and Mustache Competition
5/9: Primal Scream
2/14 & 2/15: An Evening with Bob Weir & RatDog
2/26: Young the Giant
3/22: 2 Chainz with Pusha T
4/12: The Wanted
WELLS FARGO CENTER
1/29: Jay Z
1/30: Lady Antebellum with Kacey Musgraves
2/19: Kings of Leon with Gary Clark Jr.
2/25: Justin Timeberlake
3/7: Paul Simon & Sting
3/17: Arcade Fire
4/22: Miley Cyrus
5/12: Lady Gaga
1/17: The Sword with Serpent Throne and Sunburster
1/31: Brazilian Girls with El Malito & the 33rd Century
2/12: Dead Meadow
2/19: Russian Circles
4/12: London Grammar with Vancouver Sleep Clinic
4/14: Daniel Rossen (Grizzly Bear/Department of Eagles) with William Tyler
1/18: Royal Bangs
2/21: Katie Frank and The Pheromones (release show)
1/25: Reverend Horton Heat
1/30: Sean Paul
2/13: Skinny Puppy
2/27: Dumpstaphunk and Kermit Ruffins & the BBQ Swingers
3/23: Gary Numan
4/18: Stephen “Ragga” Marley
NORTH STAR BAR
1/18: Johnny Flynn
KUNG FU NECKTIE
1/15: Cruiser with Suburban Living and Dream Safari
1/29: Jason Isbell
2/7: Murder City Devils
2/8: Pissed Jeans with Purling Hiss and Trophy Wife
2/16: The Black Angels with Roky Erickson
2/23: White Lies with Frankie Rose
2/27: White Denim
2/28: St. Vincent
3/3: Brett Dennen
3/10: Bombay Bicycle Club with Royal Canoe
3/18: The War on Drugs
3/24: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
3/28: Okkervil River with Typhoon
4/2: Lake Street Dive
4/18: The Black Lips
5/7: Bombay Bicycle Club
Sounds like: Dev Hynes is the man. Writing for Solange and Sky Ferreira hasn’t slowed him down, and his creativity’s inspiring—futuristic funk plus airy R&B ambience.
Free association: The Londoner-turned-New Yorker should jam out with Prince.
For fans of: Dam-Funk/Rhye x Chairlift/Frankie Rose, Jessie Ware, odd hats and boots.
Sounds like: The Barcelona DJ and producer’s newest since blowing minds with Fin doesn’t disappoint—sprawling, blissed-out house compositions for the night.
Free association: Pay no attention to titles. Just push play and bone/burn/boogie.
For fans of: Andy Stott x DJ Koze + Glasser with the 2 Bears, chilltimes, electro dreams.
Sounds like: Hard to believe this kid’s 19, but the UK folk- and rock-minded singer songwriter’s got skillful delivery, a punchy sense of rhythm and legit chops.
Free association: A sophomore here, but no slump. Dude’s picking up steam for a reason.
For fans of: King Krule/Bob Dylan/Eugene McGuinness + Arctic Monkeys, explosive talent.
Sounds like: Not a lot of surprises from the self-proclaimed King of Memphis; the 32-year-old veteran emcee sticks to trap raps over syrupy production.
Free association: There’s a track called “ION Want It;” it’s good, but “LeBron James” is not.
For fans of: Meek/T.I./J. Cole/Ne-Yo/Jeezy/Wale/Rich Homie Quan, guap, dope and the trap.
I Want to See Pulaski at Night
Sounds like: A charming lil’ EP that cradles “Pulaski at Night” with movements and instrumentals, always with that viola loopin’, whistlin’, folksy Chicagoan charm.
Free association: There’s something really romantic about this man’s thing for strings.
For fans of: Sufjan x Phosphorescent + Bowerbirds with M. Ward, the second and Windy City.
Sounds like: The queen of weird and mother of monsters delivers an equally panned and praised batch of queer-friendly pop obsessed with the fabulous life.
Free association: “Applause”/”Gypsy,” fine; “Donatella” and “Fashion!” save this sinking ship.
For fans of: Britney/Katy/Madonna, trends in pop (like EDM), tiaras and Mary Jane.
In the endless cycle of pop music, we love a repeating theme. And one of the best ones is the game—the competition. And when pop stars keep getting beat down and insisting on standing back up and putting records out, it’s both hilarious and charming to watch them, in equal parts, fail and succeed. Like Britney, for (prime) example: She just keeps putting in a solid effort, but effort does not always equal sales. …Baby One More Time (’99) was a big debut, we’ll give her that. Fast forward to 14 years later and we get “Work Bitch,” a fascinating, shiny turd that’s both a powerful hit and a stunning(ly expensive) video. Put this up alongside two other giant pop anthems from the late summer/early fall, and we’ve got ourselves a clear and nasty brawl bubbling up—a perfect fourth installation of our occasional blog series, DIVA DEATH MATCH.
You know who the others are, right? It’s Katy and Gags. Their singles, “Roar” and “Applause,” are perfectly poised as combatants. “Roar” came out Aug. 10, “Applause” Aug. 12 and Britney’s video hit the webs Oct. 2. First, a little analysis on each tune—then we’ll just officiate the nasty.
Let’s start with KP’s “Roar,” a charming little anthemic statement of purpose: I’m going to be fierce and you can’t stop me. She even uses that cutesy “I stood for nothing / So I fell for everything” didactic. We enjoyed a fairly charming Video Music Awards performance (she is blessed/cursed with giant boobs and a sports bra may NOT have been the best choice in this boxing context), and then we were floored by how stupid and basic the video turned out to be. Still, it’s got 115 million views.
Gaga has emerged as a potentially more viable pop artist than we ever imagined she would be. And with the impending drop of Artpop on the horizon, “Applause” became a controversial divining rod of Gaga fandom: If you love it, you’re a monster; if you hate it, you hate life (say said monsters); and if you’re ambivalent, you’re too intellectual. Actual essays have been written about this song and its referential oddities. But the video’s bananas—a very art-directed and Beetlejuicey affair. Let’s be real: The song’s a grower. As one queen once asked me: “Have you danced to it at Voyeur at 3:15am?” Point taken.
Now, in swoops Britney with her bold appropriation of a gay culture -ism, not even second-thinking a wholesale shopping trip through an alternative culture’s lexicon and vocabulary but just owning it and making it pop. See, in Gay World, we use the word “work” a lot. Work means a lot of things—a lot of different things to a lot of different gays (see Shangela’ “Werqin’ Girl”). Most often it means, “Slay them,” “Kill it,” or “Keep making them gag.” But Britney managed to brilliantly turn it into a hybrid of consumerism and fierceness: “You wanna live in a mansion? / Party in France? / Then get to work, bitch.” TRUE! I DO want a mansion and party in France, and I suppose you’re right, I better keep on showing up to my paying job on time so that I can afford to one day seek out the luxuries, baubles and travels I desire for myself.
But these singles are just a little too close together for it to just be coincidence, right? I smell a FIGHT.
Well, this one’s a wash. In the past, like when I put Beyonce against Jill Scott and then against Rihanna, this was a solid point-earning category for all involved. This one’s just sad with one white girl (Gaga) blowing away two other white girls because she grew up in New York City. Britney: 1, Katy: 0, Gaga: 2.
The beautiful nebulous and subjective je ne sais quoi of a diva’s fierceness is often what we love most about them. Whereas some fierceness comes from being on top of your game, or for functioning as a sickening fashion plate, or for nailing choreography, some just comes from being a potent product. Like Katy, for instance: total idiot as far as I’m concerned, but she plays the innocent pop star role SO WELL. And Britney’s new video is, if anything, fierce in its imagery, budget, production, attention span captivity and execution. Gaga’s fierce, I guess, but in a certain kind of trying-to-be-avant-garde arty and severe pop stardom kind of way. Britney: 4, Katy: 1, Gaga: 3.
This should be and is often the great equalizer. Doesn’t matter if you can dance or hire stylists and video directors—if the tune doesn’t get carried, it won’t make it to the charts. Of course, in 2013, that’s vaguely debatable; more and more, a production team can make any ol’ gal with a nice body and empty mind into a chart-dominating starlet. But vocals have never been Brit-Brit’s strong suit. And while Gaga can actually sing sometimes (especially when it’s just her and a piano), her pipes are not the main attraction; it’s a strong section of her art-girl package but not the focus. Katy, sadly, can pretty much mop the floor with these girls, at least in the studio. Watching Katy sing live is a little painful because she wants to dance because she’s supposed to, but also seems like if she dances too enthusiastically she won’t be able to keep singing. Britney: 2, Katy: 4, Gaga: 4.
SINGLES AND SALES
Let’s look at some numbers, shall we? Charts-wise, Katy’s currently in the lead with a #2 spot for “Roar” in the Billboard Hot 100 (”Applause” is #9, “Work” is #13). Should be interesting to see how those chart positions flip-flop and alternate. In the YouTube department, Katy’s got 117 million views and it was published on Sep. 5, but, whoa, Gaga’s got less than 75 million views and it was viewable on Aug. 19. Tough blow, Gags. And then look at Ms. Spears, whose video’s been watched 25 million times in less than 10 days. Looks like we have a clear winner here. Britney: 5, Katy: 4, Gaga: 3.
This could be one of the toughest to make numerical. They are, all three, HUGE pop stars in their own way, and appeal to the tons of teens out there that really want to identify with one pop queen more so than any other. Katy gets the wholesome Christian vote, while Gaga gets the weird girls who seek a hero. The thing about Britney is that she’s the clear veteran with her eighth record on the way. Plus she’s got tons of fans who’ve been crazy about her since she was 17. And remember how Brit and JT and N’Sync were all family? That happened. Looks like Britney wins by a hair! Britney: 5, Katy: 3, Gaga: 4.
TOTALS: Britney with 17, Katy with 12, and Gaga 16.
There are more than a few juicy albums slated for release this fall, no doubt, and by a cadre of folks who really put the art in artistry. Alas, they are among 2013’s most eagerly awaited projects, certain to liven up your radio listening, heat up your world’s cold corners—or both.
A few are mystifying and exciting in that “Oh, they’re goin’ for it?!” kind of way: Luscious Jackson, TLC, the Dismemberment Plan, Moby, Mazzy Star, the Blow and Stryper—plus Eminem, Mariah and Britney. Some acts are going to be fun to watch either run off the rails or completely destroy the pop charts: Icona Pop, Drake, Pusha T, Jason Derulo, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson and Lady Gaga. There’s a handful we’re hopeful to see emerge as the future of music we believe they just might be: CHVRCHES, Lorde (pictured above), HAIM, Oh Land, Lucius or Unknown Mortal Orchestra. And lastly, a good bunch of records are due from cats we’re pretty certain we’re going to enjoy the hell out of all autumn long: Deer Tick, the Internet, Justin Timberlake, Quasi, Yuck, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Glasser, Sleigh Bells, Cut Copy, M.I.A. and Midlake. Fortunately, no matter how well we think we can see into the future, there’ll surely be some surprises to knock us flat on our asses or a mixtape or two that’ll pop up out of nowhere and win everyone’s heart.
Due out Sept. 24
Au Revoir Simone, Move in Spectrums
CHVRCHES, The Bones of What You Believe
Deer Tick, Negativity
Drake, Nothing Was the Same
Frankie Rose, Herein Wild
Icona Pop, This Is … Icona Pop
Mazzy Star, Seasons of Your Day
Oh Land, Wish Bone
The Internet, Feel Good
Due out Sept. 30
Danny Brown, Old
HAIM, Days Are Gone
Due out Oct. 1
Amos Lee, Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song
Blitzen Trapper, VII
Brendan Canning, You Gots 2 Chill
Dr. Dog, B-Room
Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience 2 of 2
Lorde, Pure Heroine
Oneohtrix Point Never, R Plus Seven
Quasi, Mole City
The Blow, The Blow
Yuck, Glow & Behold
Due out Oct. 8
Cage the Elephant, Melophobia
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., The Speed of Things
Jason Derulo, Tattoos
of Montreal, Lousy with Sylvianbriar
Pusha T, My Name is My Name
Rjd2, More Is Than Isn’t
Sleigh Bells, Bitter Rivals
Due out Oct. 15
Cass McCombs, Big Wheel and Others
Crystal Antlers, Nothing is Real
Gary Numan, Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind)
The Avett Brothers, Magpie And The Dandelion
The Dismemberment Plan, Uncanney Valley
The Head and the Heart, Let’s Be Still
Tim Hecker, Virgins
TLC, Title TBA (Really!?)
Due out Oct. 22
Best Coast, Fade Away
Katy Perry, Prism
Due out Oct. 29
Bad Religion, Christmas Songs
Far-Out Fangtooth, Borrowed Time
Kelly Clarkson, Wrapped in Red
Los Campesinos!, No Blues
Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio 2
Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time
Arcade Fire, Reflektor
Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Blue Record EP
Due out Nov. 4
Melvins, Tres Cabrones
Sore Eros & Kurt Vile, Jamaica Plain EP
Due out Nov. 5
Bryce Dessner & Kronos Quartet, Aheym
Cut Copy, Free Your Mind
Eminem, Marshall Mathers LP 2
Luscious Jackson, Magic Hour
Stryper, No More Hell to Pay
Due out Nov. 11
Lady Gaga, Artpop
Due out Nov. 12
Cate Le Bon, Mug Museum
Keller Williams, FUNK
Mount Eerie, Pre-Human Ideas
Due out Nov. 26
To be announced
Mariah Carey, The Art of Letting Go
Britney Spears, Title TBD
Darkside, Psychic (Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington)
Iggy Azalea, The New Classic (November)
Chris Brown, X (November)
Photo by J.R. Blackwell
Sunday, Sept. 1
This might be one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to write. See, over the last half-dozen years, Beyonce’s become my go-to diva. I love divas. It’s one of my favorite things in life, the discussion of pop divas. I’ve written extensively about it. I think Bey really is one of the biggest queens in the game. “Bow Down” was so much fun; it felt like she still had lots of fight left and she was getting a little pompous—which was exciting, because sometimes her humble, “I’m just a girl from Houston, Texas” act gets a little tiresome. Sometimes you want your diva to oscillate into bad-bitch mode, like Rihanna. Rih destroys the bad-bitch game and puts out so much damn material that, even though there are lots of flops mixed in, there are some hits, too, and we get a record every year. (Plus, an endless stream on Instagram of her smoking blunts and highlighting passages from the Bible.) This is to say, Saturday night’s performance was, of course, hype and a blast. But it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen before.
Having seen her Revel show and watching—on repeat, for years—her Live at Roseland DVD, I wasn’t surprised at any of the songs she performed. In fact, I think she missed a giant opportunity. Jay was in the house, or so it seemed, and his live vocals popped up for a few seconds as she did a truncated version of “Crazy in Love.” So why couldn’t they do “Part II (On the Run)” from Magna Carta? Because it’s technically a Jay Z song and not enough about Bey? That song is pure fire. I wanted so badly for them to perform it. And no special surprise guests. She couldn’t get someone to show up for one song? We know a lot of the people with whom she’s collaborated in the past are underemployed or at least have a little more time on their hands than she does: Sean Paul, Kelly, Missy, Big Boi, Andre, but I suppose getting Shakira or Gaga or JT on stage for one song would’ve been asking a lot.
She did the usuals: “Girls” to start, “Halo,” “Love on Top,” “Irreplaceable,” “Countdown,” and “End of Time.” There were lots of outfit changes and a little too much of the dramatic video visuals. The interludes were to distract us while she changed clothes, I guess. But going on at 10:30pm and knowing that the show had to be over before midnight, that gave her, at least I’d imagined, an hour and a half performance time. Not bad. That’s enough time to bang out at least a dozen songs or maybe up to 15 if she did a medley or two. But the show came to an abrupt end at 11:45.
There are whispers that her performance was, essentially, a reworked version of the performances she’s been turning in throughout the Mrs. Carter Show tour. To be sure, it was touching and beautiful when she belted out the first few bars of the Whitney Houston version of “I Will Always Love You.” That was unexpected. But there were really only two dancers with her on stage most of the night. Would’ve been fun if, like her Revel show, she had the whole troupe and maybe some more dance breakdowns and freestyling.
I don’t understand why Nine Inch Nails takes the Rocky Stage tonight at 9:30. Why do they get an extra hour—because it’s Sunday night?
My friend Andrew (@RedDlicious) and I had a Twitter exchange that nicely and succinctly captures how to feel about the Beyonce performance. He wrote: “It was mostly a rehash of past performances without any artistic liberty with the material. Incredible, but uninspired.” I left a little despondent but still wiped out because I danced my ass off for every song. I actually lost my balance a couple times, and a guy behind me had to give me a little push to not bump into his girls. (Sorry about that, dude.) Funny thing is, I didn’t take a single picture. Well, I took three garbage pictures. But I actually let myself be in that moment for 75 minutes, and that was pretty liberating. You should try it.
At this point, pretty much everyone knows that all these awards are ridiculous. And perhaps these more than any others. We roll our eyes when a Grammy gets given out to a basic New Artist (how about that back-to-back-to-back streak of Norah Jones, Evanescence and Maroon 5 back in 2003-2005?), an American Music Award for Artist of the Year gets handed over to Justin Bieber, or we have to hold down our lunch when Taylor Swift cleans up at the Billboard Music Awards. But the VMAs have a special place in our hearts. At least, the hearts beating in bodies that were born between 1978 and 2000.
See, back in the day, MTV used to be about music videos in a way that it isn’t now, and in a way that skews the way we think about music videos in general. By that I mean music video success is gauged, more than ever, on YouTube views, BuzzFeed outrage or Facebook shares. No one will ever, EVER forget Madonna rolling around that stage in her virginal whites back in 1984. Or when Britney wore that sexy sparkle suit in 2000 and fucked with a python in 2001. And, of course, 2013 will be known as the year that Miley Cyrus stole the show with her twerking and her creepy latex two-piece.
Sure, by now, this is old news, but I wanted to point out a few resources for your edification and to bolster your dinner conversation game. First, here’s a great Mashable URL that’s got all of the night’s performances embedded for your convenience (Warning: you gotta have Quicktime). Before we get down to Miley, let’s quickly address some of the other performances. Gaga started the show off surprisingly nicely with a three-maybe-technically-four outfit-change moment with the very mediocre “Applause.” In one of the surprisingly decent performances of the evening, Katy Perry closed the night out underneath the Brooklyn Bridge with the obnoxiously fun “Roar,” and Bruno Mars continued to be so damn charming with a stellar, emotional and really well-produced light show behind “Gorilla.” But all anyone was talking about—and is still talking about—is how stupid Miley looked performing a medley of “We Can’t Stop/Blurred Lines/Give It 2 U” with Robin Thicke, 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar.
Okay, so first of all, the video itself (162+ million views to date) is obnoxious, and the fact that a live and in-concert performance/manifestation of that video is annoying on many levels is a surprise to no one. This chile is a fame whore, and she’s gunning for being on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and on that front, the Sunday night performance was a smash hit. There’ve been countless essays, think pieces, blog posts, spoofs (The Onion, way ahead of its time) and memes churned out in its wake, and sadly, that’s exactly what Ms. Cyrus was hoping for. The phrases slut-shaming, cultural appropriation, racism and hypersexual have been tossed around like funfetti in the social media world. But the saddest thing about it? She’s just not that special. And we’re a dumb culture for being so shocked and affected by this thirsty, basic trick.