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.
To get pumped about our upcoming Music Issue — street date August 14 — we’ll be counting down by asking some of our favorite locals to say a few words about where they love to put on a show. Here’s the up-and-coming GoGo Morrow, who we featured a month ago, on why she loves the Theatre of the Living Arts:
“I’ve performed in many venues in Philadelphia, from opening for Lil Wayne at the Electric Factory to performing with Lady GaGa at the Wells Fargo Center. But my most memorable experience has been selling out my first headlining concert, GoGo Morrow Live, at the Theater of Living Arts. With a unique light and sound production, I was able to deliver an electrifying experience at this historical, yet prominent venue that hosts many established and independent artists. The TLA gives artists an intimate platform to showcase their talent to the world. I’m grateful to my fans and the TLA staff who helped make this a wonderful milestone in my career.”
For the paper this week, we profiled an up-and-coming young pop star, GoGo Morrow, and we think she’s got what it takes:
“In a spring TLA performance, GoGo Morrow wore a tight, white, midriff-bearing skort set, giving the effect of something akin to a pop gladiator. Her hair’s cut short from the top down, but she whips a dramatically long bang back and forth, looking like an Emeli Sande vocal powerhouse with Rihanna swag. This fireball could be one of the next big talents to make a name for Philadelphia, and this summer is hers for the taking. We’ve heard one single thus far: “HD,” a nasty little hip-hop flavored R&B jam, and the video’s forthcoming. She’s set to show her mettle at a brand new annual July 4 celebration jam this week called The City Festival, hosted by Quincy “Q Deezy” Harris, easily one of her biggest headlining gigs to date. Morrow filled up the TLA on her own in April and has already held down some impressive opening spots, including at Jay-Z’s Made in America fest, last year’s Wawa Welcome America and Powerhouse 30. Her debut LP will hit streets later this year, but tonight, she drops a new single, “Potion.” Here’s hoping it catapults her into the stratosphere.
Born and raised in Philly, Morrow started singing at an early age, thanks to her talented father Reginald. (He used to sing in a group called the Golden Chandeliers; they mainly covered songs by the Four Tops and the Temptations, but performed some of their own material.) Daddy and daughter did call-and-responses all the time; he’d sing a note or lyric, then coach and tweak her reply. Morrow sang in her church’s choir, Evelyn Graves, at 55th and Chester, and worked her way into their musical and theatrical performances. She found herself not only a part of the now-defunct Prince Theater Rainbow Company, but walked over from school at 22nd and Chestnut every day and found the company’s legendary founder and director, Ricardo Martin, there to coach and encourage her.
After earning a degree in the music business from Millersville University—seriously, Millersville offers a Bachelor of Arts in music with an emphasis in music business and technology—Morrow started working to put herself through Drexel’s entertainment law program. “I got a job [at Drexel] to get the discount straight out of college,” she told PW. But there was something telling her that school, not singing, would be “something that would take years away from my life.”
She got an audition to sing backup for Kelly Rowland, didn’t get it, but got a call soon after asking her to sing background vocals for Lady Gaga on her Monster Ball tour. So she traveled the world and sang Gaga songs for months on end. Not bad practice for becoming a pop star. And Morrow’s got heat aplenty of her own.
With only a handful of songs, she puts everything into each one of them. Proudly performing alongside and in front of her Gogettes, a team of dancers made up of sisters and best friends from her performing arts high school days, they tear up the stage with spot-on choreography and sex appeal. “They’re pretty much always with me,” she assures. Good. They are a super-tight troupe, executing sensual Beyonce-esque moves and coordination.
Morrow’s “HD” has total mass appeal, a track she and her producers like because it’s sassy. “It’s just me talkin’ smack about myself, [like] you don’t know about me but you can find me on TV on HD,” she says. “We thought it was cool, and as we wrote more, we thought it’d be a first song, a good introduction.” It’s got some Rowland vibes, a little Toni Braxton, but also a touch of game a la Chill Moody, a friend with whom she’s performed.
Earlier this year, she and her sister were riding in her car, and when Morrow flipped on the radio, “HD” came blaring through the speakers. Just like when the GaGa call came through, she was pumped.
“I’m always surprised and shocked. And you never get used to it,” she says, always a humble Philly girl striving for the opportunity to shine. “I’m just happy I get to do this every day.””
Wed., July 3, 2pm. Free. The Piazza at Schmidt’s, N. Second St. and Germantown Ave.
The event’s Facebook page’s got some deets for ya, too.