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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!

HEAR THIS: Wynter Gordon Drops 'Five Needle'

Sunday, June 7, 2015

It's officially my birthday month!

Topping my "This Makes Me Happy" list currently is Wynter Gordon's Five Needle EP -- a mixture of tunes released through Harvest Records (a division of EMI) that I definitely was not expecting from an artist like Wynter.

If you're like moi and closely identify her sound with more dancey staples like "Till Death" and "Dirty Talk" (or even her Flo Rida collab "Sugar"), you might be initially thrown off by Five Needle. Typically, when an artist does a style so well, hearing she instead chooses to walk in a different direction sonically can be kind of scary for a fan. Trust and believe when I say Five Needle is worth the intrigue. Wynter shows her salt and grit as a musician with this EP and we're all better off for it.

Rather than keeping herself in a genre-focused bubble of what's expected, Wynter has pulled out some serious guns (literally and figuratively) with a more introspective, intense offering. Think Sia meets balladized-Rihanna(-penned by Sia).

This is most prominent in the opening track, the haunting and multi-layered "Bleeding Out" (below). The tempo is sped up a bit on "Home" but the feel is still decidedly dark. "Higher" features guitars. "World On Fire" is an epic, galloping, rallying cry that arguably sounds most familiar from her. And the set builds to its climax with my favorite of the set -- "Against The Time" -- complete with a spectacular vocal performance.

I didn't see this coming but I'm so glad its here. Bravo, Wynter.

#TBT: Bronski Beat's "Smalltown Boy"

Thursday, May 28, 2015

In the wake of Ireland's recent political decisions, I feel like it's important to bring up this great jam of a #TBT.

Are you like me and thoroughly enjoying Brandon Flowers' new solo album, The Desired Effect?

His song "I Can Change" is lyrically about standing up and being supportive toward someone you love, even if it means changing your current mindset. Apropos then that he would heavily lace the song with a poignant synth sample of "Smalltown Boy", a dance hit by British group Bronski Beat back in 1984 (it sat just outside the Top 40 here in the US).

"Smalltown Boy" has endured through the pop rank largely due to the fact that's lyrics deal with surviving bullying. The music video details a young boy being ostracized from his family for being gay. That was in 1984 and its still relevant.

The song has been properly covered by a multitude of artists through the years from all over the world and was also sampled in Supermode's "Tell Me Why" and Swedish dance pop chanteuse September's "Cry For You"

HEAR THIS: Conchita Wurst's "Firestorm"

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I hope this 90's dance trend never wears out.

Last year's Eurovision winner/Current Drag Superstar Conchita Wurst recently dropped her debut solo album, Conchita, internationally and its filled with more than a few scorchers (pun intended). My favorite? Dancefloor ready "Firestorm" which girlfriend performed live at Saturday's Eurovision final. Ever since then, I haven't been able to get it out of my head.

For the love of all things holy, please include Conchita in next year's RuPaul's Drag Race. Please. Please.

FRESH OUT THE BOX: Little Boots, Sage The Gemini & Nick Jonas, American Authors, & Dream(!)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Summertime Heaters are in full effect! Click the titles below to hear 'em...

AA's latest single sounds just enough like their breakthrough "Best Day Of My Life" mixed with BBQ-Country-Crossover to make it sound fun and fresh. Every Summer needs one of these jangly tunes and this one is uber singable.

Familiar pop sensibility mixed with the 90's nostalgia with some weird synth bleep-blurps thrown in for good measure. I'm down for the cause.

I've been a longtime fan of Ms. Nikki Flores and I'm proud to announce she has changed her name to the psyudonym Rayne and finally has a new EP in the works. She also confirmed she's been writing and recording in Sweden(!). "Just Rayne" is the first taste and I'm. So. Freakin'. Excited.

Everything Adam Levine & Co. touch turns to gold these days and their singles just get shinier and poppier as the days go by.

SAGE THE GEMINI - "Good Thing (feat. NICK JONAS)"
To offense to Sage (or as I know him, the current wooer of Jordin Sparks) but this smash is all thanks to hunky Nick J in all of his glory. Remember when Justin Timberlake sang a bunch of dancey hooks for a smattering of rappers? Nelly's "Work It" immediately comes to mind. Kudos to Nick for continuing to prove he really is the true heir apparent.

Handclappin' in the club! I'm so ready for new material from Little Boots and the saucy vocal delivery on "Better In The Morning" doesn't disappoint.

Nope, it's not new but recently all four original members reunited and sang a bunch of their tunes together a capella and they've been circulating the 'net, inevitably making me teary-eyed. It Was All A Dream was such a great album, wasn't it?

HEAR THIS: Little Mix is BACK with "Black Magic"

Monday, May 25, 2015

L to R: Leigh-Anne, Perrie, Jade, Jesy
Good things come to those who wait for it.

Despite the potentially cringe-worthy title of "Black Magic" and its cheese-tastic ripped-from-a-Delias-catalog cover art, Little Mix refuses to let me down when it comes to slaying your faves and re-asserting themselves as the current Queens of Girl Group Pop.

"Black Magic" was leaked last week and due to the positive reaction heard 'round the world, its release date was bumped up. If you're like me and living in the US, it's available for purchase/streaming right now. I know. When I heard the news, I had a mini heart attack, too.

(In true annoying British single release form, it's not out until July in the group's native UK. Tell me how that works in their favor exactly, all-knowing music industry execs?)

The song follows on the path of anthematic, girl power pop that made Little Mix who they are with "Wings" mixed with a brush of chanty, sing-along bits a la "Move" and "Salute". Basically, it's the idyllic first single from a project that I could have ever hoped for from these ladies. 

Effortlessly effervescent and light, "Black Magic" is the opposite of what the title would suggest. Leigh-Anne, Perrie, Jesy, & Jade are willing to spill their secrets on how to be irresistible to all the boys. It's....witchcraft! Just kidding -- it's actually "confidence". Tomatoes, to-mah-toes. It was also co-written by Camille Purcell, who co-wrote a few other LM jams in "Boy" and "Nothing Feels Like You". 

Nothing can truly scream summer the way sweet girl pop in its purest form can. Well done, ladies. Now let's get on with Album #3 and re-schedule that US tour you promised us!

EUROVISION 2015: SWEDEN WINS ALL (plus Mel's Faves)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

It's the end of May so you know what that's Eurovision Time!

For the Americans/folks who aren't as familiar, Eurovision is basically like a giant week-long reality show between countries across the globe. Each country selects a song and a singer to perform to represent their country. There are two semi-finals (already held this past week) and the final (being held today) to select the ultimate winner and winning country. 

Picture it like a reality show a la The Voice or American Idol (since so many of these performers actually come from these types of shows in their native countries) if every state had their own song and performer and then all fifty songs were showcased and the public voted on a winner. I would totally watch that show. Wouldn't you?

While I usually lean toward female voices, there was an onslaught of contestants this year that were female singing (somewhat boring) big ballad anthems about equality, peace, or loving yourself for who you are (the theme is Building Bridges -- it's like, we get it, already). This isn't too surprising considering Eurovision tends to lean heavily on whoever won the year previous -- in this case, Conchita Wurst's "Rise Like A Phoenix" (representing Austria, hence the fact that this year's competition is being held there). 

Yes, it was a great song but do I want to sit through hours of a similar type song? Nope. I'm here for the dance music. Luckily, lots of the fellas were able to help me out in that department. Read on to listen to and hear more about my favorites from this year. Click on the song titles to view the live performances from the semi-finals (as applicable).

LIVE UPDATE: It's official! SWEDEN wins in what was a close race between themselves and Russia!

1. Sweden
2. Russia
3. Italy
4. Belgium
5. Australia
6. Latvia
7. Estonia
8. Norway
9. Israel
10. Serbia

PLACED: #1 (365 points - a record-breaking # of points in Eurovision's 60 year history!)
Unsurprising that the native land of All Good Pop Music would gain my vote as my absolute fave this year, right? Hunky Mans is a bonafide popstar in his native Sweden following a run on Swedish Idol in 2005 and has released five albums with a sixth on the way. "Heroes" is the first single from that record, Perfectly Damaged, set to be released next week in Sweden. It was co-written by Anton Malmberg Hard af Segerstad who has also written for Le Kid, ex-Play member Janet Leon, Eric Saade, and even Fifth Harmony. It starts slow like a country-western ballad before building to a climactic dance jam, very akin to David Guetta's recent work. Plus - if Sweden wins, it means the competition will be back there next year. Sigh.

2015 marks the first time Australia is allowed to compete in Eurovision which has raised more than a little bit of ire by fans. I get the confusion since Australia is technically considered part of Oceania, but given it's ethnic ties to Europe and ardent love for Eurovision, it was included in this year's competition. Even if you don't agree with it (angry fans on Twitter), you should at least give props where it's due that Australia selected criminally underrated popstar Guy Sebastian as their representative. He's the primer winner of Australian Idol in 2003 and is a current judge at the Australian X-Factor. Oh, and he writes his own music and can sing his ass off. He's released seven albums (the latest: Madness in 2014 which included features by Sage the Gemini and 2 Chainz). "Tonight Again" has a slight funk feel to it and sounds a bit like a dancey Bruno Mars cut. 

PLACED: #11 (51 points)
While so many of the ladies go the safe feel-good ballad route, 20-year-old Nina choose epic performance art. She won Sarkartvelos Varskvlavi (the Georgian Idol) in 2013 and released her debut album last year. Her song "Warrior" is still very much a strong female anthem a la Kelly Clarkson and was co-written by Sublatti herself with Swede penman Thomas G:son (who also co-wrote Loreen's "Euphoria", the Eurovision winning song in 2012). Her incredible voice and Xena-meets-Evanescence look totally sets her apart.

PLACED: #9 (97 points)
"Golden Boy" is the perfect blend for Eurovision -- it's a mainstream pop song that still has lots of shades of cultural color. It also marks the first Israeli entry sung in English. I thoroughly enjoy it because it heavily reminds me of Justin Timberlake's "Like I Love You" (shouldn't be too surprising -- Nadav actually auditioned to be Israel's representative by singing JT's "Mirrors" so the influence is obviously there). He's cute to boot! I initially wouldn't mind him "showing me Tel Aviv"...until I realized he's only 16 years old. Wow.

LOIC NOTTET - "Rhythm Inside" {BELGIUM}
PLACED: #4 (217 points)
Another teenage reality comp runner-up -- in this case 2014's The Voice Belgique. The song itself has a nice mixture of dancey bits and stark quiet which lends itself well to its intense, choreographed(!) performance. It's one of those that grows with you upon seeing its live production.

While I still maintain that Raylee's "Louder" should have snagged the Norway Nod at the Melodi Grand Prix, "A Monster Like Me" is quite captivating due to its simplicity and lyrical darkness. Morland fronted the British rock band Absent Elk, who saw some success in the UK and opened for Girls Aloud on the road.

IL VIVO - "Grande Amore" {ITALY}
PLACED: #3 (292 points)
OK, so I'm a sucker for handsome men who can sing opera and look good in suits. Il Vivo is a decorated Italian opera-pop trio who rose to fame in 2009 and have since signed a deal in the US(!) performing on a handful of television shows here and releasing their album Il Vivo as well. They range in age from 20-21.

Armenia's entry is interesting because it's made up of a "super-group" of people of Armenian descent who are from around the world to represent all continents, including American Tamar Kaprelian who saw some fame stateside for her 2009 song "New Day". I really love this concept and it's a beautiful song.

ANN SOPHIE - "Black Smoke" {GERMANY}
PLACED: Tied for last with 0 points (wow)
Ann Sophie is still a relative newbie in the German music market, releasing her debut album, Silver Into Gold, just last month. She joined the competition when another artist chosen to represent Germany dropped out. "Black Smoke" was co-written by British pop talent Ella Eyre

UZARI - "Time" (feat. MAIMUNA) {BELARUS}
PLACED: Cut during Semi-Finals
OK, so this one has already been cut from the final but I'm crying foul. This song is ridiculously catchy ("Time is like thunder, ah-ahhhhhh!") and sung well plus it includes live violin. I find it odd that previous Belarus songs -- including "Cheesecake" last year -- made it through while this didn't. Imagine it with a bit of a suped-up backbeat by Zedd and a feature by Lindsey Sterling and try to tell me this couldn't be a global dance phenom?

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