I said it last week and I’ll say it again. If you told me that I could, for sure, get to the top 3 on the MyndJack Radio Idol competition, I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet here I am, competing against other very smart and talented performers for the satirical crown in a mock American Idol competition.
Tonight’s episode sees me (OtherRobert) go toe to toe with Jazzy, a fabulous cabaret/standards singers, and Frauletta, the best parody writer in the contest also from NJ. We were pushed hard this week, required to record hometown interviews, two songs requested by the two standard judges on the panel, and a third song of our own choosing.
I’m not going to lie. I went for the crown of bizarro world this week.
Tune in tonight at 9PM EST on the All Digital Radio Network to hear just what level of insanity I brought to the contest. To say I sound totally off my rocker on one song is an understatement.
You can listen live at the All Digital Radio site, but I much prefer iTunes (radio–>talk/news radio–>all digital radio) or Shoutcast (bottom link) for more intuitive listening experiences. The voting link is released at the end of the show and I’ll update with all that info later on tonight.
Thank you for your support so far. I really appreciate it.
I make it no small secret that I love Kate Bush. I think she’s a fabulous musician with an actual perspective on art, life, and music and deserves all the accolades that come her way.
When I heard rumor that she might somehow be involved in the London Olympics Closing Ceremony, I chose not to get my hopes up. After NBC opted to cut out the tribute to the 7/7 victims because they were afraid Americans wouldn’t get it, what chances would the eccentric and lesser known Kate Bush have on their primetime coverage? Couple that with how few appearances Kate Bush makes nowadays and I wasn’t going to work myself up to be disappointed.
My cautious approach paid off. Kate Bush was involved in the ceremony. NBC did cut her performance. And she, herself, did not appear on the broadcast at all.
Kate Bush recorded a new version of “Running Up that Hill” for a beautiful tribute to the struggle of human achievement. The original song is a reflection of the differences between genders and how men and women can never fully understand each other because they can never fully experience how they other half lives. In the context of the closing ceremony, the song becomes a tribute to failure, success, and–above all else–perseverance in the pursuit of excellence at the games.
A group of men and women, clad in white, begin pushing and carrying large blocks to the center of the arena. They are forming a literal hill on which to rise upon. As the dancers recreate Kate Bush’s choreography in between moments of construction, a sharply cut montage of Olympic highlights are shown. You see winners and losers, joy and sorrow, and the hope that if you keep trying, you can learn to accept yourself as a winner.
It’s a brilliant twist on a great song and the staging made it something truly special.
Unfortunately, NBC is really trying to crack down on this video footage. This morning, Rich Juzwiak’s post on Gawker was the only place to see the full performance. Now, it’s been chopped down to just an out of context minute, as pointless as a photo of Bjork standing with the Olympic athletes at the Athens games trapped underneath her billowing ocean of a dress. It’s needlessly confusing and insulting to assume that the viewer needs to be protected from a message that isn’t “We’re #1″ or “Go for the Gold.”
It is such a shame that artistic statements like this are blocked from every reaching a mainstream audience. I don’t care at this point who is responsible for cutting the song from the broadcast. The real outrage is seeing a systematic effort to erase it from existence after the fact.
Thoughts? I’d be able to write more about the new arrangement but the Olympic edition of “Running Up that Hill” isn’t even available for sale in the US. That Kate Bush is a crafty one. What do you think? Sound off below. Love to hear from you.
I’ve been big on M.I.A. since she came out the gates with “Galang,” a twisted little play on street slang that is far deeper than its sing-song hook and neon colored video would lead you to believe. Is it a track about the call to emigrate to a wealthier area that isn’t necessarily safer? A remembrance of the violence during the Sri Lankan Civil War that began shortly after her family moved there? A song detailing everything you need to do to survive on the streets of London? A combination of all three and more? I’m leaning toward that last interpretation.
M.I.A. has been involved in a few surprise crossover hits in America, but you cannot accuse her of dumbing down her thoughts and subject matter for more appeal. She is an artist defined by her life experience and how she chooses to explore it. Her first album, Arular, was filled with catchy beats and rhymes about her experience related to her father (a rebel leader who adopted the name Arular in the conflict leading up to the Sri Lankan Civil War).
Her second album, Kala, was inspired by her mother (named Kala) and the unfortunate situation regarding her international travels. A bunch of top US producers wanted to work on her follow up album, but she was denied a US Visa due to her family connections to the Tamil Tigers. Instead, the tracks were recorded all over the world. It shows in the best way possible. Regional musical influences flow together as the story of a displaced person searching for a real home.
This is the album that led to her biggest single to date, “Paper Planes.” The song was used in the advertising campaign for Pineapple Express, bringing M.I.A. into the mainstream for the first time. That trailer was ubiquitous. You could not escape it. Sales and radio play followed quickly. The exposure led to a number of great things, including a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year in 2009. She was also sampled on another huge breakout song, “Swagger Like Us” featuring Kanye West, T.I., Jay-Z, and Lil’ Wayne.
The catchy hook belies the crossover appeal of the track. “All I wanna do is [shotgun blasts] and [shotgun reloaded, cash register transaction] and take your money.” Yet this is the part of the song that people recognize. It’s undeniably catchy. It just points to a much darker song than unintentionally relevant fluff for a stoner comedy.
In M.I.A.’s own words,
So in the song I say “All I wanna do is [sound of gun shooting and reloading, cash register opening] and take your money.” I did it in sound effects. It’s up to you how you want to interpret. America is so obsessed with money, I’m sure they’ll get it.
Which is all well and good. M.I.A. has a reputation for not tolerating poorly planned questions very well. She’ll throw out a dig that usually goes right past the interview and sticks in your head. When asked properly about the song, she hints at one very cool interpretation.
You can either apply it on a street level and go, oh, you’re talking about somebody robbing you and saying I’m going to take your money. But, really, it could be a much bigger idea: someone’s selling you guns and making money. Selling weapons and the companies that manufacture guns – that’s probably the biggest moneymaker in the world.
Which brings us to 2012. M.I.A. is due for another big press cycle because she is a surprise nominee for Video of the Year at the VMAs. It’s not a surprise to me. Here’s what I wrote about the insane video for “Bad Girls” back on 3 February, “Finally, M.I.A.s new single “Bad Girls” is out. It’s great.”
The surprise is how little the video plays into the awards discussion. It’s only nominated twice, getting in for Best Direction and Video of the Year. Somehow, a female rapper with a video/song combo inspired by the Arab Spring (and, specifically, how a Saudi women began driving in protest because the laws ban women from driving) did not get nominated for Female Video, Hip-Hop Video, or Video with a Message. Likewise, a video filled with insane car stunts, memorable choreography, and gorgeous filmmaking was not nominated for Cinematography, Art Direction, Choreography, Editing, or Visual Effects.
Just take a gander at this video and try to see figure out how that happened.
My best guess is that the producers/nominators fear handing out a sack of awards to a music video they barely played on MTV (if at all). As such, prestige videos are now relegated to one or two nominations in favor of more attention grabbing guests and nominees. If they invite M.I.A. to perform, I’ll be shocked. Not when they can have Rihanna act out the video where she lifts the veil on her abusive relationship with Chris Brown (again) or when they can have Nicki Minaj in a bikini dancing like a maniac.
Worse still is the decision to put all non-”Professional Categories” up for a public vote. So Romain Garvis actually has a chance at winning for the direction of “Bad Girls,” but M.I.A. has to give up victory to Katy Perry, Rihanna, Drake AND Rihanna, or Gotye. It’s not that the other nominees are obviously worse. It’s just disappointing that such a daring video from an artist who deserves more recognition will be shoved off to the side to appeal to the Top 40 market at the only awards show for this medium.
But will this get M.I.A. down at all? Probably not. She’s probably somewhere laughing about being nominated at all. Remember her Superbowl halftime performance with Madonna? Sure you do. She performed live for one of the largest TV audiences of the year and threw up the bird at the camera just for fun. How about when she performed on her due date, against the advisement of her doctors, at the 2009 Grammy Awards?
M.I.A. takes her music seriously but is willing to have fun at the same time. That’s a rare balance that will only grow stronger as she experiments with future releases. I know I’m looking forward to it.
What about you? Thoughts on M.I.A.? I’ve been playing that “Bad Girls” video a few times a week since February just to wrap my head around everything happening. Car stunts! Slow dancing in the streets! Revolution! Sound off with your own thoughts below. Love to hear from you.
Update: Here’s the voting link. OtherRobert #1s appreciated. It’s a preferential ballot system, so not voting is as bad as ranking someone in 4th place.
And here’s the full program. The performances start about 1:20 into the feed. I encourage you to listen before voting so this stays as fair as possible.
Can I tell you I never expected to make it this far in the MyndJack Radio Idol competition? The quality of contestant in season four of the parody reality singing contest has never been higher. The straight singers all have fully developed artistic identities and the parody singers have strong voices, as well. By chance and determination, I have muscled my way into the Top 4 and have to thank you all for your continued support.
Tonight’s episode, starting at 9PM EST on the All Digital Radio Network, is dedicated to the all stars of the first three seasons. Each remaining finalist had to choose one performance from a former contestant and outperform them. Why outperform? Because the show is going to air the original performance followed by this season’s new performance. That’s…terrifying.
I went with a parody of a parody because I had Inception on the brain. That song is “Bleeding Love,” nay, “Neighing Love,” originally performed by Leona Lewis and skewered to bits by Season 3 MJRI winner Jay Danger. I took the song in a very different direction, focusing on a completely new set of lyrics, strong singing (except for a break to mock the melisma at the end), and top notch production values (sound effects, echo, and all).
I’m rather proud of this. Maybe proud is the wrong word. It’s hard to be proud of a song on this topic. Let’s call it satisfied.
You can listen to the Top 4 all perform on the All Digital Radio Network. I actually recommend using Shoutcast (bottom link) or iTunes (radio–>news/talk–>All Digital Radio) because the ADR player is a bit buggy at times. You can also join the live play by play chat here.
I’ll update afterwards with the voting link. Enjoy the show. It should be a good one.
It’s America week on Myndjack Radio Idol. I’ll update after the show goes live with the voting link. Voting link is here. I appreciate #1 votes. Not ranking contestants is worse than ranking in last place. Any unranked contestant gets the worst score possible.
As you can see, there aren’t too many ways to make Amanda Palmer (by way of the Dresden Dolls) into a laugh a minute romp. I cut down an 8.5 minute song into a 2.5 minute piano/vocal performance for a parody American Idol competition. I’m going to need help this week.
Thank you for all your support so far. The funny comes back next week, I promise you. I was just getting tired of being ignored by the judges because I was just another parody singer. They’ll be talking tonight, I guarantee you.
Shoutcast is your best bet as the ADR player is buggy. Just use the bottom link. 9PM for the whole show, 10PM for the performances. It’s going to be epic.
Here’s the performance:
Judges didn’t love it. And at this point, I’m recording for me and the people in chat who dig the crap out of my bizarro song choices.
Let’s keep this quick. I’m one of the finalists in the MyndJack Rado Idol contest. It’s like American Idol, only entertaining. Parodies and enthusiastically bad singing are encouraged.
This week was showtunes week. My wheelhouse, if you will. You can listen to what I did to “Luck Be a Lady” from Guys & Dolls at the one hour mark of the podcast.
Then, proceed to the voting site. In order to combat “ghosties” (fake accounts from contestants) flooding the polls, MJRI4 is using an IP restrictive preferential ballot. I would strongly encourage you to vote me as your first choice. Why? Because if you don’t rank a contestant, they automatically get 12th place points. That means indifference is deadlier than hatred in this contest. If people just don’t vote for you, you’re going home.
Two people are going home Thursday night. I hope to not be one of them. I got screwed over in their last parody contest over technical issues with an audio recording and then watched as literally everyone else from my group was invited back into the contest but me. That was embarrassing.
This time around, the judges like me. The people in the live chat like me. They’re just not mentioning me again at the end of the show. That hurts. There’s no recap ala Idol because the show is broadcast live. No one gets to be reminded of my ode to busted drag queens before they vote. They only get to hear raves about the 12th performer of the night.
Brass tacks: they claim I was in the bottom 2 last week. There’s debate over whether that’s true or not. I’m going with that plus the jump to Showtunes week as evidence to a less than stellar voting performance. They know I music direct for educational theater. Also, one of the hosts mentioned my chat comment about the coincidence.
That’s why I’m asking for your help. Please listen to the podcast and vote for me. That would be ideal. Everyone benefits from that. If you don’t have an hour to spare, then just toss a vote my way and forget the rest of the ranking. I’d rather not advance that way, but that’s the point we’re at in this contest.
Jayne Houdyshell was nominated for Featured Actress in a Musical at the Tony Awards for her performance as Hattie Walker in the Follies revival. That character gets to perform one of the more cheerful and upbeat numbers in the show, “Broadway Baby.” In context, while the four leads star to relive their past relationships, the rest of the company takes turns recreating their big moments. Hattie busts out her showstopper “Broadway Baby.”
It’s an intentional disconnect with the material. You have an older performer singing a song about dreaming of being a big star on Broadway when her career is already over. She flirts with the audience and approaches the material in a way that worked when she was 40 years younger, but not now. Houdyshell really played this up to great effect in the production.
A cast recording of the Follies revival has been available for a while. However, “Broadway Baby” is preserved in the same format as the show. Reprises of “Ah, Paris” and “Rain on the Roof” pop up at the end.
This did not serve the needs of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum is compiling a collection of showtunes set in NYC and wanted Houdyshell’s “Broadway Baby” without the other songs. So, Jane Houdyshell graciously went into the studio and recorded a new version of “Broadway Baby.” It’s sensational.
It is available to download for free right now. Thank Playbill for letting us all know about it.
Part of the fun of following the Tony Awards is digging into the meat of the unusual nominations. A good place to start in recent years is Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theater. See how long and windy the title is? That’s how the Tony nomination committee decided to handle the inclusion of original music in non-musical plays this year.
The nominees for Best Original Score…are split down the middle this year. You have your two original musicals–Newsies and Bonnie & Clyde–which you can easily access by way of original cast recordings. Then you have your play nominees–One Man, Two Guvnors and Peter and the Starcatcher–that you normally have to see in theaters to get a feel for.
One Man, Two Guvnors clearly wants Best Original Score…attached to their play. They released a promotional video on Playbill featuring Grant Olding’s original skiffle songs from the play.
The two songs shown are quite catchy, which is the point. Skiffle is ear candy. It’s proto-rock and roll as interpreted by Brits exploring traditional American music. Who doesn’t like a good washboard percussionist?
If the rest of the songs are like that, there’s a chance that One Man, Two Guvnors could win the category. Newsies has new songs but the best songs are re-orchestrated from the movie. Bonnie & Clyde is a Frank Wildhorn show and NYC doesn’t care for him too much. If voters are willing to award a non-musical here (and the he said, she said gossip that spreads like wildfire around here swings back and forth like a pendulum), One Man, Two Guvnors might be victorious.
Prove me wrong, Peter and the Starcatcher. Put out your own video of your original songs and join in the fun. I mean, I’m going to see you anyway because OMG Celia Keenan-Bolger and Peter Pan and cast doubling as crew onstage! But it would be nice to hear what you’re working with before the Tonys have come and gone.
What do you think? Can a play actually win this category? Or will it take a year with no score nominees from musicals to guarantee that result? Sound off below.
Have you seen the HTC One cellphone ad with the synthesized breathing set behind some sky diving stunt? Eventually, the song starts to mention Superman and sounds just artistic enough to match the free-falling fashion student angle. It’s a weird but memorable ad that kind of sticks in your head.
Here’s the problem. The song being used is “O Superman” by Laurie Anderson. Anderson, one of my favorite recording artists, is a sharp, satiric writer unafraid of tackling big issues through experimental music. She did not have happy technology on her mind when she wrote and recorded this art piece.
The clearest level of text in “O Superman” is a statement against the rise of technology and its impact on the interconnectedness of the world. She mocks the separation created by answering machine message services with spoken dialogue over the synthesized “ha” chords in the background. She can’t reach her mother, the judge, or Superman, but she can leave a message and they’ll get back to her as soon as possible.
Then you start to dig into the more politicized aspects of the song. There are references to American planes flying overhead, possibly breaking up the communication patterns. Is the America of “O Superman” responsible for the machinery of poor communication? She quotes the US Postal Service creed in the same drone as the answering machine message, as if all communication is made impersonal by convenience.
Going even further, Anderson has given interviews where she says “O Superman” was inspired by the Iran hostage situation under Jimmy Carter’s presidency. The planes are a reference to the rescue mission and the failed communication the inability to prevent and resolve the crisis any faster. This would explain the repetition in the background–like the ticking of a clock or blank lines of Morse code–as well as the ominous climax of the song.
I know when I think of advertising campaigns, I immediately think of Laurie Anderson's harsh and experimental composition style
This isn’t even getting into the genesis of the song, a clever tribute to a lovely 19th Century aria with some vague thematic similarities to Anderson’s song.
So how, in 2012, does a cellphone company hear a song like this and think it’s a genius advertising gimmick? The surface level is a critique of this kind of technology and its impact on modern communication. That’s not exactly a winning strategy. “Here, buy our product. It’s ruining society as we know it.”
More likely, it was chosen for style over substance. It is a catchy song. It’s not a pleasant song, but it bores into your brain. “O Superman” even surpassed the success of its source video installation “United States.” The average person hearing that advert either doesn’t know what the song is about or has never heard it.
Now I’m depressed. Somebody call me when “Fire on Babylon” is used to sell barbecues. Then we can have a real authentic rage fest.
Thoughts? I love it when Laurie Anderson fans get to squeeze out of the woodwork in an honest to goodness contemporary context. Sound off below.
Today, another 18 countries compete for their chance at Eurovision glory. It’s a very different mix from the gimmick-heavy first group. There are a lot of ballads and dance pop songs from established pop/rock stars competing today. So what acts will move on to the finale?
I narrowed it down to three this time: Estonia, Ukraine, and Sweden.
First, Ott Lepland is representing Estonia with an absolutely stunning ballad called “Kuula (Listen).” This guy can sing. I have no clue what the song is about but his performance almost brought me to tears.
Is it too somber for Eurovision? I don’t know. Ballads have been doing very well recently. The whole contest is in Baki, Azerbaijan because Edward & Nigar won in 2011 with a sweet little pop ballad. Full disclosure: they were surely helped by having a song in English. Ott Lepland is singing in Estonian. This is the choice I feel the least confident about.
Second has to be Gaitana representing Ukraine with “Be My Guest.” It’s the kind of bouncy Europop song that gets to the finale every year but rarely wins. Gaitana’s voice and stage presence is huge, which should help the crowd go crazy and elevate opinions of her performance.
The one downside is how scratchy it is at first. It’s less music driven than beat driven. If you stick with “Be My Guest” until the bridge, everything comes together in a really catchy package. Will Gaitana’s presence be enough to carry the audience to the best part of the song?
Third is Loreen from Sweden singing “Euphoria.” If you follow a lot of Eurovision press, she is arguably the favorite to win the whole contest. The song is another Europop dancehall song, but it’s got great build and the choreography Loreen is doing is fascinating.
No notes for Loreen. She has this on lockdown.
So who am I missing? What acts should have moved on after the first Semifinal? Who should win the whole shebang on Saturday night? Sound off below. Love to hear from you.
Can you feel it? In just a few hours, Eurovision 2012 has its first semifinal round. I’m a big fan of the contest because–let’s face it–a lot of these countries try to win with a gimmick or stage spectacle. You never know what way the voters are going to go and whether or not a novelty act has a shot. It’s a fun event centered around music and international culture.
Here are two countries I hope to see in the finals of Eurovision 2012.
First are the competitors from Russia. The video of their performance of “Party for Everybody” has gone viral. Why? It’s six grandmothers in traditional Russian costuming singing a catchy pop song about dancing while quietly shuffling back and forth on stage.
The song is cute and well-produced. The novelty of the older women singing it will not go unnoticed today. It doesn’t hurt that the chorus is “Party for everybody. Come on and dance. Come on and dance. Come on and dance. Party for everybody…” over and over. It’s been stuck in my head for weeks.
The second country I want in the finals is Ireland. Sketchy Details’ favorite Jedward are back again with a new high energy pop song. “Waterline” might not be as catchy as last year’s “Lipstick,” but Jedward have improved a lot as singers in the past year without ditching their onstage antics.
Jedward is super high energy and they make it hard not to like them. We’ll see how far that gets them with a more traditional pop song.
Actually, judging by this rehearsal photograph, I think they’re a lock for the finals.
Jedward go robotic for Ireland at Eurovision 2012
So who is moving onto the finals in Eurovision 2012? What acts should people pay attention to? Any actual pop stars in the mix this year? Sound off below. I want to know.
The newest episode of Felicia Day’s Flog opens with a promise that she will play the violin. She follows that up by saying that people will be disappointed. Never underestimate the ability of a nerd or geek to undervalue their skills by choice or by accident.
The main content of the latest Flog is a performance of Tom Lenk’s song “Serenade for Carrie Fisher.” Aside from the name, the concept for the song caught my eye. I, too, was the music theory student who didn’t exactly follow the rules on composition assignments. I mean, I transcribed the “I Love You Song” from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee for a final assignment in Music Theory III where we could choose any published song that involved phrase modulation (without an actual key change) and analyze it. I also procrastinated so long that the professor still has my one and only handwritten copy of the song. And the actual sheet music came out the day after the assignment was due.
But I digress. I like the idea of a tongue in cheek Puccini-styled dedication to Carrie Fisher, especially in the context of being required to write like Bach. As my first college theory teacher said, “Everyone makes mistakes except for God and Bach.” He is the father of music theory and, unless you really like didactic order and precision, can be a bit dry to channel for assignments.
Just take a look at this…intriguing performance. The fancy embed code isn’t working right now. Just skip ahead to 2:40.
Lenk’s composition is solid. The main theme has a nice, lilting quality to it that I quite enjoy. In the second and third segment, he gets a bit more experimental with the violin part. The melody is left unresolved at key moments. It just builds a really nice sense of tension that feels a bit other worldly. They’re not Star Wars allusions, per se, but they’re informed by the sound of science fiction. You can just picture something unusual showing up at those moments in a TV show.
Let’s get to the real draw here. It’s one thing to put up a video of a lovely little song being played well by two competent musicians. It’s an entirely different thing to make a simple Romantic song (by way of mostly-stringent Baroque progressions) entertaining for a wide audience. From the snap costume changes to the looming invasion of sci-fi imagery, the Flog performance of “Serenade for Carrie Fisher” brings a less popular style of music alive in an entertaining way.
Felicia Day suggests that there might be more musical performances in the future. I can only hope so if this is the musical company she keeps.
Last week on The Voice, a singer named Erin Martin landed in the Bottom 3 on Team Cee Lo. She was sent home after a last chance ballad performance that showed off her vocal timbre and unique musical interpretation. She had some pitch problems on the chorus, but at least got to show off why she should have been one of the breakout stars of the season. Erin had perhaps one of the better developed artistic identities in the contest.
The night before, Cee Lo decided the way to showcase her assets was to flash her body and have her sing the ever-gimmicky “Walk Like an Egyptian” by The Bangles. The no-note pop song did nothing for her voice and made the judges all focus on her appearance.
Erin said during her first appearance on the show that she auditioned to be judged on her vocals alone. As soon as she was put up for public voting, she was displayed as a piece of meat to eye and not as a musician. When she stepped back into a song that gave us a glimpse of what she can do, she was sent home. Erin has been critical of her time on the show for this very reason.
Each of the judges on The Voice got to save one singer from their team after the first round of public voting. Blake Shelton was the only one who did not choose the loudest and most melismatic performer to stay in the contest. Unfortunately for Jordis Unga, she, too, was booted last night in favor of more exaggerated singers.
This trend on The Voice is a microcosm of an interesting dichotomy in the Top 40/Contemporary Hit Radio market. On the one side, we’re inundated with young singers who are encouraged to oversing every song. Performers like Adele and Kelly Clarkson have faced serious vocal health issues from the popular performance school. Katy Perry is belting all her records and scooping into every high note for style. If it doesn’t sound like you’re struggling to get all the notes out, you’re not really singing. Their music is simpler, driven by small arrangements and a focus on lyrical content.
On the other side, we’re seeing an influx in the number of singers who have an odd tone being pushed to sing over-produced dance music. When I first heard Neon Hitch, I didn’t expect her to be doing a single like “F U Betta.” Sia, who possesses an amazing voice and sense of style, is stuck singing hooks for rappers and DJs in the US market. Neither artist is really getting the chance to show off their tone or range at all. Both are forced into this dubstep/super processed sound that has overtaken pop in the last two years.
There appears to be a bit more leeway with distinctive male artists in this regard. I wouldn’t say Gotye has the best sounding voice in the world, but he’s allowed to release quirky singles like “Somebody That I Used to Know” that show off what he can do as a musician. Adam Levine gets away with his super relaxed jazzy vocal on every Maroon 5 track and Adam Lambert has carte blanche to belt every song he’s on like it’s the 11 o’clock anthem in a new rock musical. Even in those cases, the songs become quite repetitive so the melody gets stuck in your head ASAP.
Is there a way in today’s market for a less than cookie-cutter rock/pop voice to break through in an interesting way? Sure, if they’re willing and able to add riffs to every line of a song and push their tone so hard they suffer vocal damage. But is this melismatic style the best? Does being able to sing all those tricky runs make you a better, more desirable musician? I’m not so sure.
One of the hardest things for a singer to do is stand still and deliver a song. No tricks, no gimmicks, just sing. You become the vessel for the music and are judged by how good the song sounds. For young singers, who have been raised on reality singing competitions like American Idol, you can add on “sing the melody as written” as an extra challenge.
There’s a pervading media message through these shows that straight singing–staying on the melody–is karaoke, bad, or boring. If you have a natural vibrato and vary up a performance with dynamics, you’re labeled “Broadway” with the same tone someone might have used in the past to describe a leper or plague victim. The competitors willing to change up the melody, scream, and not hold a note for longer than a second are the ones praised as true artists. Is this really what we want music to sound like now?
This is not to slag on any competitors on these shows. You do what you have to in order to win. Kelly Clarkson, for example, got dumped with a lot of mediocre pop music before she was allowed to go back into her pop/rock wheelhouse and pull back on the screaming. What I’m saying is that this “power vocal or nothing” approach to packaging artists is troubling.
Why should a musician with a distinctive voice be forced to rely on an image or a producer to succeed? Different is not a four letter word and should not offend the delicate ears of listeners. Having rasp, vibrato, or brightness in the voice is not necessarily a bad thing. It all depends on how the singer uses it. I think it would be nice to turn on the radio and not hear a singer in the Erin Martin-vein disguised by thirty layers of synthesizers and autotune to fit into Top 40/CHR vernacular.
A few years ago, I thought the success of Timbaland’s Shock Value album was a novelty. Producers can have success, but they’re just not meant to be household names if they can’t do something else. That his Shock Value II release did significantly worse on the charts and radio seemed to confirm my suspicions.
Two years ago, a DJ/producer like David Guetta getting multiple Top 20 hits off of one album would be unimaginable. A crossover hit from the dance charts was always a possibility. It’s how people like Enur can score a hit every once in a while. However, in those cases, normally the guest artist/singer is the one credited for the song. The vocalist is who we can connect with even if the DJ/producer is the one who put in all the work.
Yet, listening to Top 40/Contemporary Hit Radio stations in recent months, when a David Guetta track is played, it’s credited as “David Guetta featuring [guest],” not “[guest].” You could argue that Usher, Nicki Minaj, or Sia are the real draw. The fact still remains that somehow, the rise of dance/club music into mainstream culture has seen an equal rise in the recognition for DJ/producers.
Skrillex is gaining recognition for his music and his public image.
It goes beyond DJs just getting credit. They’re being recognized in big ways. Remember Skrillex being a surprise Best New Artist nominee and actually winning more Grammys than any other nominee in that category? His music is suddenly everywhere in advertising, films, and TV shows. People know who Skrillex is even if they don’t understand what he’s doing.
Then there are the singers who crossover from being well-known and well-credited producers. Ryan Tedder of One Republic was been scoring a lot of hits for other artists like Kelly Clarkson and Beyonce long before his band was given a chance at a record deal. Neon Hitch produced for a bunch of dance acts before a label gave her some promotion.
The difference between these modern acts and an older industry crossover story like Carol King is intention. People like B.o.B. and Bruno Mars may be having successful solo careers right now, but they’re still pursuing work as producers with more press than usual. You’re just as likely to read a print article in Billboard (or like publication) about a new artist as you are to read about a new DJ/producer crossing over with an album or single. Working behind the scenes has never been hotter in recent memory.
The reason the trend sticks out for me is simple: the people making the music are starting to become household names. If the trend continues, who knows how many aspects of the creative industry will suddenly be recognized by the public. Will songwriters get their due without having to judge a reality show? Or will this emergence of DJ/producers stop when the sound of the lubs inevitably shifts in a new direction?
Best to live in the moment and appreciate what we have. The music industry is nothing if not fickle. Embrace the trends that make you happy and hope they become evergreen in the long run.