Tag Archives: pop music

Lady Gaga, “Perfect Illusion”

With the announcement of “Perfect Illusion,” Little Monsters and critics alike were left to wonder what a Lady Gaga single would sound like after her three-year hiatus from pop music. Would the swirling rumors of a RedOne/Gaga reunion make for a dark, club banger a la “Bad Romance?” Perhaps a Grammy win with Tony Bennett had persuaded the Golden Globe winner to try her hand at a solo jazz collection? Neither, it seems. As a collaboration between Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, Mark Ronson, and the producer, Bloodpop, Lady Gaga’s “Perfect Illusion” finds the Mother Monster swapping her jazz ensemble for a handful of guitars and a dash of punk.

More Tame Impala than Mark Ronson or Bloodpop, “Perfect Illusion” takes a stab at dance-rock, toeing in line with Ronson’s promise of a purely “analog record.” Simple guitar progressions and delayed synth vamps underscore Gaga’s raw vocals, which waver between a female Bruce Springsteen and (oddly enough) a belting Miley Cyrus. The auto-tune that ran rampant on previous dance hits like “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance” is gone, leaving behind the sheer force of her powerful delivery.

The Ronson-Parker-Bloodpop trio’s intentions are glaringly clear from the first listen: to feature Gaga’s undeniable vocal talent, as showcased on Cheek To Cheek and her memorable tribute to Julie Andrews at 2015’s Oscars. The effect, however, has overshadowed Gaga’s knack for quirky, provocative lyrics. Vague verses and a simple, repetitive chorus stand as some of Gaga’s weakest lines, despite her recent boast that “every few days, a lyric would change and it would get better and better.”   Even in its final draft, the song’s intention as a commentary on the ingenuine nature of social media barely comes across.

Lady Gaga’s survey into punkish disco-rock of “Perfect Illusion,” marks the beginning of yet another reinvention in the singer’s eight-year stint in the limelight.  After the saccharine empowerment of Born This Way and the weed-fueled erracticism of Artpop, the raw vocal power and refreshing collaborations on”Perfect Illusion” are a hopeful sign that Joanne may produce some of Lady Gaga’s most accessible work. The stale lyrics and modest arrangement, however, still fall short in capturing the thrill and intrigue of The Fame Monster, arguably the most authentic and respectable release of the icon’s career.

 

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Ferras, “Closer”

It’s been over two years since the release of Ferras’s last release, an eponymous five-track EP brimming with romantic yearning — and the inevitable heartbreak and disappointment that results from it. The single, “Champagne,” was an assertive departure from Ferras’s piano-driven debut, “Hollywood’s Not America”. While “America’s” radio-friendly sound worked well for its use as American Idol’s departure song, “Champagne” reeked of Dom Perignon and coke-fueled urgency. 2014 brought with it a fiery new Ferras flaunting a serious mohawk —and a sound to match.

Two years later, Ferras continues the trend with “Closer,” a  mid tempo pop track reminiscent of the Ferras sessions. Subtle marimbas and piano stabs shuffle behind lyrics resounding with the same urgency and desperation that made “Champagne” so exceptional. While Ferras’s passionate delivery remains in tip-top form, the backing arrangement lags behind his aroused vocals. The mismatch between Ferras’s zeal and his underwhelming instrumental recalls the jounce of “No Good in Goodnight,” a slice of filler that lacks the vulnerability of tracks like “Speak In Tongues” or the gorgeous Aliens & Rainbows take of “Take My Lips.”

Still, “Closer” teems with a come-hither appeal that only Ferras can pull off . Although the drastic highs and sweeping lows of songs like “Champagne” and “My Beautiful Life” may be lacking from Ferras’s latest release, “Closer” still carries with it the promise of another solid LP. In the meantime, we’ll have to wait with fingers crossed, hoping to hear Ferras at his best—that is,  when he’s hot and bothered.

 

Ariana Grande, Dangerous Woman

After the infamous “Donut Licking Fiasco of 2015,” former Nickelodean actress, Ariana Grande, has committed herself to her most ambitious promotional agenda yet: adulthood. Between sitting for Playboy Bunny-inspired album cover shoots, donning lingerie in risque music videos, and ditching her signature pony-tail, Grande’s stance on maturity reflects the failed approaches of countless kid stars before her.

While Miley Cyrus’s grinding routine and Lindsay Lohan’s, well, adult career have failed to fully redeem these once beloved kid stars, Grande’s four-octave voice has set her apart. With each performance, her talent proves to be a magnetic tour-de-force that has drawn in countless fans (myself included) since 2013’s doo-wop inspired Yours Truly.

2015’s Dangerous Woman is a collection of mostly sulty, sexually charged R&B meant to capitalize on Grande’s most mature asset, her voice. A shameless nod to Aretha Franklin’s 1967 hit, “(You Make Me Feel like) A Natural Woman,” the title track features an empowered Grande belting over slinky guitar riffs and a smooth high-hat beat. Meanwhile,the Macy Gray-featuring soul of “Leave Me Lonely,”  offers a rare glimpse of a raw and vulnerable Ariana shedding a fickle lover. Whether it’s the contemporary trap of “Everyday” or the throwback brass & electric piano of “I Don’t Care,”Grande’s vocal versatility allows for a diverse assortment of R&B achieved by few in the Top 40.

The 15-track LP, however, doesn’t confine itself to one genre. Fans of the 2014  breakthrough hit, “Break Free,” will appreciate the 90’s Mariah-meets-Mura-Musa feel of “Be Alright,” and the addictive pulse of “Into You.” Those missing the 50’s doo-wop and girl-group rehashing of Grande’s debut might prefer the demure opener, “Moonlight,” in which Grande romances a contemporary “Elvis with some James Dean in his eyes.” Grande even stakes out new territory with frequent collaborator, Nicki Minaj, on the domineering reggae of “Side to Side.” Embracing both the familiar and new, Dangerous Woman merges past tastes with an  emerging curiosity for new genres and timbres.

Although the eclectic mix of genres and lackluster lyrics, at times, mimic the inconsistency found on My Everything, Dangerous Woman finds America’s favorite “Mini-Mariah” inching toward finally establishing an authentic presence that is undeniably Ariana Grande. Until then, Grande’s latest LP will stand as another stepping stone between the Nickelodeon child star posting Adele covers on Youtube, and the woman who has embraced her showstopping talent as the hallmark of a “dangerous woman.”

Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman hits shelves May 21st! In the meantime, watch Ariana and Miley take on “Don’t Dream It’s Over!

Sia, “Reaper”

Sia’s upcoming LP, This Is Acting, collects a handful of shelved songs from the Australian songwriter’s undoubtedly massive archive. Although the 12 tracks (14 tracks if you snatch up the Target Exclusive Version) were returned by the likes of Adele, Beyonce, and Shakira, Sia nevertheless feels the compilation consists entirely of unrecognized hits.

The fun, yet ominous “Reaper,” proves to be one of the most promising of five singles released on iTunes so far . Cowritten and produced with Kanye West for Rihanna’s elusive Anti project, the promotional single is a bass-driven slice of charming pop radio. The upbeat, rhythmic production, however, juxtaposes with Sia’s despondent lyrics, with proclamations such as “So come back when I’m good to go/I got drinks to drink, and men to hold/I got good things to do with my life” meant to ward off an early Death.

While the track will undoubtedly appeal to fans of Sia’s 2014 release, 1,000 Forms Of Fear, the award-winning songwriter revealed her own indifference to the song in a recent Rolling Stone interview.  Sia herself preferred “One Million Bullets” and the Beyonce-outtake,”Footprints,”to the sinister “Reaper,” which was only included on the final tracklist of Acting after her manager’s insistence.

Sure, “Reaper” is no “Chandelier” or “Alive.” However, as pickings from the cutting room floor of one of contemporary pop’s most pervasive songsmiths, the track showcases the flexibility that allowed Sia to transition from indie songstress to pop’s most in-demand writers.

Sia’s This Is Acting hits shelves on January 29th. 

 

 

 

 

Demi Lovato, Unbroken

“And I just ran out of Band-Aids,” belts Demi Lovato on the swooping ballad, “Fix A Heart”. Naturally, this seems like an understatement for what one of Disney’s most popular teen divas has experienced this past year. With the publicity of Lovato’s struggles with bulimia  and self-mutilation piled on top of the departure from the TV hit, Sonny With A Chance, it would seem Lovato would need more than First Aid kit necessities to help her.
Still, the ballad showcases the best –and worst– of her latest album, Unbroken. The most striking element of Lovato’s latest record is the showcasing of her undeniable vocal talent. At only 18-years old, Sonny With A Chance’s has a level of vocal prowess and stamina that fellow Disney queens, Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, will probably never achieve.  On ballads such as synth choir soaked “Lightweight” and the empowerment anthem of a lead single, “Skyscraper”, Lovato conquers demanding vocal sweeps with a precision that gives credence to producer and One-Republic frontman Ryan Tedder’s praising of Lovato as a “Kelly Clarkson level vocalist”. Although such ballads prove to be only a minority of the record’s contents, they are Lovato’s most poignant moments, suggesting that Lovato may eventually be capable of breaking free from her Disney roots.
The majority of Unbroken, however, still has Lovato chanting along to bubblegum pleasures that sound as limited as that of any artist still under contract by Disney. The, Timbaland and Missy Elliot featuring club-stomper “All Night Long” includes a superb example of the cliche lines that flood the album’s high-paced tunes: “Let’s keep the party going all night long/All night long.” Despite featuring A-list guests, tracks such as “You’re My Only Shorty” (featuring Iyez), the peace rallying of the Jason Derulo duet “Together” and the guilty pleasure “Who’s That Boy” are at moments laughable with their boring cameos and lukewarm pop rhythms.
While Lovato certainly has the stadium crowding vocals of any chart topper today, the poor songwriting and faux assertiveness of Unbroken stifle the potential for a promising record by refusing to let Demi take off the Mickey Mouse ears.

Rihanna, ‘Loud’

After the notorious Rihanna-Chris Brown abuse case stormed tabloid columns and blogs, both critics and Rihanna’s followers alike accurately predicted the gothic, distorted R&B of her previous album, Rated R. Still, once news about Rihanna’s return to the studio to create Rated R’s follow-up surfaced, everyone asked the same question: Where would pop’s leading lady take her musical stylings now?
Upon listening to Rihanna’s fifth studio album, Loud, the answer becomes immediately obvious. Producers and songwriters keep the music scene’s most current diva even more relevant by making her latest attempt a compilation of her past albums’ styles. Despite the irony in this formula, it works. On the popular singles, “S&M” and “Only Girl (In The World), Rihanna heralds the return to the top-seller Good Girl Gone Bad’s dance-pop leanings. Meanwhile, songs like the Avril Lavigne sampling, weekend warrior anthem “Cheers (Drink To That) and the murder confessional “Man Down” feature flashbacks to the island girl’s Caribbean homages on Music Of The Sun. As the disc’s highlight, “Man Down” is a sonic smoothie of the Bob Marley style vocals and rhythms that blazed across her debut, and the shady story lines that marked 2009’s Rated R as the year’s eeriest musical thriller.
Still, a fashionista knows that one cannot go retro without solid grounding in the present. Keeping this in mind, Loud threads a sense of maturity and freshness throughout, making it a stylish competitor for Hit Album of the Year.