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#NOWKPOPPING: U-KNOW & MAX Offer 'Rise As God'(s) for Pre-Army Hurrah

Thursday, July 30, 2015


Fear not, dear Cassiopeia -- our humble leader may already be in the Army (sob!) but there was no way I was not going to talk about this. 

TV5Q! sure has walked a long road since their debut in 2003 -- even just in the six or so years I've been happy enough to know them. Their place in KPOP history cemented, ("U-Know") Yunho's official leave for his mandatory Korean military service marks the second member (following Jaejoong) of the godly five to leave us mere mortals temporarily.

Rather than wait it out and stun the whole KPOP game with his crazy vocal chops and wild (snarky) soul (reference!), the team's baby and my personal bias ("Max") Changmin has quietly stated he will also soon be leaving us for the army, hoping to shorten the gap of time that duo!Shinki is on hiatus. Of course, I appreciate the sentiment and all but I selfishly was really hoping for a solo album. Bias is as bias does, right? And in Min's case, he would probably take a lot of amusement in that dream being crushed.

It also bares mentioning that current actor Yoochun has also announced army plans for August. This leaves Cassiopeia with only our duckbutt Junsu who as far as I know has not mentioned anything about his service plans. (It reminds of the five original members' prank game where the other four would purposely "leave out" Junsu when introducing their names to troll him. Who's laughing now, guys? ::Mel sobs uncontrollably::)

As a final parting gift, Yunho & Changmin have unleashed their "special" album Rise As God, just as Super Junior released Devil not as an official album per say, but a highlight reel of career strength. I'm choosing to take this grammatical fail of a title as part of the metaphor that is highlighted in one of Changmin's solo songs from the disc called "Rise As One" -- a display of the two's friendship and unity. That Min, for all his snark and sass, he certainly proved his undying devotion toward Yunho. (It's also a blatant reference to their team name itself -- Dong Bang Shin Ki, means "Rising Gods of the East".)

Seeing as Yunho is already now in the army itself and Changmin is finishing up a drama, there will be no live performance promotions from this set (besides, SM is too busy trying to win back Girls' Generation's favor as the Divine Nine Elite Eight of KPOP). Despite this, we've still got two polar opposite music videos -- Changmin's "Rise As One", a somewhat EDM-y, somewhat generic floor-filler cut that allows him to show how expansive his voice is, and Yunho's "Champagne", an oddly catchy pop jangler that allows him to show off how much of a dorky grandpa he apparently is.




Don't get this twisted -- I'm not bitter that this is how HoMin is going out pre-army. Do I wish they could have had a mammoth, dark dance banger so Yunho could show off his legit moves and Changmin could do that bellow-wail-scream thing and eye-eff the camera? Sure. But I also live in reality. Rise As God is a peace offering to fans. And besides, it's not like they'll never be back. 

But as I said before -- these two years better fly damnit.

HEAR THIS: Little Mix rocks Radio 1's Live Lounge (again)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The ladies of Little Mix are certainly flying high. Member Jesy announced her engagement to the lead singer of Rixton. They finally announced the title and release date for their long awaited third album (Get Weird, on November 6th -- globally!).

Oh, and perhaps you haven't heard but their single "Black Magic" has been #1 in their native UK for the past few weeks to become their third UK chart-topper. You know, no big.

That should be enough to satiate the haters but LM doesn't rest on their laurels. I don't stan them for nothing, after all. The quartet are no strangers to the Radio 1 Live Lounge -- a fantastic concept that I wish Americans would embrace. Artists perform cover songs of their own choice live (get it), usually acoustically, and its led to all sorts of incredible and inventive re-imaginings.

La Mix performed a radical remix of Jason DeRulo's "Want To Want Me", slowing the tempo way down and showing off with lots of jazzy melismas (zing!) and harmonies En Vogue would be proud of. As the chorus is cued up, they are aided by a full freakin' gospel-style choir. 

But wait! Just when you think it couldn't possibly get any more lovely -- it does. Following the chorus, the girls toss in a bit of Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody". 

All four of our girls swing from vocal strength to vocal strength and they are clearly having a blast. 


Excuse me, Radio 1. I need a MP3 version of this stat. At the very least, I hope it's a "bonus" cut on Get Weird because oh...em...gee.

FRESH OUT THE BOX: Robyn, Jill Scott, Austin Mahone, Carly Rae Jepsen, Little Boots & More

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

L to R: Jill Scott, Tove Styrke, Little Boots, Carly Rae Jepsen

It's official -- New Music Tuesday has officially become New Music Friday here in the US and around the globe. Perhaps this means I'll be more on the stick (so to speak) when it comes to actually putting metaphorical pen to paper when talking about my favorite new cuts of the week, yes? 

With that out of the way, here's what's "new" (or at least "new" since we last chatted "new") that I've been turning all the way up...

TOVE STYRKE - "...Baby One More Time"
Yup, it's a cover of that iconic Britney jam. No, it's nothing you'd expect. Full of futuristic bleep-blurps and a smokey, dark vocal -- Tove is gunning for Charli XCX's position as the new alt-pop princess.

JILL SCOTT - "Coming To You" (no link available -- but just buy the whole album, it's worth it)
Love R&B? Jill Scott is here to slay ya faves. Her latest album, Woman, hit shelves last week and quite literally runs the gamut of great to greater to greatest. Single "Closure" is a fave and so is "Run Run Run" but I'm choosing "Coming To You" as my overall favorite from the set. It's so Motowny.

I wasn't expecting "I kissed a girl and I liked it" from my girl Demi but it is a Max Martin smash whether or not it sounds like Katy Perry. She looks so fab and confident in her skin, and it doesn't get better than that.

You can blame Bruno Mars for igniting this 70's soul swing but I sure ain't fightin' the funk. Austin sounds right in the pocket with his most grown-up jam to date, smartly steering clear of too many vocoders, bells & whistles, and unnecessary rap features (cough::Pitbull::cough) but still staying bubblegum friendly. He needed something to set him apart from Bieber's shadow -- maybe this is it (and by that something, I mean stepping instead into Nick Jonas' shadow. Good choice, Austin. Very good choice.).

Thoughts and opinions about Ms. Hill's road to here, it sure is great to have her vocals back, now isn't it?

CHVRCHES - "Leave A Trace"
Easily stands alongside "The Mother We Share" as a great pop effort.

This might just be a glittery, gay fever dream leftover from last night's bender at da club, but does it get more fab? Hooky, dancy Nervo? Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears searing vocal? Nile Rogers face-melting guitar? KYLIE? YASSSSSSSS COMETHRUUUUUUU.

The former American Idol winner is hands in on this slinky R&B thing and if this jam is any indicator of what's to come from her long-awaited third album, I'm okay with that. If anyone can give Tinashe and Jhene Aiko a run for their money, it's Sparks with her ridiculous vocal capabilities. Jordi -- this sound looks good on ya.

Carly Rae's upcoming record is shaping up to be the straight pop record of 2015 and it's a shame, too, since all thoughts are pointing toward it probably being under-appreciated by the general populace. For those of you are pigeon-holding her as a One Hit Wonder, YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. Just embrace the goodness! Wanna now how to spell Pop Perfection? It's J-E-P-S-E-N. Now, just let me drift on that sax wail...

Wait wait wait. We got new Kylie and new Robyn in one week? It must be Christmas in July. 

DJ Robin Schulz has a thing for taking familiar back beats and "re-inventing" them. His latest is "Sugar", featuring that up-and-comer Francesco Yates and it heavily features Baby Bash's hit "Suga Suga" (right down to Frankie J's chorus). If you didn't get that reference, you are probably a fetus (not unlike Francesco, who was in single digits when "Suga Suga" was all over the radio back in 2003). 

FLETCHER - "War Paint"
Jersey gal Fletcher has a jam on her hands. "War Paint" is one of those pop corkers that straddles the genre line -- it's a little bit country stomper, little bit pop jangly, little bit dance smash. It's the single Taylor Swift should have done. And I mean that it the best sense.

LB's latest album, also titled Working Girl, has dropped and I'm totally okay with stating its her best to date. "No Pressure" is still getting lots of spins from moi but "Working Girl" is quickly trying to give it a run for its moola. 

#JOTW: Joy Williams's Feminist Rallying Cry, "Woman (Oh Mama)"

Monday, July 27, 2015

#JOTW (Jam of the Week) is a new article theme that I'm hoping to recur. These songs could be new or old but resonate to me personally so much that I'm playing them quite a lot at current and wanted to share the conversation with you.

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This right here is one of those better-late-than-never obsessions of yours truly.

I best associated Ms. Joy Williams as the female half of the under-explored The Civil Wars troupe but was well aware she was an accomplished solo artist both pre- and post-Civil Wars. Why I didn't choose to peruse her latest solo album, Venus (out at the end of this past June), before now, I couldn't tell you. Maybe because I closely gamed her with the non-pop strain of Christian/Americana music. For that, I am sorry -- I was clearly missing out.


"Woman (Oh Mama)" was the first glimpse into the project, released back in March, and it's quite literally the feminist rallying cry the 2010's has been missing -- like Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" (Hear Me Roar), but with less proclamation platitudes and more dirty truth about the way women are treated by society, by misogyny, by men, and by other women.

Women dream, Woman hate
Woman cry, Woman break
Woman hold you in the palm of her hand
Woman changing the mask on her face
Woman stand with her feet in the fire
Woman only one thrown in the flames

Considering the true meaning of being a #Feminist is wanting true equality of both men and woman (and don't you dare try and twist it toward being anything BUT that), I feel like this argument is apropos. Its deeper meaning can be affixed to all sorts of political struggles at the moment, too.

I'm even more over the moon that such a pro-female statement is coming from an artist that I -- as I said -- was best known as a "Christian" artist. You can read into that however you'd like to; I for one prefer a separation of church and state in my politics and in my pop music. It's hard for me not to be overwhelmed by sheer happiness by Joy William's offering up a pro-female statement like this, quite literally baring her soul in the music video. The backlash from her "fandom" in response is also not really surprising, but is also proof that we have a long way to go in teaching people that 1) nudity isn't necessarily a sexual device to make a statement, 2) being a "good Christian" doesn't necessarily equate to this misogynistic misdirect of Biblical statement that a woman/wife is somehow lesser to a man/her husband. People demeaning Williams for this video are simply providing evidence as to why her song is so honest and true.

I won't go too deep here, it's not worth it. The point is this #truth is coming from a woman who many would at least assume comes from a more conservative thinking and that is a beautiful thing. We're overdue for people to stop letting their politics being solely affected by towing their party line rather than using compassion for their neighbor. The greater message I received from this song is this: we are all  human, and therefore all equal. That's something that, in 2015 apparently, needs to be drilled into all of our skulls.

All this over a rollicking foot stomper of a beat. It's hard for me to get this off of repeat to be honest.

SPOTIFY SAYS: Mel's Discover Weekly (#1) with Syd Youth, Jordan Bratton, Mocki, Brayton Bowman & ...EXO?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

L to R: Brayton Bowman, Syd Youth, Jordan Bratton
You all could probably guess that I'm #TeamSpotify in the current Stream War debate. This past week, the company rolled out their brand new 'Discover Weekly' program, creating unique playlists for each user based on their song streaming habits. The playlist will change weekly automatically, "curated" by Spotify themselves to feature new music and "deep cuts" the user would potentially enjoy. 

Fellow blogger Adam over at POP! Goes the Charts offered up an interesting breakdown into his personal list this past week. While his overall takeaway was the playlist mostly offered re-discovery (much of what was presented to him were artists/songs he was already aware of), I had a much different take with the playlist that I received and wanted to bring that to the overall discussion. 

As a blogger, I'm constantly exposed to a very broad array of artists and pride myself on being quite knowledgeable of that broad array. I may not listen in depth to every artist I'm aware of, sure, but I'm confident in my knowledge about them. So when I received my first 'Discover Weekly' playlist, I was shocked by the pure amount of artists I was not familiar with (with songs that I very much enjoyed to boot). Touche, Spotify. Touche.

Let's dive in to my "new" favorite picks from this curation, by artists I was not familiar with prior:
(click the titles to hear the songs)

Syd Youth is a little-left-of-center girl group comprised of three American-based gals (one member was born in Bangkok). Their look is super trendy, they all have great hair. The group is independent, signed to Rebel Lane Inc. Their debut EP, Maya, is full of hooky pop gems of varying tempo -- clear proof they are definitely not one-note by any stretch of the imagination. "Workshop" is the set's opener and kind of sets the tone for this funky girl group -- sort of like if Neon Jungle had a girl group baby with Red Blooded Women and Krewella. Basically what I'm saying is, I feel an obsession coming on and I don't know where they have been all my life. I'm hands in for this.

Jordan is from Long Island (come throughhhh!) and is a newly minted "mainstream" artist, signing with RCA somewhat recently after the underground success of his indie mixtape The Grey Area last year. His major label debut EP, Youth, dropped in May and features a collab single with Chance the Rapper. If the comparisons to The Weeknd weren't obvious enough (not that it's a bad thing), Bratton recently covered "Can't Feel My Face" in a promotion with Billboard. "Victoria" is much more in the pop vein of things and initially came across to me with an interesting a capella kind of feel (a bit like "Don't Worry, Be Happy" with lots of mouth-created rhythm noises and handclaps). He'll be playing all over New York this summer and has officially joined my bucket list of artists to see live.

I know precious little about this dancefloor duo other than they appear to be apart of this hipster swell of great alt-dance music curated by Kitsune. Their single, "Weekend", has a few different remix versions to play with -- the Jai Wolf version seems to be most popular. By my favorite is the original incarnation, it feels much more discotheque proper.

Yet another fab indie darling to squawk over, although I'm thinking he won't stay indie for long. Imagine Ed Sheeran's soulful lyrics and timbre (and ginger hair) mixed with the melodic alt-soul feel beats of Kendrick Lamar reset while riding this 90's dance wave. Brayton is a true-telling singer/songwriter but its clear he has many different, varied influences. By the time "Jaywalk" got to its bombastic retro-funk chorus over laser synth, I was hooked. His latest song, "Real", was co-written with MNEK. Oh, and he's covered Britney's "Baby, One More Time" as the slowed-down R&B-soaked yearner that perhaps Max Martin originally envisioned it to be when he first pitched it to TLC. Long story short: this guy needs to be everywhere.

In addition to these stellar cuts above, Spotify also served me some goodness I was already aware of:

Her high-pitched voice could be a bit abrasive at first but unabashed pop lies in wait underneath. It's basically if JPOP was produced in the UK in English.

I've spoken about it before, it's a great jam any day of the week.

The latest single from JHUD, released back in June. Produced by Gorgon City, this should have led this project. Jennifer can and should dominate at the club right now.

From their 2014 reunion album, Lines & Circles. Chilled out 70's bass bumper (a la "Uptown Funk") meets space age bop, slick beat, and still full of female popstar references a la "Liquid Dreams". The video literally just dropped. Oh, and Dan Miller is still sexy af.

I imagine the Spotify Curation Algorithm to be like, "Hmmm -- she listens to quite a bit of KPOP. Let's scan whatever track's most popular in the overall from South Korea and add it to her playlist. Odds are in our favor she will like it." But of literally the thousands of idol groups to serve as the obigatory KPOP track on my Discover Weekly playlist, it had to be EXO, huh? Spotify, are you trolling me? (Heads Up: if you're gonna pick an EXO track, go ahead and pick "Overdose". Thanks.)

#NOWKPOPPING: Summer Round Up with Super Junior, Girls Generation, 9Muses, BTS, & More...

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Dear #KPOP, We need to talk. What with both of my main biases announcing their imminent departure into the military for their mandatory two-year enlistment, I'm fearing we might have to go on a bit of break. It wouldn't be too much of a surprise considering I rarely follow much beyond my faves anyhow. Even still, what with your catchy hooks and ridiculous color schemes and fashion, I find it so hard to quit you. Sigh. Let's try our best to make this work long distance, eh?

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It's Summer! And when it comes to KPOP, that apparently means a literal cattlecall of every KPOP girl group ever (plus a million more you've never heard of before -- TREN-D, huh? Ugh, you tried it.) coming out of the woodwork in cute bathing suits. Luckily a few of the (male) faves have offered up something too (but nope, no bathing suits...lame), despite all of my faves choosing to make 2015 their last hurrah before heading in to the Army. Do you know what that means for a 28-year-old KPOP fan like me? That means, having to find new (baby) boy bands to stan and I'm not particularly fond of gushing over 17 year old boys like a pedonoona at this point in my life. Sob. These two years better fly, damnit.

Here's some fun new tunes to jam to when the weather is this hot, bias first because duh:

SUPER JUNIOR - "DEVIL"
SM Entertainment is getting some serious shade right now from me and literally every other non-EXO fan because they are tossing all of their "other" groups out for promotions that literally overlap each other. I thought this was SMTOWN "FAMILY", guys? Oh well, I guess that's the reality right now: 11 months EXO babies, 1 month of everyone else (except f(x)).

While almost half of the active members of SuJu have already gone through their army enlistments (Leeteuk, Kangin, Heechul, Yesung), two are now in (Shindong & Sungmin) and three more are imminent (Siwon, Eunhyuk, and my beloved Donghae). The babies (Ryeowook & Kyuhyun) are also talking about heading off as well, so it's pretty much confirmed there will be no new Super Junior until 2017-2018 or so. That's a long freakin' time. SM The Boys choose to throw us a bone and offer up the surprise "special" album Devil in honor of their ten year anniversary in the business with ten new tracks that mostly highlight all of Super Junior's long list of sub-groups. It's not an official eighth album, but I'm willing to forgive because we have golden-throated Yesung back (vocal nodule and all).

The album is fun, even though I adored Mamacita front to back much more. "Simply Beautiful" gives me all the feels (Yesung!). "Good Love" feels vaugely Pharrell/"Blurred Lines" esque (but in a good way, I promise). Midtempo "Alright" namechecks a bunch of the members names. I would have been a little happier if "bonus" members Henry and ZhouMi had more of a presence but we can't win 'em all, right?

"Devil", while lyrically written not by Yoo Young-Jin but instead by Kenzie (writer of my fave SJ hit "It's You") the beat was produced by American group The Stereotypes (best known over here for working with Danity Kane and Far East Movement). It sounds right in the pocket of Pharrell's "Happy" or Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk" and has an undeniable boppy chorus. The choreography can best be described as laid back and not their usual, but what with ten years in the game, no one should be judging a group that in 2006, everyone was expecting to fail. Now they are everybody's oppa and it's grand. Your move, Shinhwa.

PS - the fans were promised a "rated" (meaning: sexy/adult) music video, right? I'm not getting what's so rated about the below aside from SuJu sitting next to girls in bikinis. Pretty sure SHINee's "View" was more sexual than this was. Am I missing something?


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GIRLS' GENERATION - "PARTY"
Not their first release post-Jessica exiting but the first that caught my ear. SM's Elite Eight will be releasing 3 main singles this summer, and based on the teasers, "Party" was the one I expected to like the least so imagine my chagrin when I couldn't get it out of my head. They all look predictably beautiful in their swimsuits on the beach and the song is catchy enough but I'm really looking forward to the inevitable final shabang single from this project -- the dance banger "You Think", which was co-written originally for Finnish pop singer SAARA. Dear girls, let's get some lemon soju on a beach sometime. And by lemon suju, I mean Donghae in a yellow banana-hammock swimsuit, of course.

PS - I need to stop stanning the few members of SNSD who barely sing or get any lines. YuRi is cute as hell but is basically just there to look good. Sigh. Still, I want Seohyun and YuRi's outfits right now. And also SooYoung's bikini.

PPS - Tiffany, stop with the stilted English bits. Just stop. And NO MORE CREEPY CONTACT LENSES! I'm not telling you again, girl.


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9MUSES - "HURT LOCKER"
If eight girls in bikinis singing about drankin' in the summertime isn't your thing, 9Muses has backup. Instead of being cute with whistle hooks, they're bringing sequins and choreo and temporary tattoos and sorta-vouging (and sadly more creepy contact lenses) and a banging hook that should be more popular than some of their contemporary competitors (cough lazy singles by SISTAR and Girls' Day). "Hurt Locker" (rationale for calling the song that, I don't know -- the lyrics are about telling an ex off for being bothersome despite initiating the breakup) was co-composed by Herbie Crichlow, who I associate best with his work in the late 90's/early 00's with UK boy band 5ive. Ain't nothin' wrong with that. Song of the Summer? I think so.


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INFINITE - "BAD"
This is what I want Big Bang to sound like in 2015 -- if they quit makin' so many drug references and letting G-Dragon run the show. Oh, and I legit thought the hook was "BETTING ON YOU!". Whoops.


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BTS - "DOPE"
If BTS wasn't so rap-heavy, I'd probably be stanning them almost as much as my boys in SHINee simply because their choreography is something to behold. BTS does not stand for "Behind The Scenes" (if you thought that like me -- guess what? You're old!) but for Bangtan Boys or Bangtan Sonyeondan, a Korean mashup that translates to a mixture of "bulletproof" and "boy scouts", reportedly to express oppression on youth culture...or something. Now that I think about it, Bulletproof Boy Scouts (BBS) is a pretty epic KPOP boy band name. Get it? Literally bbs! Hmmm.

Despite "Dope" being, well, dope (JJEO JJEOREO!) there is one caveat to a potentially inevitable adoration for these boys. My personal favorite at the immediate onset seems to be leader Kim Namjoon (the first to be seen in the video below). Rather than go by his name, his performance moniker is...wait for it...Rap Monster. But at least he's 20 so not a teenager and can speak English, right?


Sigh. I feel hopeless.


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AOA - "HEART ATTACK"
Badabadabadabah. I think I like this just for that hook-y bit. Produced by perpetual KPOPpsters Brave Sound, this sounds like a forgotten jam from 4minute's epic Name is 4minute EP.



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BOA - "SHATTERED"
Okay, so this came out a while ago. Okay, so it wasn't a single. Whatever. I wanted to bring it up before but in true SM in 2015 fashion, SHINee's Odd dropped right at the same time so I didn't have the chance. This one is on perpetual repeat for me.



HEAR THIS: Janet. Is. Back.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Janet's latest single -- "No Sleeep" (yes, three 'e's) -- had dropped and as predicted, it is amazing in the way that only sexy Janet mid-tempos can be.



It hit the net on June 22nd, 2015. That was exactly five days after my birthday and therefore falling within my birthday week. Coincidence? Obviously NOT.

In addition to the song, the first leg of dates for her upcoming Unbreakable Tour have also been unleashed but unfortunately, New York was not included. I'm willing to forgive this oversight and patiently wait until it is.

While not the banger many vociferously wanted it to be, "No Sleeep" has also sorts of Janet. feels and that can only lead to good things. It was, after all, the album that properly introduced yours truly to Ms. Jackson. Written and produced by Janet with her unparalleled team in Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, the new album is so close I can taste it. 


FRESH OUT THE BOX: ASTR, Icona Pop, Little Boots, Tove Styrke, & More

Saturday, June 27, 2015


It's been over a month since I've done one of these. Time to regroup... 

Easily their most mainstream ready jam yet and given their wave-making set at Governor's Ball recently, I have high hopes that this one helps get the word about this great group.

Electric guitar-strums, rocking (real) drums, and a catchy melody. Beck can hang with the best of the 'em.

Much of Ciara's latest went right through me but this breathy gem lives up to her Janet-influence hype.

Dark disco and unexpected, "Cheyenne" is DeRulo's "Dirty Diana" with great results.

Marimba dance jam that is perfect for the summer.

Recently named as the opening act for One Direction's upcoming tour, "Emergency" follows that Eastern European trend of almost country-esque jangles and a catchy walking bassline.

Tove Lo has been having a great post-Queen of the Clouds run, writing songs for Hilary Duff's latest and this album cut from Lambert's latest, The Original High. She sings on it as well and I have good feeling it might just be a single. The cadence and pace set it apart.

Breezy and summery with handclaps for good measure -- ideal for 17 year old Swedish popstar.

I love Leona's voice on big ballads like "Bleeding Love" but I love her big voice on uptempos much more. Happily, "Fire" lends itself more toward the latter.

I hope LB stays in this disco lane a la "Beat Beat". Her upcoming record is due in July and I can't wait.

Sorry Ellie Goulding, I desperately want Elliphant's twingy delivery on every dance cut.

This reinvention of Lesley Gore's classic "It's My Party" uses its lyrical verses (and chorus!) to get to the heart of that lonely feeling.

Don't get too caught up in the star-spangled appearances that abound in Moroder's latest release (Kylie! Britney! Charlie!). Yes, they are good too, but my fave is easily this one featuring the too-often-overlooked Kelis.

This upcoming Grace solo album is shaping up to be a pop smash.

TOVE STYRKE - "Working Song"
Tove (Styrke -- don't get confused) is one of those talented quirk-pop artists whose album cuts sometimes outshine the singles. Case in point -- "Working Song".

Why is this girl not everywhere??

LIVE FROM NEW YORK: Mel's Birthday Week with Seth Meyers, The Roots, 'Into The Woods' & NKOTB

Is it just me or did it totally feel like I blinked once and suddenly June was over? I know I can't be the only one! Falling smack in the middle of the month, June 17th was my 28th birthday and I decided that this year, rather than celebrating only one day, I'd celebrate a whole week. Here's what happened...

JUNE 17th (My Birthday)
Having your birthday fall on Wednesday when you're an adult puts you in a pickle. I'm not the type to #turnup (as the kids say), so with a friend, I'd decided I'd like to spend my birthday by heading out of work early and walking uptown a few blocks to the famed 30 Roc to see a live taping of Late Night With Seth Meyers.

I've been to the Late Night camp twice before -- both when Jimmy Fallon was hosting. They have upped their game since then with a brand new, state of the art, "reception room" that shows photos of previous guests that they show while you wait to be seated for filming. And if you've never done any of these live talk show tapings, let me tell you this -- boy, do you wait. You wait and you wait and you wait some more.

This version of Late Night films in Studio 8G, exciting to comedy nerds like me because it's right next-door to Studio 8H, where they've always filmed Saturday Night Live. This is apropos, since Seth Meyers was the most recent former head writer for SNL (and yes, he has mentioned that fact about a bagillion times on Late Night. In fact, he mentioned it twice during the episode I saw live.).

Finally when we filed in to the studio (which, as they all are, seems much smaller that it appears on television), the 8G band came out on stage to run through a few warm-up songs. This incarnation was less its usual bandleader -- fellow SNL alum Fred Armisen -- and instead included Chad Smith, the drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as a celebrity "stand in". Afterward, just before they began filming, Seth came out to say hi and thank everyone for coming.

The show featured Mindy Kaling who was promoting the film Inside Out. She voiced "Disgust" alongside Amy Poehler (as "Joy") and Bill Hader (as "Fear"). I saw the film also as a part of my birthday week and let me tell you this -- if you're opting out because you think its just a kids movie, think again. It's much heavier than it appears and I would vouch that it is much more for the adults, not because of content but because of how nostalgic and well thought-out the Pixar concept of how emotions work really is.

The show also featured Adam Scott and a performance by Tove Lo of "Talking Body". Twice in one year I have seen her now! Officially on Little Mix level.

JUNE 28th (Sunday)
I've posted before about just how much I love and adore the Broadway musical, Into the Woods. It was the show I grew up watching over and over and over. On the 28th, the Brooklyn Academy of Music hosted a live reunion of the Original Cast from this musical for a part panel, part live performance of the most epic proportions so of course, I had to be there.

Hosted by comedian, Mo Rocca, the reunion also featured Stephen Sondheim himself (the composer/lyricist) and James Lapine (the writer of the book/story), plus original cast members Chip Zien (Baker), Joanna Gleason (Baker's Wife), Kim Crosby (Cinderella), Robert Westenberg (Cinderella's Prince/The Wolf), Danielle Ferland (Little Red Riding Hood), Ben Wright (Jack), and the incomparable Ms. Bernadette Peters (The Witch).

The reunion event was an even mixture of Q&A, funny stories, and live performance of the vast majority of the musical's big numbers. Emotions abounded and I wasn't the only one -- everyone in the audience around me was all holding back (or not holding back) tears throughout. I can't really explain why this show evokes such a visceral response. It just does.

Highlights (in addition to the live performances) include: James Lapine stating that then newbie Kim Crosby was chosen as Cinderella over Patti LuPone, Crosby and Westenberg elaborating on their real life marriage for over twenty years (it's more like Act I than Act II, obvi), Ferland's saying her favorite line was also my favorite line ("You can talk to birds?!?"), and hearing Bernadette Peters still slay the Witch's Rap, dog howls and all.

JUNE 29th (Monday)
Rarely in my old age (ha!) do I go out on a Monday night but that Monday night was particularly special as it was spent at Madison Square Garden to see The Main Event tour, featuring Nelly, TLC, and yes, New Kids On The Block.

I'd seen Nelly perform live once before -- back when I was in high school and he was arguably in his hay-day as the biggest mainstream hip-popper around. His set during The Main Event tour read like a 'Greatest Hits' package; I forgot how many fun dance songs he had.

My excitement for TLC easily eclipsed the excitement I had for anyone else that night so I was upset that I ended up a little let down by them. T-Boz rarely spoke and I had a sinking suspicion they were lipsynching through the majority of their set. Rather than feature the late Left Eye on the screens overhead, her voice was simply heard booming through the speakers while T-Boz and Chili danced along. The highlight was unmistakably during the closing song, "Waterfalls". Left Eye's rap was written out in text on the screens to encourage everyone to sing along and the crowd held up their phone flashlights (the 2015 version of a lighter) in her honor, filling the Garden with a blue glow with lots of twinkling white pinpricks of light like stars.

Not unlike my experience during Demi Lovato's live tour package, this sure was efficient. There was no time to waste before the five members of the New Kids on the Block ran out on stage to the tune of the jam "Block Party", a bonus cut from their latest album, 10. (For you boy band nerds, it was co-written by Drew Ryan Scott.)



I initially feared I wouldn't know enough of NKOTB's material to be hyped the whole night but boy,was I wrong. They relied heavily on the favorites and of the new material they performed, it was catchy enough to join in by the second chorus. 

Highlights: "Step By Step" on a moving, cascading staircase; "Tonight", complete with Joey's son singing along; everything getting really 'Magic Mike'-esque for no apparent reason with back to back solo (and shirtless) stages by Jordan Knight and Joey McIntyre (this excited the moms next to me to no end); the set closing "Hangin' Tough" / "We Will Rock You" mashup; "surprise" appearances by Biz Markee (why?) and 50 Cent (huh?) and a real surprise appearance by Mark Wahlberg (they played "Good Vibrations" as he glowered on stage. He said nothing and the audience boo-ed as Donnie continued to troll him, thanking him as "Marky Mark Wahlberg".). 

All in all, it was a pretty good birthday week! Here's to 28!

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