Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Truth About Jedward

The post X Factor reaction to those big haired boys John and Edward Grimes has been really interesting. And quite fun to watch. From appearing on the Late Late Toy Show ("ohmygodican'tbelievewe'reonthetoyshowthisis..sooooexciting" etc) to opening the Arnotts sale ( you know how it is) and doing a mountain of club appearances in between these boys are having so much fun with their new found fame it that is hard to resist.

I do particularly love this clip (which I saw when The Bubble Boy posted it on Facebook, thanks for that) of the boys on The Graham Norton Show (airing tomorrow for those of you not going out for NYE or who have a Sky+) where they manage to hold their own against Graham Norton, Joan Rivers and Sarah Jessica Parker (who is on fine form it must be said).

Watching the boys careen around big name TV gigs reminds me of someone else. Another dynamic duo that were a hit with all ages and had no problem just being themselves and doing their own thing and cracking up the audience while they were doing it. I do of course mean Zig and Zag. Thanks to YouTube and the DVD they released last year I've noticed that their brand of zany humour and fun has been missing from TV in many ways. Its hard to watch this:

and not think of this:

I'm telling you, these boys have the Zig and Zag magic. And that is no bad thing.

And speaking of Zig and Zag this is priceless, I wish somebody, anybody would do TV as harebrained and effortless as this:

Six Pack: Six Great TV Shows This Decade

I really get freaked out by top ten lists as much as I love reading them. I always get an inferiority complex about all the amazing stuff I haven't consumed. But I had to throw my hat into the ring somehow. And given my strange obsession with the Six Pack idea here on Pop Culture Platinum it seemed fitting to do some kind of list. But I got freaked out about writing about music because I just didn't know where to start, so.... instead we have six of my TV faves of this decade. By no means definitive and certainly missing a few things but a bit of fun nonetheless

Without further ado:

30 Rock: Plenty of great sitcoms this decade as the traditional styles of Friends and Will and Grace that were so popular made way for less of a reliance on canned laughter and traditional camera set ups. This gave us The Office (UK & US), Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development and many more. But 30 Rock is my personal favourite. A genuinely brilliant ensemble cast and a fantastic lead performance from Tina Fey backed up with whipsmart pop culture references and a fine mix of one liners and surreal moments it is an endlessly rewarding watch. And it is always hard to argue with The Muffin Top Song.

Mad Men: I had to have one "proper", "serious" drama on this list! And it might as well be this. In a decade were serious character driven drama won awards and audiences (you can thank DVD boxsets for that) from the big daddy The Sopranos to the most name dropped series of the decade, The Wire there is no shortage of innovative dramas that demand your time. Mad Men is my pick of the bunch. The period detail is sublime and the world of Sterling Cooper is brilliantly drawn. Throw in the complex, multi layered character of Don Draper and the lovely, lovely Joan and you have a show that has truly earned all of the praise heaped upon it.

Gilmore Girls : One of the most underrated shows of this decade. A genuinely sweet but still sharp comedy drama that brought a small town to life with an ease other comedies would kill for, the real ace in the hole for this series was the dream team of Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel. A too good to be true pairing they may have been (who talks like that with their mother? Nobody) but they brought the sparkling and oh-so-fast scripting to life with style. Put aside any preconceptions you may have about a family drama set in a small town and dig in, Gilmore Girls is one of the most tightly scripted TV shows you'll ever see.

The Hills: There had to be one reality show here. In a decade when a new genre of TV was born The Hills brought gloss, glamour and lots and lots of blank stares to our screens. Compulsive and beautifully shot The Hills may appear to be about very little but that is part of its charm. One of the few shows looking at 20 something life and connecting with our new found celebrity culture it really is no surprise this show struck such a nerve. Whether Team Heidi or Team Lauren of just Team I Really Should Not Be Watching This, The Hills was the reality show to beat this decade.

The O.C.  It may now be a bit of a TV relic but it would be a shame to dismiss the quality of the show when it got things right. The O.C. gave teen drama a warmth, humour and knowing quality that was very of the decade. Happy to engage with a passionate online fanbase and as comfortable with comedy as it was drama The O.C. is every bit a teen classic as My So Called Life or Buffy (in its own in joke heavy, overly soundtracked way) and the TV show that made using "hot new bands" acceptable as way of scoring a show (we're looking at you Grey's Anatomy).

Veronica Mars: One of my favourite shows EVER and one that I will consistently rave about if given half the chance. A sharp, witty, moving, noirish, addictive thrill ride and one that will hook in the most cynical of viewers. The first season is a masterclass in how to build a mystery over a season of TV while still have plenty of time for one liners, relationship drama and father-daughter bonding. This should have so much bigger than it was. You owe it to yourself to check it out. Not least for the lead Kristen Bell who is several shades of amazing. She should become a huge film star, like many a great TV actress, but whether she does or not she will always have her winning performance in this to fall back on.

Some honourable mentions (that didn't qualify for date reasons or they didn't jump out at me at first, which is part of the qualification for this spur of the moment list) : Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias, Sex and the City, Undeclared, The Rachel Zoe Project, The City, America's Next Top Model, Life As We Know It, The Simple Life, Chelsea Lately, My Life On The D-List, The Dead Zone, Firefly, Dead Like Me,  Gossip Girl, Samantha Who?, The Osbournes, (this is an awfully trashy list is it not?)

Not Exactly News BUT the video for Rihanna's Hard is...


I meant to watch this a few weeks ago when it leaked but how balls out amazing is Rihanna's video for "Hard"? Skillfully shot, effortlessly sexy and with a neat mix of slight plot and supremely fierce fashion, its a masterclass in how to do a big name music video. Take note other popstars. "Rated R" has had a fantastic visual campaign to add to the brilliance of the music and I can't wait to see what RiRi brings for us in the coming year. Apparently Rude Boy is to be the next single for the UK/Ireland presumably followed by this, but until that video surfaces lets enjoy bad ass military chic Rihanna in all her glory:

The Wonderful World of Wynter Gordon

Wynter Gordon came to the attention of eager pop fans at the start of last year when Popjustice mentioned her still-sounds-brilliant pop gem "Surveillance". It seemed to be a sure fire winner in the "best singles of 2008" lists but the track was never properly released and Wynter has yet to release her own material. She has built her own profile slowly but surely with new tracks and demos for other artists (including Jennifer Lopez whose new album features a number of tracks co written by Wynter) as well as guesting on Flo Rida's hit "Sugar" and a track on David Guetta's "One Love" ("Toyfriend" one of the highlights).

I've been keeping an eye on her stuff on and off and found this leaked track today (which seems to be knocking about for the last few weeks). A sprightly piece of club pop (produced by David Guetta allegedly though I'm not sure if that is true), not unlike "Celebration" by Madonna, "Dirty Talk" feels like a track that would sound very good blasting out of the radio and even better on a sweaty dancefloor. I'm not sure why Wynter hasn't taken off yet but I hope 2010 finally gets to be her year.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Lady Gaga Phones A Fan. Mid Concert.

Saw this on Twitter earlier (thanks to Ian Healy) and I do love it. Lady Gaga whips out a phone and gives an over-excited fan a quick ring. I do love that she did this but found myself wondering throughout just HOW she got his phone number. It is a bit stalkertastic if you ask me.

And can you imagine Britney doing this? Or Madonna? Hilarious.

I'm aware that this should lead into a searing sociological style analysis of how this ties into the rapid way Gaga hs built a community of loyal followers by reconfiguring how we view fame culture and pop starlets.

But really... it is Lady Gaga. Resplendent in feathers. And phoning a probable homosexual who chants down the phone at her. While she sits at a piano mid concert. So really, my work here is done.

Tyra Stops Smiling With Her Talk Show Eyes

Well this is quite the development. Tyra Banks has just announced today that this season of her talk show, The Tyra Banks Show (she should have called it I Wish I Was Oprah if you ask me) will be her last.

What. A. Tragedy.

The Tyra show never really took off because in all honesty it is muck. Even compared to other talk shows. Tyra for all her self belief does not know how to interview people. It is always about her during each segment to an embarrassing degree.

Still it is a shame that now D list celebs will have to hawk their wares elsewhere, that girls who used to be on Top Model won't have this show to fall back when they need the bills paid or when Tyra wants to wear a swimsuit and tell people she IS NOT FAT. Forshame.

In honour of the annoucement watch this utterly cringealicious interview with TyTy and Miss Janet Jackson from last year. It sums up her fawning, utterly crap approach to interviewing quite succintly:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Why This X Factor Against the Machine Stuff Is Missing The Point

So... where to start?

At this point it might be old news that Rage Against The Machine have wound up at top of the UK Singles chart for that much heralded Christmas number one (they'll likely end up doing the same thing in the Irish chart this week coming). Joe McElderry has gotten his pop career off to an interesting start at the least.

There has been plenty of discussion about how this is a "victory" for "real music" and shown that silly Simon Cowell who is boss. I'm not quite sure to start with this and I've already had a few sneaky rants here and there about the stupidity of of it all. But surely now that it about to become old hat why not blog about? That is just how on the button I truly am!

First of all get the gist on the story here without much of the inherently snobby writing that has marred much of the newspaper coverage of this (more on that later).

It is nice that some interest has been sparked in the charts after the dullness of X Factor claiming the top so many years in a row. I love pop music and am always interested in the charts because it is always great to see what isn't and isn't selling. I've never liked "campaigns" to get a certain song to chart. The chart should work off of people buying songs they like and want to spend their money not what they are told to buy. This has underpinned my problem with this RATM business.

The RATM side argued that X Factor fans were "sheep" buying the song because Simon Cowell et all had manipulated the charts every year for the last 4. This is just ignoring the fact that obviously hundreds of thousands of people bought the song they liked by a singer they had watch on tv for a few months and grown to love. Of course. But if you see on Facebook that someone tells you to download a song to make a point you do. "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me" indeed.

To get too worked up about how blind people were to go along with this is missing the point. And the fact that the band will donate their profits to charity is nice and almost (almost) takes the sting out of the fact that BOTH The X Factor track and RATM are on Sony and therefore they've doubled their end of Xmas single sales. Nice one.

The real disappointment about this is how it boiled down to people pointing fingers at Simon Cowell as some kind of Grinch figure out to ruin the music world for everyone. Of particular interest is the NME cover story where many musicians lambast Simon for what they see as ruining the music industry.

But surely Simon is not to blame? Ultimately he is a businessman selling a product. And people are buying. Simon at least is getting people to get out and buy music. and with things the way they are for the music business someone who can knock that? Many will moan that the music is awful/cover versions/not credible but at the very least people are willing to buy it and that has to count for something.

Also for all the blathering on that the X Factor dominates, in reality it is merely reflecting the tastes of those who are consuming popular music. Plenty of artists performed on the results show this year and didn't have it reflect in their sales. Janet Jackson is a great example. Her single didn't dent the top 40 despite a high profile slot on the results show the same night as Lady Gaga who who climbed to number one following her performance. Gaga was already enyjoing huge success with "Bad Romance" before her appearance and this performance was clearly the last part of a huge push for the song. X Factor is offering up the platform and the final bit of promotion to tie in with the radio play and public interest in acts they obviously like. Its why Alexandra Burke and JLS have connected with the public with post show releases and become successful and Leon Jackson and Eoghan Quigg haven't. The fact too that the show clears well past 15-16 million viewers at the moment and the winner clears around the 500,000-200,000 (depending on their popularity) in sales in the first week suggest there is a huge chunk who never go on to buy the winner's single and shows that just because people watch the show does not mean they will buy the song which is the main crux of the RATM argument against the series.

Instead of getting worked up about one successful music business man and the hit TV show he oversees it would be much more interesting to look at other things going on with popular music and the record industry. Why is radio so insisting on playlisting and not supporting new artists or follow up singles by acts who have one hit? Why is that somebody like BBC Radio 1 can effectively make or break an artist with a flick of a playlist? Why is that nobody is bothering to make a comprehensive fast paced music TV show with a broad range of genres? Why do we still insist of calling one form of music real and the other manufactured? How about realising that anyone releasing music commercially in any way is playing into the same system? It is about time we looked at how little value we place on music instead of giving someone who can still find profit in the system. Jealousy is never a good look.

And ALSO, why can't we have proper pop tunes with a festive feel? Many hate the "manufactured pop" of the 90s but its hard to argue with tracks like 2 Become 1 and Too Much from the Spice Girls or Stay Another Day from East 17. Genuinely huge pop acts who remind you of their success in a given year with great pop songs that are both festive but stand on their own. It would be great to see the X Factor do something like this or even take on an original track. The best track to come out of any reality TV show this decade is still Sound of the Underground by Girls Aloud. Surf guiter, distorted bass and a big chorus it is a proper piece of superstar pop and not the typical "here comes the key change ballad".

Sigh. All I know is that this should have been Christmas number one:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Is This The Future of TV or Is Ashton Kutcher Desperate?

I blogged briefly about US TV failure The Beautiful Life a while back. It was one of the most uninteresting pilots I've ever seen, taking a great idea and mangling it beyond belief. The first episode rated badly and so did the second. The show was pulled from the schedule of The CW while they tinkered with Melrose Place to make it a hit and gloated about how big the Vampire Diaries had gotten. There was some of the usual moaning from the cast and producers about how "we weren't given a chance" that may or may not have been accurate and promises of the remaining episodes being screened elsewhere. I don't think anyone took notice and the lack of any fan buzz around this seemed like a sign that was a permanent favourite for the "shows nobody cared about" list.

But now, we have a new development. Ashton Kutcher, the executive producer has struck a deal to have the remaining episodes of the show put on YouTube. Kutcher's logic as discussed in the video below (and here) is that nobody knew about the show in the first place. Now with YouTube he think he can get a name for the show and get sponsors to greenlight more episodes.

How cringey is that video? It screams "big budget marketing firm try to recreate lo-fi web videos". Shudder.

I'm fascinated by this idea for a number of reasons however. There is alot of guff about how web content being the new TV that for the most part doesn't seem to really have impacted in a way that there is an actual show everybody follows online in the same huge way as network TV (I have a feeling I right be wrong here and in fact there is a wealth of hit online shows I'm not watching). But what we do have is loads of people watching their TV on YouTube and loads of other sites instead of on TV. These videos are not being uploaded by their makers like this show but that doesn't stops thousands using it to catch up with their favourites. Its the reason why some key US imports get screened immediately on our shores as opposed to the month long wait other shows endure. If this goes well it might lead to more streaming of shows being done on YouTube. Though given the issues with rights etc its not likely to happen to shows that are actually on air.

If Kutcher can get enough hype for this show, it will be interesting to see what it does for web content in general. Will it build audiences for them and get them hard cash to make TV stations truly nervous? Or is this just a way to dump poorly made dramas in a place where even less people will watch them?

It is undoubtedly a great gimmick and it will be fun to see how this develops. I have a horrible suspicion that I'm going to get hooked on this show if only because Mischa Barton's performance is so bad it is frightfully entertaining. And as far as I'm concerned somebody needs this to get Veronica Mars and Popular brought back to life. (Can you imagine?)

At the very least it gives Ashton something other to do than tweet all the time. It'd be great if Demi Moore could do the same thing.

Just saying.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why Wasn't This Huge?: thecocknbullkid "I'm Not Sorry"

I'm casting my eyes over the end of year, end of decade and what will be huge in 2010 lists as we all do at this time of the year. There are plenty of acts, many of whom how have been flitting around the pop world for the best part of this year and look set to break (or not break) as 2010 unfolds. The scrapheap of each year is always quite high as tastemakers see predictions fall flat or just not as high as they'd hoped.

This got me thinking about this rather amazing track from one of those hopefuls thecocknbullkid. Her track I'm Not Sorry is a proper belter. It has a menacing quality as well a chorus that lodges in your head for days at a time. I remember first hearing about this track at the start of last year and it just never caught on. I'm not quite sure why. The general "campaign" (to quote a messageboard cliche) never seemed to happen. And that is a shame, "I'm Not Sorry" is as strong anything La Roux, Little Boots et al and Anita Bray, the lady behind thecocknbullkid, sounds like an interesting and talented person if this Guardian article is anything to go by.

While you muse over where it all went wrong have a listen to the track, I've only remembered it over the last few days but I'd put it down as one of the best things I've heard all year:

Britney Leaks A New Video

The rather great MuuMuse has pointed out that a New (NEW!) cut of the most recent Britney video "3" has leaked online. How exciting! The original video is here ("embedding disabled by request" of course. I'll never understand the reason for this. Never) and while many fans aren't mad on the video I think it does the job well, providing us with lots of shots of hair flipping Britney (amazing) and sultry close ups (amazing x 2)

Phwoar etc. Still this new cut is quite exciting for the fact that it features way more dancing than the first version which when it comes to Britney is no bad thing. There is also a whole new scene cut throughout too with Britters resplendent (there. I said it) in lace and a very tight hair bun which makes her look classy as classy can be:

So classy she had to lie down obviously. I actually love this look on Britney. It doesn't sit so well with the looser tone of how she looks elsewhere in the video and the general flapping about suggesting a threesome but I'll take what I can get.

There are loads of different shots in this cut that aren't in the original. My favourite is one where Britney spins into the arms of a dancer who is at Britter's crotch and stares as if looking for his keys. Or just needs somewhere to rest his head for a minute. Shoddy screen cap alert:

Who hasn't been having a bit of a dance party and needed a few seconds to relax? Even if that relaxing takes place at crotch level. Try not to judge.

I went through a couple of minutes of indecision over which of these cuts was better. And after that torment I realised that obviously the new one is best. Not only does it feature all the great qualities listed above it has an exclusive air that will give Britney nerds major bragging rights for years to come. "Well true fans know that the director's cut of 3 is actually one of her best videos. Its a rare find but a real gem" they'll say as their friends debate silly musical questions such as "Is Kid A the best album of this decade?" or similar.

Without further ado (or pointless rambling) here is that director's cut. And if you find some track from "Kid A" playing through your head while you watch this that's your problem. Don't look at me. It's not like I ever listened to it.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rihnna "Rated R" album review

When Rihanna had a hugely successful third album in "Good Girl Gone Bad" and a string of hits including the monster hit "Umbrella" there no doubt some label bosses who struggled to think how they would top its success. And when at the start of the year Rihanna was assaulted by her then boyfriend Chris Brown it sent everything into a spiral. Many assumed Rihanna would lay low and not release any music for awhile but reports emerged that she was working on a harder, edgier sound for a new album due this year.

And with that we have "Rated R", an aggressive, powerful pop album layered with emotion and stunning songs. You’ll already know the moody and show stopping Russian Roulette, an unusual choice for a lead single but a suitable one that sets out what this album is about. The album itself follows a similarly chilly mood. There’s hip hop swagger in “Hard” (the next single) and “Rude Boy” a cheeky, flirty song with real punch that should really be a club friendly single at some point.

But unlike most pop albums this album really shines in the mid-tempo numbers. “Fire Bomb” sounds like the theme song to the best road movie ever and would sound great coming out of a radio near you this summer. “Photographs” is one of the best productions Will.I.Am has lent his name to all year. A simple, delicate number on lost love Rihanna puts that new found vocal depth to good use and sells this one to the utmost degree.

The real highpoint though is “Cold Case Love”, a sweeping and epic track that explodes into a bit of Timbaland style beatboxing near the close. Taking a rather literal crime scene metaphor to a rocky relationship it’s a reminder that while this album does not have an “Umbrella”, “Don’t Stop The Music” or “Disturbia” it does have moments like these.

"Rated R" works because it marries top producers doing strong songs with a keen sense of something different. From the sleeve decked out in saucy photos to the blunt but effective lyrics it’s a reminder that pop music can have a bit of grit and still aim squarely at the top of the charts. A triumph and a contender for best pop album of the year.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Six Pack: Six Songs to Get Excited About

Here you are, six songs I love at the moment. Just a selection but a fine bunch of tunes nonetheless.

Wiley feat. Chew Fu - Take That

At the risk of coming over all Annie Mac (no bad thing I suppose) this is a TUNE. I've been obsessed with Chew Fu for the last six months with his pile of mindblowing remixes getting bigger and bigger every week. Not least his work on many of Lady Gaga's recent singles. Still this collaboration with Wiley (he of "Wearing My Rolex" fame and darling of the UK garage/grime scene) is undoubtedly going to swallow the charts and the clubs whole over the next few months. And quite right too. Surprisingly off the wall and bonkers for a mainstream dance track, this is an abrasive, agressive slice of upbeat grime pop. Harder than some of the recent Chew Fu mixes and no doubt a bit of a retort to critics on Wiley's part it sounds a bit like Dizzee Rascal's "Bonkers" put through a blender and bashed off a wall several times. If that makes any sense.

The video is suitably bonkers too:

Janet Jackson : Make Me

Janet is one of my favourite artists of all time and my feverish love of her is mocked sometimes. But with the release of a new career spanning best of those who doubt her contribution to pop might do a double take. I don't want to bore anyone or go off topic but Janet has had a significant hand in shaping the last 10 years of pop videos, genre hopping R&B/pop and dance routines. Thankfully her new single, Make Me sums all this up in a few short minutes. Infectious, brash and charming this is a bouncy piece of effortless pop. The MJ references are obvious but its totally Janet too. And a new video that manages to make Janet look contemporary but not like mutton dressed as lamb (which has eluded Janet recently if I'm being honest) this should be the song to remind many what they've been missing. But if not its another treat for the long time fans. And the video is like a masterclass in how to wear shoulder pads. Work.

Kelis : Acapella

She set the internet abuzz with this David Guetta produced track a couple of weeks ago. And rightly so. A tad more stripped down than some of his recent big hit productions this is joyful and hard to resist. A simple laid back vocal from Kelis meshes with the blippy and smooth beat. Kelis has been hard at work with a gaggle of top producers (as is her style) including Crookers (see recent dubstep track "No Security"), Boyz Noize, and Burns for an album that will be released next year through Interscope. Kelis is one of the most interesting people in modern pop, handing out hits alongside offbeat gems and the signs are good for this new album to be another stonker.

Lady Gaga: Telephone feat. Beyonce

The Fame Monster is another piece of perfect pop from Miss Gaga. And this second single, a breathless piece of pounding dance pop is kind of brilliant. Featuring an urgent cameo from Beyonce (returning the favour for Videophone I'd imagine) it sounds ridiculously good blaring out of club speakers and features more hooks catchy chorus than your average pop single. This will be everywhere during the next six months and its easy to see why.

Not only that but this amazing unofficial video has been doing the rounds, a truly interesting piece of pop art:

Name The Pet : Club Kid

Found this rather lovely electro pop track over at Dödselectro. It seems a tad low key at first but this one works it way into your brain and is something of a floor filler. A sharp piece of electro to start of a particularly great weekend. And a track that makes me want to check out this artist in a bit more detail.

This song has really really grown on me. The Rated R album is one of the years best and this slow burner power ballad is one of the standouts. The emotion ripples throughout the track and it is hands down one of the best vocals Rihanna has ever done. She may not have as big a voice as other pop singers but she can sell songs like this with ten times more intensity. One of the best pop singles of the year.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Fame Monster: Review

I meant to post this when the album was a little less widely talked about but given how much I love this at the moment it only seems right to share it now.

Good god Lady Gaga doesn’t take time to stop does she? This album, originally announced as an adjunct to The Fame (already a hugely successful release) is now being touted as Gaga’s official second album. It may clock in at only 8 tracks but this is a breathtaking effort, dripping with characteristic Gaga charm and plenty of new tricks.

You already know lead single Bad Romance (and THAT video) by now but needless to say it’s a fantastic track. An aggressive beat, lyrics laden with twisted imagery it manages to sound like what we expect from Gaga and take it to the next level.

Next up is Alejandro, a whirling dance track that has recalls Ace of Bass and Madonna’s La Isla Bonita. Its catchy to the point of distraction and would make a brilliant summer single next year if Gaga isn’t on her 5th album at that stage.

Monster follows, a dark but deceptively upbeat track about a girl and a guy whose nightclub dalliance takes a turn for the twisted. It sums up much of the theme of this album while sounding like the younger cousin of Poker Face. This is a good thing.

Speechless sounds even more disappointing coming off the back of this number. Billed as Gaga’s big ballad it is a hard song to warm to. There is a beautiful idea in this one and some great lyrics but it all gets drowned out in layers of awful production that make it sound like some kind of Michael Buble track. This is one of those songs that cries out for an acoustic reswizz to make you see why it should be great.

Dance In The Dark swoops in straight after and helps rub away some of the cheese left bySpeechless. This is easily the darkest track on the album. A heavy synth line weaves around lyrics about a girl left broken by her man. It uses some deliberately heavy imagery and throws it against a Eurovision chorus but it works brilliantly. It’ll make you dance like a loon but has a fragile quality that makes it oddly haunting.

Telephone slides into view and its mindblowing. And that’s even before Beyonce (yes, BEYONCE) turns up to kick things into high gear on the second verse. This is slated to be the next single and it will literally swallow the charts whole for most of next year. A slamming piece of electro pop it throws around several hooks and bursts with frenetic energy.

So Happy I Could I Die is a bubbly almost ballad that manages to be both tender and make your head bob. It might not stand out as much as some of other tracks but it is still very very good and that says more about Gaga’s own high standards more than anything else.

Teeth is an odd but strangely appropriate closer. A loping R&B beat mashed with growling, suggestive lyrics (‘Take a bite of my bad girl meat” she suggests, which might turn some of you vegetarian) and a burlesque swagger you feel must be left over from Gaga’s early days in the New York clubs. It’s a neat reminder of how far she has taken herself from her first album and a teaser for some of the ideas she might play with on her next album.

So is this worth your time? In short, yes. It might come attached to an album you already own but that won’t matter once you give this collection a listen. This is an (almost) perfect follow up to a truly stellar release and one you will go back to frequently. Despite the huge pile of new releases sitting on my desk begging to be listened to (the joys of music journalism) I’ve come back to this album numerous times over the last few weeks, its brief running time making me come back for more and more. If you like your pop music at all this is a must have.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fight Like Apes and The Mystery of Social Media Marketing

I occassionally get sent stuff from marketing agencies/labels who ask me to write about such and such and this and that. One such piece was some info on Vodafone 360 and their work with Fight Like Apes.

I don't use Vodafone myself (this is already a huge fail as a puff piece isn't it? There goes my hefty marketing sponsored cheque) but I love the idea of the 360 service. Alot of artists harp on about doing interactive content but that usually consists of one crap webchat and a few tweets.

This program offers up some pretty nice content and has a strong mix of international artists who don't always get the press they might need. It basically offers a profile on a web version of a fancy phone that lets you look at videos and info each act has posted. The stuff is actually very well made, the kind of high quality content you'd see on a decent music TV show if such things were still getting made these days.

So when I was perusing the press material I was sent I immediately seized on was a video of FLA learning how to wrestle (!) for their new video "Do You Karate". This is only a snippet of the full video but it gets the gist across. The reason it works so well for me is how they've picked an act with a genuinely quirky sensibility and worked with it.

So much of the current Web 3.0 bandwagon jumping doesn't work because it feels like people being forced to engage with content they don't understand. Its a point recently discussed in the Sunday Tribune by Una Mullally with regards to politicians (who when they get it wrong with interactive content get it really wrong) and as the Guardian noted one that becomes increasingly important for acts (Cheryl Cole in this piece). This kind of marketing is not going anywhere it seems at least not for the moment.

But in a way maybe thats no bad thing. New methods of getting an audience are needed particularly with music. Everybody knows that sales are disappearing but very few seem to be offering new ways to reach fans and new listeners. A campaign like this is a step in the right direction.

And ulimately its hard to argue with mini videos like this isn't it?

Here is the final video, for "Do You Karate" one of my favourite tracks from the Fight Like Apes album (which was recently packaged with a load of bonus stuff, check out the website, in either form its an essential listen). I like the way these guys have taken their love of pro wrestling into a video and their forthcoming in the ring shows (which sound amazing, more info on their website). Its a bit like how Madonna works a certain look and theme through each album. Honestly.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Six Pack: Six Blogs Worth Your Time

Its hard to move for blogs these days. Blogging has gone from being a buzz word in the mainstream media (remember the first time you read the word "blogosphere" in a broadsheet newspaper? Shudder) to another standard method for established writers,publishers, organisations to spread their work and for the newbies (like myself) to find a voice, get involved in discussions and kill time. But reading other blogs is ten times more fun than writing your own.

So with that in mind here are six of my favourites, that I think are fun, fresh and exciting. A big bunch of blogging goodness makes up this six pack. It was a tad strange writing this as I know some of the people on this list and I didn't want to seem like I was being an ass kisser but my logic is that a good blog is a good blog and deserves praise. And if it makes one new person read one of the blogs here then it'll be worth my time.

This is the online home of stylist, interior designer and all round lovely lady Blanaid Hennessy. Posts on this blog are short, to the point and always entertaining. Blanaid has also taken that fashion blog cliche of photographing outfits/fashion finds and a made it in to something fresh with sharp, stark portraits of effortless looks. Whatever your style you'll find her eye and nose for fashion inspiring. Her work on interiors is equally good. This blog is a feast for the eyes and the mind and one of my favourite places to visit online.

I read lots of various types of music blogs but this is easily one of the best. With a pop/indie/electro perspective and a healthy sense of humour MuuMuse gives you the latest goings on around Planet Britney (important) but also lets you know what remixes are worth checking and upcoming acts worth noticing. The tone is perfect, it looks slick and is updated regularly with interviews, gossip and pithy commentary. A great read.

Irish Times journo Rosemary MacCabe has got herself one hell of a blog. Updated regularly with sharp insight into fashion, entertainment, news and everything in between MacCabe is quite obviously a great writer. Not only that but the wide range of topics covered keeps things fresh. From her obvious fashion love to her analysis of various issues its a blog that frequently gives you something new to think about.

The one blog on this list that I'm completely addicted to. Dublin drag legend Panti's daily blogging is a treat. From right on the button gay rights/current affairs discussion, hilarious YouTube clips/oddities, design articles and adorable pictures of Panti's dog Penny its always got something to keep me entertained. There's real passion in this blog, with a real love of finding and sharing new things with the audience which is infectious. An essential read.

Its very easy to be cynical about gossip blogs particularly ones like Perez Hilton that are poorly written, poorly researched and bad for the soul. But PITNB is genuinely sweet in its approach. Its all the usual celeb muck, pap photos, baby pics the lot. But its Trent, the site runner, who is clearly a sci fi/popculture nerd that gives it a heart that many other blogs lack. He is not spiteful or rude about celebs and sounds like that super witty best friend you always go to for the latest gossip.

Joey Kavanagh's blog of musical delights (among other things). A great place to get a rundown/overview of the latest pop/indie sounds and on the button remixes. For artists that have broke through this year like Ellie Goulding, Amanda Blank and The XX this is a great place to get more info and I look forward to seeing what new acts tip of his radar next year. One of the best Irish music blogs around.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Six Pack: Six Songs I Love Right Now

I hit on the six pack idea and kinda love it for its cheesy quality so its my new device to share things I like, in this case music. Here are six songs I'm truly loving right now

While going through posts over at Hard Candy Music I stumbled on this gorgeous slice of disco/house pop. Upbeat, shimmery and the kind of the song of that is impossible to resist, it is a must listen. Not only that but HCM have a download so you can see for yourself. Rockets are a new act apparently but this track is a fantastic start. The rest of the blog is an essential read too.

This song is slowly getting more and more hype and looks set to be one of the biggest dance tracks of the next 6 months. Duck Sauce is the combo of Armand Van Helden and A-Trak who are both formidable forces in their own right. Its infectious house with a fantastic hook like a jumped up Daft Punk tune. This one will put a smile on your face and at the risk of sounding like a proper cliche head this will set pretty much every party off for awhile to come.

Lady Gaga - Bad Romance

Say what you want but this is another brilliantly catchy and unique pop track to these ears. A bit more demented and twisted than say Just Dance this is ballsy and fresh and awfully easy to dance too. And lets face it the video is one of the years best, an audacious slice of visual madness that only Gaga could pull off. The Chew Fu and Starsmith remixes are also rather brilliant.

Slinky, sexy and sultry are all words I'd use to describe this one. The debut single from the Gossip Girl star, it lodges in your head on first listen and if given a chance at radio here could be a sizeable hit. Until then the rather beautiful video is a nice watch.

The obvious standout on her debut solo album. A thumping house beat bounces off of the vocals of Cheryl and Will as it builds up until its eventful final minute. A subtle and offbeat track for such a mainstream popstar and one that sounds a damn sight fresher than Fight For This Love and likely to stand up better to repeat listens. Expect to hear this everywhere, its already doing respectable traffic on the charts and radio and will probably be the first big pop hit of the 2010.

As I work my way through 101 Disco Anthems (honestly) this track, a favourite of mine for years, has been on repeat. So simple and joyous this is a song that has aged very well. Odd that this hasn't been reswizzed into a new era dance tune but maybe in this case we're better off.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

LA to NY or Why The City is trouncing The Hills

As a true marker of how intellectual I am my very first entry on this blog was about The Hills and the departure of Miss Lauren Conrad. You can't buy blogging class like that you can just hope to read it. Ahem.

Anyway it seems timely now to check in with The Hills now that its Lauren-less and paired with its spin off sibling The City on MTV here and Stateside. Putting the two shows together is obviously a triumph of scheduling for both MTV and for us reality drama nutjobs. But its also a neat reminder of how The Hills is becoming harder and harder to watch and The City is finally finding its feet as pacy, juicy and fun reality TV.

So why doesn't this new look Hills work? There a couple of reasons. Reason number one is the lack of focus. Kristin Cavallari, bad girl and firecracker, is back but its not really clear why. She doesn't want to be friends with the other girls (who are lost without Lauren to orbit pointlessly around) and she doesn't really want to be with Justin Bobby either. She is supposed to be the star but instead she cuts this rather lonely figure while the original cast gripe about her and have uninteresting drama all of their own.

Heidi and Spencer have now become even more cartoonish and ridiculous. Living in their ridiculous new house and talking about babies is all they do. If that wasn't bad enough they now a have a "cute kid" next door neighbour who regularly pops over. Anyone who knows their US telly will note that the cute kid is always always ALWAYS the death knell of a show. And you never quite shake the feel that Heidi is not only acting but acting badly in every scene. Honestly.

I also have severe problems with Stephanie Pratts new plastic surgery face (ridiculous), the inclusion of Stacey The Bartender (who is referred to as such in every scene) as a cast member and the amount of screen time given to Brody's girlfriend who obviously stumbled in from a Rock of Love audition and refuses to go away.

There are rumours that the show is up for the axe and with dwindling ratings and huge costs (Miss Cavallari is reportedly picking up a tidy sum for her "work" on the show) it wouldn't surprise me. Its a shame to see a once enjoyable piece of fluff become so dull but at least we have The City to look forward too.

So why does The City now work so well? The second season benefits from the lessons learned in the first. Less time spent on ridiculous supporting characters the audience have no relationship with and more time on Whitney and the pouty, bitchy but brilliantly entertaining Olivia. The addition of Roxy Olin, Whitney's childhood friend helps matters.

The show is now much more streamlined and fast paced. The episodes are split with Whitney and Roxy at work in People's Revolution where the fabulous Kelly Cutrone dishes advice and bitchy comments in equal measure. And then we follow Olivia as she workes (I use the term loosely) at Elle magazine and seems unphased by her complete lack of apitude at her job.

The focus on work and career is what made The Hills so interesting in the first place and its a forumla thats beens replicated with great success in this run of The City. More importantly it stills feels relatively off the cuff with things happening that look like they weren't planned (even if they were). And it looks gorgeous, the vibrant backdrop of New York providing a perfect setting for all that unfolds. This feels like a production that is being developed and honed and you can't help but feel that MTV are waiting for this to really kick into high gear and have it take over from The Hills sooner rather than later.

If this is a battle of the overly edited, heavily soundtracked faux reality shows then The City is coming out on top. And lets face Olivia is TV gold and shows Kristin how its done.

A Theory About The X Factor

Well I'll just start with a quick mention (and huge blogging cliche) of how sorry I am that the blog has not been updated for so long. As I didn't have my own laptop I didn't feel comfortable logging on elsewhere to write. A strange but true admission and one that pretty much sets me apart from those who are much more disciplined about their blogging sadly!

As if that wasn't cliched enough I now want to talk about The X Factor. Because since I last wrote it has taken all hold of popular culture yet again, the only TV show left that genuinely has everybody talking. Of course its mostly Jedward that have tongues wagging and rightly so. Popjustice has had a number of very succint and interesting posts about how quickly the boys have been taken into the current pop culture climate and to say any more would be just repeating far better writing. But I did want to post a slightly geeky but possibly plausible theory I have about the show that I haven't seen talked about elsewhere.

A huge change to this years show was not only the live auditions but running the program over two nights. Of course this means extra money for ITV/Simon Cowell/all involved as more votes flood in and it seems more viewers (recent episodes have hit peak numbers for the series, unheard of in age where everybody is watching less TV at an alloted time). But surely this change to voting could drastically change how somebody would win the competition?

Think about it. Last year there was a 2 or so hours window for the public to vote which to me would work off people's immediate impressions and what the buzz in sitting room about who sang best was. But with 24 hours so I have to wonder how much the votes swing back and forth. Does one act soar ahead at first but then people start to talk about it somebody else and they surge ahead? Does this in fact make the competition much harder to win? I'm genuinely curious because technically there are way more votes to win to keep ahead of the pack. I wonder whether or not figures will be released at the end of the season and if there will be a noticeable difference. I can't help but feel that the intensity of backlash towards act like Danyl and Jedward is because of this new period where the public opinion and discussion and the press coverage have a direct effect on the votes. Maybe its not a difference but its worth thinking about.

I also want to point out that my favourite part of the show each week is always Dannii. She is effortless, glamourous, stylish and utterly fabulous. She also handles herself with a degree of class that the rest of the judges could do with taking note of. A look at her interview with Piers Morgan recently is a good example. Intelligent, charming and witty its an interesting piece not least for how she is unfraid to answer some of the big questions. Well worth a look, particularly how she handles Sharon Osbourne's treatment of her (its in part 4)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Janeane Garafalo Does Dublin

Not only did I got to see comedian/actress/activist Janeane Garafalo do her first ever Irish standup show in Dublin this week I also had the pleasure of meeting her. Lovely! Garafalo is T.I.N.Y. in person and looks nowhere her 45 years. I was intrigued to see what kind of style her stand up would take figuring that whatever happened it was bound to be interesting. And I wasn't wrong.

Garafalo was undoubtedly funny but she was also fascinating and though provoking too. Veering from topic to topic and completely aware of her lack of focus she cut a charming and likeable figure. She touched off her experience in Ireland, her relationship with alcohol, her own self image, the origin of the universe (No. really.) and wrapped up with cute puppies and man sandals.

Her material on her own battles with alcohol/food/moderation were the most illuminating. Her unwillingness to subscribe to the advice willingly suggests someone who is glad to be sober and "healthy" but misses the ease with which alcohol allowed her to live her life.

I loved the blunt and refreshing way she talks about how it made her feel. It feel particularly apt for an Irish audience where much of what she said could be true for so many of us. Garafalo remembers fondly the ease with which she could talk to others, be sexy and generally function with alcohol after the closed off, religious upbringing she initially embraced. The show regularly felt like a therapy session played out on stage as Garafalo talks about her own problems with both the rehab process and the difficulty she has with life now. This is the material that has stuck with me as funny as Garafalo was and I think thats the biggest indication of how good she was. The ability to make one think and laugh is a real feat. And I didn't even go in to her (brilliant!) Natalie Portman material.

Garafalo is undoubtedly a comedy force to be reckoned with and I felt lucky to see someone so obviously talented in action. Hopefully she'll return for another visit sooner rather than later. Until then I now have a new YouTube obsession. Lovely!

New Video Alert X 5

There has been a bumper batch of new videos from various pop ladies in the last week or so which means its about time for a quick rundown of these new offerings.

Cheryl Cole - Fight For This Love

For this worried that Cheryl's rather lovely but rather sedate solo single lacked punch this video should go some way towards changing your mind. I love the colours and the styling (lets overlook the leopard print dance trousers shall we?) and it looks and feels like the arrival of Cheryl as a Proper Popstar. She oozes charisma and I like the use of graphics and set ups too with military garb Cheryl and "writhing against a wall" Cheryl being my favourites. Lets hope her next single is a stomper so that she can do another video as good as this.

Alexandra Burke - Bad Boys

There is something awfully 80s action movie about this video but that's no bad thing. It also underlines quite clearly the "She's not Leona, she can dance!" vibe that has become a large part of Alex's appeal. I like the strange mix of would be bad ass hip hop guys and the Broadway show esque dancing through every sequence. Its the kind of mix that is perfect for a pop video. If I were being churlish I would point out that Alex looks a little stiff but its her first proper video so I'll let her off. Its a confident and bold video though and anything that isn't Leona doing 90s Mariah is fine by me. And besides the bit where the music drops out, Ms Burke kicks a wall down and struts into some dance off related showdown is quite fantastic. The rest of the video could have been utter shit and I would have liked it for that part alone.

Amerie - Heard 'Em All

Great video attached to not so great song alert! This is clearly Amerie's big budget re-entry to the music scene. The tune is listenable but hardly groundbreaking and I fully expect it to disappear which is a shame but the video! My god, talk about slick. Directed by Anthony Mandler (who has worked with a slew of hip-hop heavyweights and most recently did Run This Town for Jay Z) this video looks and feels like every inch the mini movie and I love the image of Amerie as this hooded agressive figure stalking her way through some kind of factory/abandoned warehouse/derelict building. The choreography is great too. The song will pass you by but its nice to see people can still rustle up big budgets for music videos these days.

Kesha - Tik Tok

In one way nothing really happens in this video but its awfully good fun nonetheless. The debut single from Uffie meets Britney pop starlet Kesha it does a fine job of introducing her messy locks and thrown together look. The clever edits at the start tease the eventual party scene that we get to look at but not before Kesha hangs around with some dodgy looking guys and shocks a white picket fence family. The best bit is undoubtedly Kesha wobbling around during the middle eight before making her way to the inevitable hipster hoedown. While I can't help but wish for a more eye popping video this does a fine job of letting us see that Kesha is both a hot mess and a fine popstar. And who could ask for more than that?

Miley Cyrus - Party In The USA

Given that both this track and Kesha's were produced by Dr. Luke they sound fairly similar. In fact Party In The USA is like Tik Tok's more responsible but still fun loving younger sister. This video ain't too exciting either but Miley is oddly charming. In fact its the best shes ever looked in a video. Fun lovin' but grown up, not winding around a pole (thank you Teen Choice Awards) and flanked by some backup dancers who've got ten years on Miley and seem to think they're in a Flo Rida video this is another step on the ladder for Miley to become a big league popstar as opposed to a teen star done good.