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THE LATEST. Highs and lows from the pop frontline

2014 A-Z: K is for KYLIE AND KATY

Posted by Popjustice on Dec 21 2014 at about 17:37

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2014azIn March, we took this photo on the London Underground.

On one side was a poster for Katy B’s just released, mostly brilliant new album. On the other side was a poster for Kylie Minogue’s just released, mostly-brilliant new album. Equal billing for two contrasting popstars.

At the time we were struck by a number of thoughts.

We wondered if either album – or both albums – would do better if the two artists swapped songs.

We wondered what impact both these albums would have on the artists’ respective careers: would they maintain an existing level of success, prompt a sharp upturn, or – regardless of how good the music was – prove to be part of a longterm decline?

We pondered the way ‘Little Red’ would increase Katy’s prominence on Radio 1’s daytime shows, and we pondered the way ‘Kiss Me Once’ would cement Kylie’s move to Radio 2.

We wondered which poster a pissed-up office wanker would be most likely to do a piss over on his way home.

We thought about the function of these albums; did Katy’s exist to sell albums, and was Kylie’s there to sell concert tickets?

We considered which was most likely to be talked about in ten years, and we wondered which was most likely to be talked about in ten months.

We wondered what sort of music Kylie would make if she’d left a soap opera in 2014, and we wondered what sort of music Katy would make if she emerged from the club scene in 1987.

We thought about all that stuff, and then we realised we’d missed the last tube.

2014 A-Z: J is for JAZZ ALBUM

Posted by Popjustice on Dec 21 2014 at about 16:57

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2014azIn 2008, Lady Gaga was the best popstar in the world.

In 2009, Lady Gaga was the best popstar in the world.

In 2010, Lady Gaga was the best popstar in the world.

In 2011, Lady Gaga was the best popstar in the world.

In 2012, Lady Gaga was the best popstar in the world.

In 2013, Lady Gaga was still just about the best popstar in the world.

In 2014, Lady Gaga released a jazz album.

Except actually it wasn’t really a Lady Gaga jazz album. A Lady Gaga jazz album would have seen Lady Gaga doing to jazz what Lady Gaga did to pop: identifying the best bits, inventing some even better bits, turning the whole thing inside out and thrilling the world.

Lady Gaga’s Tony Bennett duets album ‘Cheek To Cheek’ was not something that conformed to Gaga’s brand values at all. When you consider how experimental, avant-garde and breathtakingly insane jazz can be, and when you consider how incendiary it could have been to add Lady Gaga to the mix, the album she released was almost offensively pedestrian.

We kept reading things about ‘Cheek To Cheek’ being a brave move. It didn’t sound very brave to us. What’s brave about releasing an album of easy listening covers for the Q4 market?

This said, Gaga got to make an album she could be truly passionate about, and as anyone who follows her on Twitter will tell you, she was thrilled by the good reviews the album received from esteemed critics. Where’s the harm in that?

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Several years ago Lady Gaga made a promise: POP MUSIC WILL NEVER BE LOWBROW.

It’s hard to see where this fits in with ‘Cheek To Cheek’, an album through which Lady Gaga was apparently attempting to be taken seriously, in certain circles, for the first time. The idea, in so far as we could understand it, was that ‘Cheek To Cheek’ would allow Gaga’s true artistry to shine through.

We’re not sure that’s the Lady Gaga we fell in love with.

The Lady Gaga we fell in love with would say “FUCK YOU” to anyone who only took her seriously when she adhered to conservative notions of talent and artistry. She’d say “FUCK YOU” to anyone who considered ‘Bad Romance’, ‘Alejandro’ or ‘Poker Face’ somehow unworthy of rigorous critical attention simply because they were pop songs. And she’d say “FUCK YOU” to anyone who finally complimented her on her vocal talents just because they were being used away from a drum machine.

Maybe we got her wrong at the start. Maybe she was using pop to get somewhere else, when we thought she was using pop to make pop a better place. Maybe the Gaga we thought we fell in love with never really existed at all.

Actually that’s bollocks. We’re absolutely sure she did exist. And while some have written her off, we also feel with complete certainty that the Lady Gaga who once ruled the planet will one day exist again. We’re not sure when that’ll be, but we do know that she’d have been back in the game a lot sooner if she’d taken a year off instead of releasing ‘Cheek To Cheek’.

2014 A-Z: I is for ICONA POP GETTING LOST

Posted by Popjustice on Dec 21 2014 at about 16:22

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2014azIn 2013, Icona Pop had an international smash hit with ‘I Love It’. The single went Top 10 around the world, including the US where it went double platinum. When the single went to Number One in the UK we wrote a lengthyish post detailing the song’s 28-step path to glory: in short, the song’s success was down to a certain amount of planning, with quite a few happy accidents along the way.

What did the band do in 2014?

Well, most significantly, they had a great single called ‘Get Lost’. There were a few things wrong with it but there was plenty right with it – not least the storming chorus.

The single got to Number 58 in Sweden and doesn’t appear to have charted anywhere else at all. (It was even released in the UK, not that anybody noticed.) The duo have been playing live dates during 2014, but beyond ‘Get Lost’ their main contribution to the world’s chart landscape seems to have been a collaboration with Cobra Starship that barely dented the Australian Top 70.

As 2014 draws to a close Icona Pop are in a tricky position: they’re clearly keeping themselves busy in a variety of worldwide locations, but pop’s all about momentum. Have the duo achieved anything in the last twelve months that would justify a similarly busy 2015, or 2016?

Perhaps they are about to unleash a massive beast of a single. But ‘Get Lost’ was quite a bit of a beast, and the band’s label clearly saw no point in pushing it internationally. Why not? Did the label view Icona Pop as a one hit wonder, or a novelty act? Was the band’s international release pattern in the wake of ‘I Love It’ – with various different tracks of varying quality apparently being ‘the next single’ in various different territories – so messy that nobody knew how to move forward? Did they try, in the wake of ‘I Love It’, to crowbar themselves so far into the world of EDM that they sacrificed the outsiderish charm that made such sense to their early supporters? Or is it simply the case that Charli XCX absorbed so much of ‘I Love It”s momentum that there was none left for Icona Pop?

Look, maybe 2014 has been a brilliant year for Icona Pop and maybe everything’s gone exactly to plan and maybe they wouldn’t change a thing. Even if that’s not the case, maybe 2015 will still be the year in which they deliver the follow-up album their brilliant debut definitely deserves. Maybe they’ve already recorded a megabanger so immense that it will make ‘I Love It’ sound like a Rixton b-side. Either way, from the outside, all we can say is that there’s a great pop duo at stake here, and it’d be good to see them get their act together before they get lost forever.

2014 A-Z: H is for HALF-FINISHED SONGS

Posted by Popjustice on Dec 19 2014 at about 18:30

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2014azIt’s fair to say that Madonna hasn’t exactly kept her recording sessions a secret. And it would be easy to say that if you’re going to spend a year building up demand for a new album, you shouldn’t be surprised if someone, somewhere, does something to meet that demand.

But on the other hand, that’s bollocks. Nicking an album and putting it online when it’s not ready just isn’t on. Clips and maybe one or two tracks is alright. A whole album is just absurd.

Anyway, here are some songs we all know to be amazing, which didn’t sound quite so amazing to start with.

Lady Gaga – ‘Bad Romance’

Backstreet Boys – ‘I Want It That Way’

Girls Aloud – ‘Something Kinda Ooooh!’

Pet Shop Boys – ‘West End Girls’

Madonna – ‘Deeper & Deeper’

Madonna – ‘The Power Of Good-Bye’

Madonna – ‘Hung Up’

Fleur East – ‘Uptown Funk’

All those songs sound pretty good in their unfinished states, of course, but the finished versions were better. And if we’d heard all these versions before we heard the final ones, would we ever have fallen quite so deeply in love with the songs?

(The exception to that point is ‘Bad Romance’, which did leak ahead of the proper one, but that’s the best song of the millennium and it would have been amazing even if your first listen had been Lady Gaga shouting it down a paper tube in a shopping centre.)