Monday, August 25, 2014

NOW KPOPPING: f(x), Super Junior, SHINee's Taemin, EXOpocalypse & More

Mel's first KPOP post in...oh, I dunno...six months? I'm not exactly sure where I should begin. Admittedly, I've been a bit out of the loop and being able to look at KPOP through a further apart glance has suggested the wheels are starting to come off a bit. The genre has been full of flux and drama over the past few months but there is one very important reason why I'm jumping back aboard this crazy bandwagon...

The long-awaited return of my second favorite KPOP boy band is incredibly imminent. Super Junior's seventh full length album, backed by the upcoming release of title track "Mamacita" will be firing and hitting next week. Did you get that? Next week. Now hold on to your hats, boys & girls, because the concept is...Cowboys. This could go a myriad of ways and the majority sound dreadful so let's all keep our fingers & toes crossed that this go-'round will be worth it. It's been two years since we've had Super Junior in the saddle (see what I did there?), and three army switcheroos. Heechul, who left during the Mr. Simple era, is back and leader Leeteuk, who left following Sexy Free & Single, is too. However, this leaves us short of the golden-throated Yesung who enlisted just over a year ago. It also quite possible will be the last SJ comeback before my bias Donghae enlists. Ergo, this is important news -- whether the comeback track is terrible or not. Let's hope for not.


Speaking of Donghae, he alongside his boyfriend best friend Eunhyuk made good on their promises of a full album (in Japan, at least), which was released since we last chatted KPOP. Get this -- it was called Ride Me. Hold for applause. The pair also embarked on their own duet tour in Japan and have released an additional single earlier this month called "Skeleton". The song sounds very Tohoshinki dark and dirty, complete the epic chorus line "I just wanna see you naked" in English falcetto. Is it hot in here? It feels hot in here.


A lot has gone down in the f(x) fandom. The group released their latest full length Red Light in early July. The concept: cats. I know what you're thinking but the output was actually quite admirable (and is what gives me hope that "Mamacita" might be salvageable). "Red Light" the song was actually quite Pussycat Dolls sultry (maybe that's where the "cats" idea came from?) and Red Light the album seemed to me to be their most cohesive set yet.

Then, the troubles began. Not long after their comeback, rumors started running rampant and full tilt about a relationship between second youngest member Sulli and Dynamic Duo's ChoiZa -- a tabloid story that has been making the rounds since last summer, the most prevalent being that Sulli is/was pregnant. Both parties in the couple have actually confirmed their relationship earlier this month. If you're wondering why it's a big deal, ChoiZa is 14 years older than Sulli, hence the raised eyebrows. Not long after more "proof" broke about the two, Sulli mysteriously disappeared from all f(x) appearances, adding fuel to the pregnancy rumors, and promotions for the Red Light era seemed to be abandoned. SM Entertainment confirmed Sulli is still very much a member of f(x) and that the group is not disbanding -- however, the circumstances do not look good. To add insult to injury, SM Entertainment have quickly ushered out a new quirky baby girl group to promote by debuting Red Velvet, a four-piece mostly made up of gals from their fledgling SM.Rookies offering. While their debut single "Happiness" has been fairly successful, they hold no interest to me. Best of luck to the girls but...sigh.


While we're talking about SM Entertainment's dramas, I guess it's time to talk EXO. The boy band I love to hate (#sorrynotsorry) went through a ton of drama since we last chatted, beginning in May when member Kris (better known as the leader of their Chinese subunit EXO-M and now primarily known by his given name Wu Yifan), abruptly left the group and filed a lawsuit against SM Entertainment to nullify his contract. Lest we all forget, EXO has been active only for about two and a half years. He has since headed to China to pursue a full time acting career and the result has been a lot of bad blood among the remaining eleven members, not unlike the situation when Jay Park made his exit from 2PM in 2010. Also, Kris has hired the same law firm who represented Han Geng in his similar-ish lawsuit against SM whilst leaving Super Junior, which has inevitably re-opened still fresh wounds within Super Junior. Long story short -- not a good situation.

Not long after this, it was revealed and confirmed by SM Entertainment that EXO-K member Baekhyun is in a relationship with Girls' Generation leader TaeYeon, inevitably a sore subject for many a SONE. The resulting onslaught rained on TaeYeon's Instagram page where she expressed sorrow for not being truthful to her fanbase. The sheer amount of hate and ridicule slung at her truly makes heart hurt. It also lead to a momentary uprising against EXO and Baekhyun in particular. It appears all is calm now for the most part but the days of Girls' Generation's innocence and reign as Korea's National Girl Group may officially be coming to an end. SM also confirmed popular members Tiffany and YoonA were also in relationships, with Nickhyun of the aforementioned 2PM and actor Lee Seunggi, respectively.


A bright shiny beacon in the drama-filled SM Entertainment landscape would inevitably be a member of SHINee. It was announced earlier this month that the group's baby, 4 year old (just kidding...kind of) Taemin would be the first of the group to attempt a solo shot. This is a pretty big deal -- in recent memory, only Henry of Super Junior-M has been allowed clearance to strike out on his own officially. Taemin's solo EP, Ace, was released on August 18th and the title cut (a sexy, slow jam) was written #1 bias, TVXQ!'s Changmin! Surprise, surprise -- it actually was the reason why I forgave the seeming oversight of offering up Taemin over the more charismatic Key or vocally exciting Jonghyun. (But seriously, Minnie -- I'd rather it have been a TVXQ! jam any day. Just saying.)

But to be fair -- I get the hype over Taeminnie. He's grown into handsome boy-man (but that nose to ear chain thing has got to go). We all knew he's had the moves since the beginning, but he has also really grown into his voice and it shows (when its not being vocoded to all hell). The Michael Jackson comparisons are easy for SM to grasp at, so I don't fault them for it. And for those of you who are hurt like me about the Jong snub, my BB co-wrote album cut "Pretty Boy". Also -- Teddy Riley co-produced "Wicked" (which quite possibly could have been a SHINee leftover) and one of my fave under-appreciated producers Adonis Shropshire (who's credits include most infamously Danity Kane, Day26, Dream, and Kristinia DeBarge) co-produced "Play Me", complete with Aaliyah homage.

Joke aside, download Ace right now. It's worth it. I wasn't expecting a mini album of R&B-tingled goodness from SHINee's maknae, but I'm glad its here.


As I mentioned back in November, girl group KARA, of which I was a casual fan, has undergone a second lineup change -- but their first since really securing popularity. Fan favorite member Nicole and youngest member JiYoung have both officially exited the group and their company, DSP Entertainment, for good. Nicole is working toward a solo debut with a new company while JiYoung confirmed she was leaving the group to focus on her education. Rather than saying die, the remaining three members (Seungyeon, Hara, and leader Gyuri) re-grouped and DSP launched the "reality" program Kara Project to find a new member to join the group, allowing viewers to vote for their favorites out of a possible seven DSP trainees. Almost 20-year old Youngji has been declared winner.

The group released a new single with their new member called "Mamma Mia" and are set to start a new tour in Japan this October. I'm happy to say it's just as catchy, lively, and sexy as their past hits like "STEP", "Lupin", "Mister", etc.


Not long after I rued the Kara debacle, the youngest original member of the Wonder Girls -- fan favorite Sohee -- also bowed out not just of her group but of her company JYP Entertainment (who has since gone on to have many more problems of their own) to focus on acting over singing. This coupled with leader Sunye's extended absence given her marriage and the birth of her child led to utter uncertainty for the future of the group and its three remaining members -- Yeeun, Lim & Yubin. Back in March, JYP offered a statement saying the group is definitely not disbanding, however any attempt at future plans is quiet.

That is, until this past July, when one of the group's requisite big voices announced her solo debut. Yeeun (or Yenny), performing under the name Ha:tfelt (meaning "heartfelt"), released her album, Me?, in late July. The album should be noted for its decidely un-idol-like feel. All seven of the songs were co-written by Yenny herself. 


You're probably saying to yourself, "Mel -- the majority of this sounds like bad or sad news. Tell us something happy already!" No worries. Through the sad malaise that is the state of the KPOP world (to me anyway), I may have found a new gal group to root for. 

They're called MAMAMOO and they debuted the day after my birthday, back on June 18th. Signed to "indie" label WA (which is also home to prominent hip hop duo Geeks), this lively four-piece girl group ranges in age from 19 to 23 and their debut single "Mr. Ambiguous" is handclappy and effervescent. Overall, the group has a jazz-y kind of sound that complements the focus being on their vocals foremost (respect). Think Lee Hi meets Secret during their "Poison" era. Fingers crossed for more from these ladies...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

BACK IN THE DAY: #THROWBACKTHURSDAY with Madonna, Alicia & Lisa...

In a valiant attempt to revive my Back In The Day column series, each week or so I will be gathering together a few hits to reminisce on -- the good, the bad, & the downright ugly (but there's no ugly in Guilty Pleasure Land, is there? Yes, Mel, there is...). This week, let's flash back to...

1986 - MADONNA - "Papa Don't Preach"
"Papa, I know you're gonna be upset / 'Cuz I was always your little girl
But you should know by now / I'm not a baby..."

Released as the second single from Madge's third album True Blue, "Papa" became instantly infamous for its taboo subject matter of teenage pregnancy. How she somehow managed to take something as serious as that and make is sound so effervescent, we may never know. Now 28 years after the song topped the Billboard Hot 100, it still sounds ballsy.

Today, of course, Madonna remains the unequivocal Queen of Pop with a thirteenth album currently in the works.


1994 - LISA LOEB (& NINE STORIES) - "Stay (I Missed You")
"I thought I'd live forever / But now I'm not so sure / You try and tell me that I'm clever / But that won't take me anyhow or anywhere with you..."

You only hear what you want to. "Stay (I Missed You)" is a definitive 90's cut to me and to thousands of my generation who grew up watching Reality Bites and turning the radio on, turning the radio up to hear Lisa Loeb's ardent yearning for a lover to stay. It's now 20 years later (!!) and I still remember all the words unprompted -- and given the lyrical pace, that's an accomplishment. At the time, Lisa had the distinction of being the first true "indie" artist to grace the #1 position on the Hot 100. This feat would only be matched recently via a comical trek to the "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.

Although largely regarded as a "one hit wonder", Lisa has kept busy since "Stay" releasing quite a few albums, appearing in not one but two reality shows, recording and releasing two albums worth of children's music, and putting the bank behind her iconic eyewear choices by founding her own line of eye glasses.


2001 - ALICIA KEYS - "Fallin'"
"Sometimes I feel good / At times, I feel used
Lovin' you, darlin' / Makes me so confused..."

Can you believe thirteen years since this little ditty was all over the radio, replayed on MTV, and blaring from every car stereo system? I can't. I vividly remember the Summer of 2001 as it was my last summer before high school (as well as my last pre-September 11th). I was 14 years young and singing along to "Fallin'" on the radio every chance I took. It was Alicia's breakthrough debut single and it sure was a doozy -- aching and oozing with soulful intensity. In a pop music marketplace flooded with saccharine teen pop, the public took to then 20-year-old Alicia like a breath of fresh air. Her debut album, Songs In A Minor, won a record five Grammy's that following February.

Of course, we all know what happened next. "Fallin'" gave birth to a musical superstar known for her emotional delivery and for bangin' on the ivories. She is currently working on her upcoming sixth album set for release late this year/early next and is pregnant with her second child with her hubby, producer Swizz Beatz

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

HEAR THIS/MIXTAPE: Femme Faves with Iggy, Jessie J, Kimbra, Hilary, Neon Hitch & More...

Despite my obvious and unabashed love for boy bands, in general my listening habits tend to gravitate toward the female -- in particular, ladies who can flex their vocal muscles and flex them well. Here's a rundown of the ladies I've been listening to the most lately...
Everything about this screams hit, let alone Max Martin's hand in penning it. Released at the end of July, in less than a month its shot up the Billboard Hot 100 (thanks in no small part no doubt to Ms. Grande supplying the second verse). Here's to ladies with enviable vocal chops, right? Even Nicki's verse slings and swats without feeling unnecessarily tacked on for show. It's not quite the "Lady Marmalade" reboot we all have been screaming for but it's a pretty easy guess that anything this girl power-y (and downright melismatic) will have my stamp of approval. 

IGGY AZALEA - "Black Widow (feat. RITA ORA)"
Upon the release of Iggy's debut set The New Classic dropped earlier this year, this tune automatically stood out to me as a keeper -- easily my favorite of the non-single "new" jams featured. Setting aside the bringing to light of Iggy's "questionable" past as a femmcee (my thoughts: she makes jams now and writes them so...) and a now somewhat common complaint that it sounds "too close" Katy Perry's "Dark Horse" (my thoughts: Ms. Perry co-penned "Black Widow" so...I guess you just have good ears). I'd rather field the more obvious -- who exactly is Rita Ora playing to in the US? She's best known here as an ex to the male Kardashian and her vocal contribution here sounds a bit like a Perry/Rihanna rebirth -- a far cry from her best known US hit, "R.I.P." No matter, this one cooks.

KIMBRA - "90's Music"
Welcome back to that other alt-popstar from New Zealand, Kimbra (the other being Lorde, obvs)! Following a pristine bow with her debut set, Vows, and a star-making turn as the featured artist in that Gotye smash "Somebody That I Used To Know", Kimbra dropped her sophomore album The Golden Echo yesterday and it has a handful of late 80's/early 90's synth sparklers that seem to be so en vogue now. Difference is with Kimbra it doesn't sound forced or jumping on a bandwagon -- it really fits and fuels her jazz-y, ethereal voice. "90's Music" is quirky, a little bit weird, and my favorite for the Mary J Blige and TLC homage mentions alone, but I also quite like "Miracle" and "Madhouse".

Hil's return to the music scene surprisingly excited me (What can I say? Dignity was a stellar record and it made me a fan.) until the hype single "Chasing The Sun" dropped. While its sunny ethos is surely A-OK and believable, it did little to augment how thin Hil's natural voice is. Her choice to go the "indie-esque", folky, handclappy route was a head-scratcher for me, given how strong her dancey pop music was but she proved her decision was all for naught with "All About You". It's very call-and-response, sing-along in a way that takes advantage of her everygirl persona. More of this, please.

NEON HITCH - "Yard Sale"
The Gypsy Queen of the Indie Grind has offered quite a bit of fresh material since I saw her perform at CMJ last year in two stellar alt-pop mixtapes (that are both available to stream on Spotify so get on that!). Her latest is the single "Yard Sale", a salty in-your-face Neon-ized version of "Irreplaceable". It reads like an Eff You to an ex who's done you wrong (or, if you want to read into it, perhaps directed at a former label who's done her wrong by "giving away all of the things that [she] used to call [her] own"? "Giving 'em all away for free?" Who knows?). As Neon warbles, "There is a person that could love you/But that person is the old me." Oh, and there's an accordion riff in it. Win.

If 20-year-old Christina's name only sounds slightly familiar, get ready for a potential onslaught. She began her career singing covers on YouTube, which led to a game-changing run on The Voice this past season (she placed third this past May) and a barrage of record deal offers. She ultimately signed with Island Records and her debut major release single, "Must Be Love" hit the decks at the end of July. It's an incredible earworm to say the least, owing to Grimmie's power pipes that could easily compete in this post-Ariana big voiced teenage popstar world. 

Halsey continues into this dark electro pastiche with some seriously noteworthy results. "Ghost" was distributed through AstralWerks, who also handle the catalog of Nervo, Empire of the Sun, Kraftwerk, and Goldfrapp to just name a handful. Halsey has just jumped aboard The Kooks live tour as an opening act. Put her on your list as one to watch.

An "indie" alt-popstar along the likes of Charli XCX and Jessie Ware, Ryn Weaver's entire career blew up overnight thanks both of those ladies giving her some props and promo pointing to her SoundCloud page. Her song, "OctaHate", is distributed through Interscope, along with a new EP that was unleashed yesterday. While there's a bit of controversy regarding her actual "indie" status, it is clear she's Interscope's new viral pet project (not unlike Lana Del Rey) to build a story around her straight out the gate. So far, this does not bug me -- the music is standard pop fare and much more listenable than droll Lana any day.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

PLAYING CATCHUP: Summer 2014 Faves

"Last updated June 28th." This blog is NOT dead, I assure you. Important things are happening to me personally behind the scenes but music has always remained a constant reassurance in my life. Before we get to the latest jams to abuse my Spotify, I would be deeply remiss if I didn't take a few minutes of your time to mention these good un's that June and July have brought our way...

This Aussie boyband of the moment makes good with this tune, tipped to be their next quickly devoured single. It was also co-written by the Madden Brothers behind Good Charlotte.

BECKY G - "Shower"
Attempting to break out from under Cher Lloyd's shadow, this 17 year old gives the bratty delivery a rest with her latest single full of thumping 808.

BROODS - "Mother & Father"
Yet another soothing yet driving midtempo jam from this brother-sister duo pair from New Zealand.

PALOMA FAITH - "Only Love Can Hurt Like This"
The British soulstress finally sets this 60's sounding stomper loose on the US. When the chorus opens up a register, it really soars.

Guilty pleasure alert. This US X-Factor spin-off group takes a total 180, offering a totally different sound from their "Miss Movin' On" debut with this ballsy, jangly jam. Don't hate -- they on they Michelle Obama ishhhh.

DAVID GUETTA - "Lovers On The Sun" (feat. SAM MARTIN)
This super DJ continues his dalliance with Western-influenced sounds with this jam for the OKcorral (& the club), whistles and all.

LEELA JAMES - "Who's Gonna Love You More"
This is the type of jam I've been wanting Mary J to belt out. Leela's vocal delivery really sears. Don't try and tell me modern R&B is dead, fool.

KIESZA - "What Is Love"
A guilty pleasure from Haddaway, slowed down to be a yearning, emotional ballad by a young-gun Canadian who has all the blogs talking for her hit "Hideaway". Covers should only be allowed when they are like this -- a truly unique rebranding of a tune you've already heard, to the point that the versions are totally distinct.

KITTEN - "Like A Stranger"
Dark, dancey synth.

LA ROUX - "Tropical Chancer"
It was one of my faves seeing her live and still one of my faves from the recorded sophomore set. Fun, light, and summery.

LIGHTS - "Up We Go"
A familiar synthy sound from this Canadian electro artist. I love the vocal layering here.

MADDIE & TAE - "Girl In A Country Song"
It's like these two gals took my entire criticism of women in country and put it into a song. Of course I'm all about this! Yeah, baby!

Dirty 80's disco with serious Michael Jackson influences. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

MAROON 5 - "Maps"
M5 takes a (probably brief) break from the Nile Rogers-esque jangles with this straight-ahead ditty.

JESSE MCCARTNEY - "Punch Drunk Recreation"
Jesse's latest disc, In Technicolor, truly made serious good. This album cut is a little bit sleazy in that way that Justin Timberlake does so well. 

NICO VEGA - "Dance"
Don't sleep on this one! This Cali-based indie rock troupe has opened for an incredible slew of artists from Blondie to Imagine Dragons and their latest disc, Lead to Light, is full of good 'uns including a cover of Cher's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" and this album cut.

NONONO - "Down Under"
My faves from last year's CMJ Festival recently released their full debut set, We Are Only What We Feel, which includes all the stompers from their debut EP ("Jungle", "Pumpin' Blood", "Like The Wind", "Fire Without A Flame") and also includes "Love" (which they debuted at CMJ, to my knowledge) and this tempo-shifting sparkler, which gives the album its name.

R5 - "Heart Made Up On You"
This pop-rock troupe is mostly made up of siblings that are closely related to the Hough siblings (Derek and Julianne, best known as pro dancers on 'Dancing With The Stars'). This piano-driven midtempo draws parallels to Maroon 5 and that disco-bassline that is so popular these days.

RIXTON - "Wait On Me"
While I enjoyed "Me and My Broken Heart", it was drilled into my head by near constant airplay. "Wait On Me" has a little bit of a fresher sound. To be honest, The Script should be taking notes rather than hanging out with and the like.

THE SATURDAYS - "Greatest Hits Megamix"
So much good. I might be crying a little bit.

ED SHEERAN - "Don't"
Easily one of my faves from Ed's sophomore set, X, for is quick, venomous lyrics (reportedly aimed at his ex Ellie Goulding). 

SHEPPARD - "Geronimo"
Hooks don't come faster than with this cut from this Aussie sextet, featuring shades of Mumford & Sons. That chorus gets stuck in my head and won't leave for days. Bombs away!

SAM SMITH - "Stay With Me"
Oh Sam, your voice is just everything. And so is that gospel-esque stacked chorus.

SIA - "Big Girls Cry"
My fave from Sia's latest, 1000 Forms Of Fear.

MEGHAN TRAINOR - "All About That Bass"
Talk about coming out of literal nowhere. This 20 year-old indie singer-songwriter gained major label traction with this super catchy little ditty about body acceptance.

WAKEY!WAKEY - "Wake Up (Lily, I Love You...)"
I don't know much about Wakey!Wakey! other than its frontman used to be on that CW melodrama 'One Tree Hill'. But don't hold that against him -- there's a slew of great slightly folky, pop-rock to be found here. This is my favorite from their latest set, slightly reminiscent of Plain White T's and Owl City.

JESSIE WARE - "Tough Love"
The first listen into Jessie's upcoming sophomore album (also titled Tough Love). The backbeat is slightly reminiscent of Prince's "When Doves Cry". Comparisons don't get better than that.

JODY WATELY - "Nightlife"
This one goes out to all my gays, because I'm gonna get my drag on with this one.

ZENDAYA - "Too Much"
I like Zendaya but feel like she might be trying a little too hard with some of her post-Disney material. This cut is a carry-over soundtrack single from her Disney Channel Original Movie (or DCOM to the kids), Zapped. But if that puts you off, forget I said it. This has more sass and energy, riding high on the Ariana Grande vintage vocal bandwagon.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

FRESH OUT THE BOX: Playing Ketchup with LP, Colbie Caillat, Panama Wedding, Tove Stryke, Adore Delano & More

Where is the summer going? Ughhhhh. I've missed the "new release" window on these but it doesn't make them less awesome so make sure you fit these into your Spotify/iTunes playlists!

In the past, I was quick to judge Ms. Caillat as just a little too formulaic vanilla cuteness for my tastes (coming from me, this says something, right?). That was until "Hold On" broke late last year. She recently released a surprise EP in Gypsy Heart Side A and it's full of sunny, summery loveliness and a handful of 'real girl'-powery anthems that would be cruel to not stand behind. I stand corrected on my girl, Colbie -- I'm loving all of this.

It's official. We really are in a post-Girls Aloud World. Cheryl (apparently still) Cole has returned to the solo side of the pond via "Crazy Stupid Love", the first single from her fourth album Only Human. It's very handclappy (a la Little Mix's "Wings") and has a bit of a sax in there (relevant) so basically it's a little bit tryhard. Shrug. She looks amazing. The song is a grower for sure. We'll see how it holds up in the grand scheme -- it's out at the end of July in the UK.

If you weren't an avid watcher of RuPaul's Drag Race this past year like I was, you might have no clue who Adore Delano is but if you were an avid watcher of American Idol a few years back, you might still have a chance. Danny Noriega, best known for his head swiveling retort to Simon Cowell of "Some people weren't likin' it!" became a viral sensation back in 2008. He re-emerged recently as the glamtastic party-gal Adore Delano, placing second or third in the sixth installment of the drag queen competition show on LOGO (depending on who you talk to). While I was certainly #TeamBiancaDelRio, I had a soft spot for Adore throughout. Her humor and charm was truly her X-Factor and when you throw in that she's a pretty good singer, you have an undeniable stage performing waiting for the right opportunity. Adore released her debut set, Till Death Do Us Party (cover of the epic Wynter Gordon jam not included). It's a fab piece of guilty pleasure pop ("I Look F*ckin' Cool", anyone?) and quite a few geniune pop stompers in "Give Me Tonight", "Calling All Goddess" and current single "I Adore You". 

Best known as a marginal success story via the American X-Factor, the three boys of Emblem3 were briefly signed to Simon Cowell's label and opened for Selena Gomez on the road. Their single "Chloe (You're The One That I Want)" flopped hardcore and they released Songs From The Couch Vol 1., their latest EP, independently. However, it's currently looking like there won't be a Vol. 2 anytime soon -- lead vocalist Drew announced his exit from the band last week. So I guess they're Emblem2, now? Either way, "Say What You Mean" is fun little bit of pop -- all of Couch is a more mature departure from the embarrassingly juvenile "Chloe" days.

There's a lot of hype surrounding this Swedish duo outfit despite the fact that they aren't really new to the scene at all, not even in America. Also, a lot of folks are quick to correlate them to other popular Swedish artists like The Knife and Icona Pop when First Aid Kit's sound is totally different. Their third album, Stay Gold, is quite ethereal and folksy. Basically, if you dig Lana Del Rey but not her dismal attitude (My Hand's Up!), give First Aid Kit a spin. I love the title track best, if only for the Robert Frost/The Outsiders references.

This post-Pussycat Dolls/Girlicious/Paradiso Girls revamp group has literally been years in the making but their latest effort in single "Ugly Heart" finally shows real promise. It has just enough sass and snark to feel mainstream modern female with a memorable chorus that sticks. It's by far my favorite from the group so far. Now, if they could just ditch Pitbull.  

Mainstream Whistle Country Pop. Let's be real -- few are doing it better than LBT when it comes to big radio singles. I wish they got more credit (and exposure). 

Read My Lips: DO NOT SLEEP ON LP. LP, or Laura Pergolizzi, got her start writing hits for others and the majority of her writing credits skew decidedly more pop than anything depicted on her debut solo effort, Forever For Now. She's written for Erik Hassle, Rihanna ("Cheers (Drink To That)"), The Veronicas ("Lolita") and Christina Aguilera ("The Beautiful People"). Her debut is one of those rare records that every song is listenable and good. There is no need for skipping. It also should be noted that the executive producer for the album was Rob Cavallo, who co-helmed breakthrough projects with Green Day, Paramore and The Goo Goo Dolls amongst others. While the intensity is very much a lighter, more radio-friendly Florence + The Machine, LP's voice has a broader range of dimension. This is easily one of the best records of 2014 so far. No joke.

The twin bros that front Good Charlotte took a brief departure from the band this year for the much more relaxed, decidedly less emo The Madden Brothers. Whether or not you were a fan of Good Charlotte, give "We Are Done" a spin -- if only for the lead up post-chorus, full of stacked vocal harmonies that are perfect for singing at the top of your lungs in the summer heat. Well done.

I saw them live during CMJ and they just dropped their debut EP in Parallel Play. The too-short EP includes debut single sparkler "All Of The People" and this current single "Uma" which sounds positively The Police-like in the best way.

He's an Alt-AC version of Ed Sheeran perhaps. The one-man band Passenger has seen a steady uptick in interest with his radio single "Let Her Go", "Heart's On Fire" and "Scare Away The Dark". Despite the well-earned hype, he's still much more famous around the world than he is here in the States (isn't that the rub, though?). His latest record, Whispers, is great singer-songwriter pop. My fave is "Coins In A Fountain". 

Not to be confused with another fab Swedish popstar Tove Lo, 21 year-old Tove Stryke made her name on the Swedish Pop Idol and released her debut in 2010. She's had a handful of good 'uns credited to her but her latest, "Even If I'm Loud It Doesn't Mean I'm Talking To You" (mouthful), is being served to US radio! Hurray! Because she's blonde and Swedish, the comparisons to Robyn are sure to come but they aren't totally unwarranted here. The song itself is very handclappy and sounds to me like a lost Ting Tings jam. Fantastic.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

LIVE FROM NEW YORK: Jennifer Lopez on GMA

Mel wearing a purple bob wig in public like
she's Britney circa 2007.
I'm literally seeing so many shows I can't keep up A) with recaps, B) with anything else. #SorryNotSorry

On Friday morning, I headed up to scenic Central Park supppper early in the AM (4AM and I are totally BFFs now, guys) to the ABC Summer Stage area to see an icon in her own right, Ms. Jennifer Lopez, do her thing live in support of her latest disc, A.K.A., out this past week (on my birthday - June 17th!). Full disclosure, the access to this concert was not of my own volition but through my day job as we had VIP Access thanks to the Alzheimer's Association (NYC Chapter) as part of the sponsorship for the event that day. Kudos to them because we had a blast.

Right at 7AM, Ms. Jennifer Lopez appeared in full hair and makeup with all of her gorgeous, tanned, ripped male dancers (and two gorgeous, tanned, ripped female ones, too). She was wearing all black and a pair of black high-top sneakerheels and began rehearsing in earnest her set that would be going live on ABC in about an hour. She ran through a handful of songs but the one that seemed needing the most kinks ironed out was "Booty", a cut from A.K.A. that is to be on deck to be the project's next single. I may be wrong but I think the 'Good Morning America' performance was one of the first live performances of the song -- and it's easily my favorite cut from A.K.A.

You may laugh but that song, co-written by Diplo, is catchy as all get out and I'll be damned if I didn't have it stuck in my head for the rest of the day following this performance. The routine included oversized golden spatulas (that were doused in glitter and looked like they were covered in shiny golden tinfoil up close) that were waved by her sexy male dancers. We joked that they looked like pizza trays (#ILuhYaPizza). Oh, the delirium induced by being woken up at 3AM! Another part of the routine included Jenny rolling on to a white couch (probs from IKEA and it was so filthy and beat up close up! Some assistant should be fired for this!) that her mens lifted up over their heads and spun around. Slay, Diva Mama. Own it.

She also ran through a bit of "On The Floor" and when the opening licks of "Let's Get Loud" were called up we lost our damn minds (it is, of course, the best J.Lo song ever recorded, thanks). Given our relationship with the AA, we were there in full purple regalia that included purple wigs and Jennifer came over to our side and waved and pointed to our wigs and smiled. It was a magical experience, guys. Obviously, we're now best friends. After her run through, she ran off stage to get properly dressed and the dancers continued choreography run throughs with Ms. Lopez's choreographer slaying it as her stand in. 

Once the show started/transferred to Central Park for live coverage, everything started to blur. Liv Tyler suddenly appeared -- a gorgeous Amazon of a woman, I had no idea she was so tall -- and had a short interview live on stage that none of us could really hear. (Insider Dirt: when you go to these types of live studio/television tapings, the audio is captured through sensitive microphones but aren't necessarily amplified for the studio audience like you'd expect microphones to. I don't know the logistics of why -- just be satisfied that it's the truth.) Then, J.Lo arrived in full silver glitterbomb gorgeousness -- as GMA themselves tweeted, her sparkle-spangled boots deserved their own concert -- and opened with "Booty", which went off without a hitch.

(While I'm on "Booty", can I just say her infamous 'booty' didn't seem that big in person? She herself is super petite, as most popstars/showbiz folks are. Either it's -- gasp! -- gotten smaller over the years or the camera/right wardrobe choices just add to its voluptuousness. It was there but it wasn't overwhelming. Yes, this legit was a topic of discussion of ours during her soundcheck. No, I am not kidding.)

She also performed the album's Max Martin-penned current single "First Love", "On The Floor" (like "Booty", performed sans Pitbull, thank Jososphine), just a touch of "Let's Get Loud" (sigh) and once the filming was through, she came out to perform another song just for the fans. She chose the A.K.A. ballad "Never Satisifed", which she had co-written.

Overall, I feel like very few go to a J.Lo show to be wowed by her voice -- they go to see her kill it with her dancing and her stage persona. Jennifer gave us that and then some, dancing hard in her high heeled sparkle boots. She also looked fantastic and seemed very much the consummate professional both during rehearsal and her performance. "On The Floor" included a pseudo-impromptu dance break that included a lot of hair swinging. Oh, and did I mention one of her background singers is Pia Toscano, formerly of American Idol fame?

My only complaint would be how short her performance of "Let's Get Loud" was so I'ma just leave this one here. Luh Ya, J.Lo...

That video above is from 2000, guys. Bow down.

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