A 2014 Christmas song roundup. PLUS!! Several other good ones from the post-Mariah era
Dec 24 2014, 10:15
Q4 2013 saw the glorious return of the contemporary Christmas song, with superior Chrimbo bangerz – Chrimbangerz, if you will [WE WON'T THANKS - ED] – from Global Songstress Leona Lewis (in the shape of ‘One More Sleep’) and Clive Davis fan Kelly Clarkson (‘Underneath The Tree’).
While Leona earned a coveted 2014 Popjustice Twenty Quid nomination in October by counting down the nights until she could be reunited with her ‘boo’, Clarko’s still promoting her ‘Wrapped In Red’ album this year with the surprise video release of its title track, in which Kelly sets out her plan to resolve an unrequited love. To be honest, it’s fine by me if the next 12 years see RCA exhausting the album, one song every Q4. However, my Christmas goodwill is in danger of running out if they don’t throw a bit more money at future videos.
But what else did 2014 have to offer?
The Saturdays took on the Waitresses’ ‘Christmas Wrapping‘ for the Get Santa soundtrack, a song last ‘tackled’ by the Spice Girls in 1998 who’d employed some ‘creative license’ withthe lyrics, gearing them towards a British audience (all-night garages and a rubbish turkey from Tesco). The Sats’ take is altogether more faithful, with the original lyrics intact, a backing track that closely resembles the original and even an admirable stab at the Waitresses’ weary ennui (they sound bored).
As I’m sure you’re all too aware, the Vengaboys (who else) returned with ‘Where Did My Xmas Tree Go?‘. The group’s lyrics have taken a dark turn, with the sad revelation that Uncle John of ‘from Jamaica’ infamy is, in fact, dead. Musically, it’s business as usual, chirpily craptastic Casio cod-reggae accompanying the news that “me uncle John just passed away” and featuring Kim’s alarmingly cold reaction: “now di good times have come here to stay”.
There’s an album (of course) called ‘Xmas Vengaboys Party Album‘, featuring ‘remixes’ of past hits from characters such as Treësto, Merry Corsten and Carol Cox (DO YOU SEE?!). In each and every case the ‘remix’ is literally the original with added jingle bells and jocular “ho ho ho”s – quite incredible.
Meanwhile, the Vamps were hoping for snow with new single ‘Hoping for Snow‘. A launchpad for a budget ‘repack’ of the group’s debut album, the song boasts a Wham!-aping chorus – “last year, you took a piece of my heart” – familiar enough for listeners to think “ah, ‘Last Christmas’!”, yet different enough for the band and their publishers to rest as soundly as the little lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.
Not one to be left out, Bonnie McKee recently ‘unleashed’ ‘California Winter’, a jaunty number led by a plinky plonky piano. In the Golden State’s cold months, the ‘Last Friday Night (TGIF)’ co-writer dreams of palm trees and explains to her ‘beau’ that even in Q4 “it’s always summer with you” as “your love keeps me warm”. How lovely.
Stooshe collaborators TLC offered the similarly perky ‘Gift Wrapped Kiss’, where T-Boz and Chilli yearn for “the kind of package that comes with a kiss” from “a special kind of gift wrapped man”. Fair play ladies, even if it’s December we all have needs. There’s a bizarre post-chorus ‘feat’ from Santa himself, in which the noted communist suggests: “you’ve been a good girl and I know it’s true, let me reach inside my bag and see what I can do” (!). SANTA, NO.
Also apparently Bob Geldof did another Band Aid thing too. Naturally it met with widespread critical acclaim, the lyrics were unproblematic and Africa was saved.
But what of the Q4s of yore, ie pre this more recent burst of Christmas musical cheer? There are a fair few unsung gems from the last ten years that deserve to join pop’s carol canon. So, for when ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ won’t quite do, here’s a guide to some Chrimbangerz [THIS STOPS NOW - ED] that are Literally Above Average:
Girls Aloud: ‘Count the Days’, 2005
Rather than a one-off single, The Aloud went the whole three-bird roast by unleashing a tinsel-adorned mini-album as a bonus disc to their finest album ‘Chemistry’. With Xenomania at the helm, there was a healthy serving of original songs alongside the covers, with the yearning ‘Count the Days’ the best of the bunch.
Best bit: “Count the days til this wait is through / come home babe / Christmas just ain’t the same without you”
Pet Shop Boys: ‘It doesn’t often snow at Christmas’, 2009
Originally released as a fan club CD in 1997, this four-to-the-floor yuletide ditty was ‘retooled’ by Marius de Vries for a new EP during the Boys’ Yes tour. The song sets out to debunk the following Christmas myths: that it snows, that the TV is any good, that it’s fun for all the family. Thankfully there’s some respite in the chorus – “but I’ll still have a glow at Christmas / because I’ll be with you” – which is quite sweet. The track also briefly features the spoken word vocals of Chris Lowe, grumpily wishing listeners a happy new year.
Best bit: “It’s meant to be goodwill as well as synthetic fun / what is this year’s festive number one?” (performing in Manchester during Ragegate, Neil exclaimed “not X Factor!” after singing this line. Poor Joe.)
Bananarama: ‘Baby It’s Christmas’, 2010
Readers with synesthesia might experience this song as the smell of a) mulled wine, b) poppers and/or c) mulled poppers. Ian Masterson’s twinkly electro production underpins Sara and Keren’s trademark deadpan vocals, and while the wistful verses are relatively serene they soon give way to an explosive, hi-NRG chorus, culminating with the glorious couplet; “remember how we kissed that time / the mistletoe and too much wine”. This is an absolute cracker.
Best bit: “So baby just stop, stop pulling my heart strings / won’t you come back and make my heart sing?” Also: SLEIGH BELLS!
Hurts: ‘All I Want for Christmas Is New Year’s Day’, 2010
Hurts’ Calvin Harris/Alesso collaboration is very good, but the last truly great Theo and Adam moment was this bleak number in which they ‘eschew’ the joys of December 25, instead clinging to the hopes of the new year. There are tubular bells. It’s quite majestic.
Best bit: “All of the bells ringing out for Christmas / I’m not supposed to feel this way / all that I want this year for Christmas is New Year’s day” :(
Mariah Carey: ‘Oh Santa’, 2010
Mariah’s ‘sophomore’ seasonal album ‘Merry Christmas II You’ (do you see what she did there?) included not only a ludicrous dance version of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and a “Super Festive” remake of her most famous hit, but this original composition. With Jermaine Dupri at the mixing desk, it’s one of the best Mariah Careyoke songs of the last ten years.
Best bit: “Ho! Ho! Ho! Santa’s gonna come and make you mine this Christmas!”
Coldplay: ‘Christmas Lights’, 2010
In which Chris Martin pops to Oxford Street to “try to right a wrong”, which probably just means he needed to return a cardigan or something. There’s an undeniably Richard Curtissy feel to this piano-led blubathon, which peaked at a fairly un-festive Number 13 in the singles charts.
Best bit: “When you’re still waiting for the snow to fall / doesn’t really feel like Christmas at all”
Tracey Thorn: ‘Joy’, 2012
Tracey’s Christmas album is very lovely indeed and its opening track is just sublime, explaining a childlike Christmas magic from a defiantly optimistic perspective.
Best bit: “You loved it as a kid and now you need it more than you ever did / it’s because of the dark, we see the beauty in the spark / that’s why, that’s why / the carols make you cry / joy…”
How Beyoncé’s created pop panic, and how Taylor made us feel safe
Dec 13 2014, 11:08
“Can I say I’m sick of what ‘BEYONCE’ has created. Now there’s always rumours someone is about to ‘pull a Beyonce’ and gets me all excited and it always adds up to jack shit. Has anyone actually pulled a ‘BEYONCE’ since ‘BEYONCE’?” superglowy, Popjustice forum.
Ever since Beyoncé unleashed her fifth album last December, pop has been on edge. Panic has set in. No one can be trusted; every metaphorical bush could have a pop star waiting behind it with a massive surprise involving 5am UK-time wake-up calls.
Nowadays, if a pop star has been particularly quiet in the run up to Q4, it’s no longer assumed that they’re just having a year off. Instead, it’s assumed that they’ll plonk something on iTunes at a moment’s notice. Rumours of albums coming out early next year are dismissed with ‘but that could be a bluff'; even now nobody’s 100% certain that Rihanna isn’t going to just shit out an album just before the X Factor final before descending onto the stage, God-like, to save pop. Gwen Stefani’s said she reckons her album will be out next year but don’t take your eyes off her, she’ll chuck that online before you know it. Madonna? #unapologeticbitchcouldbefreeonyouripodnextweek.
Even poor Britney was swept up in the panic of possibility. That quote at the top of this blog was in response to this week’s rumours of ‘something’ by the ‘Perfume’ hitmaker apparently being sent to iTunes for release the next day. What was initially rumoured to be one track (called ‘Bli$$’), then became a nine track EP (!), then it could possibly have been the Giorgio Moroder collaboration, and now it looks like it was nothing.
A few months ago I heard rumour that a rather popular popstar was gearing up to grace a number of forthcoming high profile magazine covers, thus hinting at his or her imminent return. That was quickly dismissed by someone else with a simple, ‘yes but remember when Beyoncé was on the cover of all those magazines and then nothing happened?’.
Well yes, but then something did happen.
AND NONE OF US WERE PREPARED.
No wonder there’s panic in the industry.
All this speculation and false hope makes Taylor Swift’s immaculate and refreshingly old-school release campaign for ‘1989’ feel even more refreshing.
Taylor’s campaign was something you could rely on; a loving hug at a time when popstars seemed to want to shake you vigorously or ignore you completely. Presented by Taylor herself during a worldwide Yahoo! livestream thing, ‘1989”s title, artwork and lead single were all announced in one large, perfectly controlled dump. Even the context of the announcement – brilliantly OTT yet typically direct and ‘personal’ – felt comforting. We learned that the album would be out two months after the announcement, while the single, paying lip service to our unquenchable thirst to have things immediately, would be available to purchase worldwide right away.
Oh and the single already had a finished video which was sat on YouTube ready to be streamed. No endless teasers, no leaked footage. Boom.
In one hour of gorgeously dorky but knowingly executed content, pop fans had enough information to keep them going for at least a month. Details such as the full list of credits and the full tracklisting were held back to leave further announcements to follow, which they duly did, with the latter not actually being confirmed until a week before the album came out. Having seen Taylor execute the ‘Red’ campaign with a similar expertise, fans also knew there’d be ‘instant grat’ songs to come, and guess what, they appeared just at the right time, easing fans into the various themes of the album without scaring anyone away.
(Yes ‘Out Of The Woods’ was a bit of mess ‘vis-a-vis’ the UK release, and I’m still not quite sure why that all happened, but it’s a great song, you could hear it if you really wanted and Taylor wrote a blog post saying Ed Sheeran told her to do it or something, so blame him).
Pop in 2014 is all about immediacy and instant gratification.
If you’re a forum-based pop fanatic, then prior knowledge is power and one upmanship, but it can also suck the joy out of an album by the time it finally arrives. It’s thrilling to read bits about an album you’re excited by ahead of release. Of course it is. But there’s also something to be said for waiting for an album to come to you, fully-formed rather than sliced and diced into snippets, leaks and premature over-saturation. In a landscape still stricken with pop panic following Beyoncé’s surprise right hook, it felt nice – at least for now – to be on safer ground with ‘1989’.
Does Niall Horan know how to actually play monopoly? AN INVESTIGATION
Nov 28 2014, 16:50
If you think about it, the world of pop is a lot like everyone’s favourite bankruptcy-based board game Monopoly.
Monopoly is about seizing what you can get, not what you want or think you deserve. Yes, life would be a lot better if you could buy the square you really need and erect a few houses there so you can fleece various members of your family, but guess what, someone else snapped it up. This is directly comparable with quite wanting to listen to the new Rihanna single but it not being available, meaning that you make do with some ballad Olly Murs and Demi Lovato ‘cooked up’.
Anyway, I was thinking about this just the other day when enjoying ‘Night Changes’, the new video by One Direction, which you can enjoy below.
As you can see, each of the ‘lads’ go on a date with a special lady, but the camera is seeing the date through the eyes of the lady in question, enabling the viewer to experience the highs and LOL-frilled lows of a date with One Direction for about three and a half minutes before heavily suggesting you go and masturbate furiously upon the song’s conclusion.
A classic pop video, in other words.
But apart from the unnerving fact Liam takes a selfie with his date and nobody appears in the photo on the phone’s screen, there’s something deeply troubling about the video for ‘Night Changes’, and it concerns the band’s frontman: NIALL HORAN.
While the others go out and about for their dates – the skating rink (Harry), the fun (‘fun’) fair (Liam), a restaurant that looks a bit pricey if I’m being honest (Zayn) and literally just sat in a car (Louis) – 1D’s most enigmatic member has his date round for a spot of Monopoly. Which, sure, sounds like a treat whatever time of the year, but there are some fundamental problems with Niall’s game of Monopoly that I’d like to talk you through.
1Is Monopoly really suitable for wooing a lady?
Monopoly is a game in which the object is to cause friction in your interpersonal relationships by inducing figurative bankruptcy, so it seems like an odd thing for Niall to be playing in the first place. Even worse, later in the video he actually breaks out his acoustic guitar for a spot of strumming. :(
On the plus side, their game of Jenga seems to be going fine. But that’s beside the point.
2Someone has foolishly invested in a brown property
It’s not in demand and there’s not much money to be made. In some ways, the brown squares are a bit like #Q3. Yes, you could release an album when everyone’s at festivals enjoying the sunshine, and you know what, some people might buy it. But there’s a reason the best pop stars (usually) release their music in Qs 2 or 4.
If you buy a brown property you’re working against the odds because there are two in a set instead of the usual three. And if someone does land on it, they’re going to pay you about £12. Good luck taking over the world with that business plan, Niall.
Niall is spunking all his money on hotels, which won’t end well
In much the same way that having the opportunity to collaborate with Pitbull doesn’t mean you actually have to go and bloody collaborate with Pitbull, you don’t have to buy hotels in Monopoly just because you can.
Sure, they might impress a would-be suitor, but Niall has bought a hotel before he’s even got a house on every property in that set. It’s recklessness.
It’s hard to tell why Niall is doing this as he is probably the second most likely person in One Direction to follow the rules (coming behind the band’s resident Barlowesque selfie enjoyer Liam Payne), and Monopoly is only really fun when everyone follows the rules and plays properly.
Monopoly vets will also know that skipping ahead and smacking a hotel down before you’ve built your houses isn’t even an effective strategy. The best way to win would be to ensure his opponent is slowly bled dry financially, and to do that he may as well build at least one house on every property he owns, bit by bit, rather than whacking all his royalties into one big hotel that, let’s face it, nobody’s going to land on. Continue reading Does Niall Horan know how to actually play monopoly? AN INVESTIGATION »
Today is Black Friday, the massive discount shopping day that has made its way over from America to the UK. This means that many of us are spending the day fighting over hoovers in Asda or refreshing our web browsers incessantly until the 40%-off electric toothbrush pops up on Amazon.
What does this mean for pop? Well, not much. But that won’t stop me! I’m taking part no matter what, right? Right. So here is my Black Friday Extravaganza playlist. It is quite literally 11 songs that feature the word ‘black’ in the title.
I have also given them arbitrary ratings.
Girls Aloud – Black Jacks
With ‘Black Jacks’ Girls Aloud showed us that pop music could have a bit of a weird 60s vibe without venturing into Duffy territory and could, therefore, be quite exciting. So, in that respect, this song is good. However, it’s not ‘Call The Shots’, is it?
Does the song feature a lyric about shopping? No, it doesn’t.
Could you listen to this while in Tesco? Yes you could, and it could make the whole experience quite enjoyable.
Would it make you feel calm in a pandemonium checkout situation? The introduction may help you feel calm, but as soon as girls start yelling around 1:12 mark you might get a little flustered.
Black Friday rating: 7/10
Charli XCX – ‘Black Roses’
“Purple and scarred” Charli XCX sings at the beginning of ‘Black Roses’, and really that’s how you might end up after a Black Friday scrum.
Does the song feature a lyric about shopping? No, it doesn’t.
Could you listen to this while in Tesco? You’re unlikely to hear this one on a supermarket’s internal radio station, but if you had a nice pair of headphones and an MP3 device it could lighten up the condiments aisle.
Would it make you feel calm in a pandemonium checkout situation? I think maybe not.
Black Friday rating: 5/10
All Saints – ‘Black Coffee’
With William Orbit on production duties, ‘Black Coffee’ is the soothing antidote that, so far, we’ve been looking for. With wah-wahing guitars and watery electronics it’s all quite lovely.
Does the song feature a lyric about shopping? No, it doesn’t (I’m slightly regretting asking this question of every song but it’s too late to stop now).
Could you listen to this while in Tesco? Yes you really could. Food shopping can be stressful, and this would warm you up in the freezer aisle. You’re also quite likely to hear this on a supermarket radio station.
Would it make you feel calm in a pandemonium checkout situation? Absolutely, yes.
Black Friday rating: 8/10
Amy Winehouse – ‘Back To Black’
One of the more famous songs in recent memory to feature ‘black’ in the title, ‘Back To Black’s wall-of-sound production, vocals and that incredible tambourine helped make Amy Winehouse a household name the world over. What a woman.
Does the song feature a lyric about shopping? No, it doesn’t.
Could you listen to this while in Tesco? Surely every trip to Tesco would benefit from a whizz around with your trolley to the soundtrack of ‘Back To Black’.
Would it make you feel calm in a pandemonium checkout situation? In some respects this song is quite calming with its repetitive rhythms, however the anguish in Amy’s voice might make you wobble slightly.
Who should do a massive fuck-off remix of the Star Wars theme?
Nov 28 2014, 16:06
Not sure if you’re aware, but there’s a new Star Wars film coming out. That’s right, C-3PO, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Mulder and indeed Scully are all back back back.
There’s not much about it online but a trailer has just appeared, despite the fact the film isn’t actually out until December 2015 (!). And they say pop music is obsessed with teasers.
Anyway, I’m not here today to discuss the ins and outs of the convoluted storyline, the surprise casting or where it will fit in the lineage of the Star Wars epics so far. I am here, obviously, to discuss the music and who should update John Williams’ horn-led main theme, ie this little ditty below:
Before you get your knickers in a twist, I am aware that John Williams is back onboard to do the music. That’s fine. I’m glad for John, he’s a good guy. But this is 2014/15 and soundtracks are big business. Yes Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ album will sell quite well, but will it match the Frozen soundtrack’s 3.5m sales in the US alone? One Direction’s ‘Four’ is selling pretty well so far, but can it catch the soundtrack to Guardians Of The Galaxy (500,000 sales and counting) by the end of the year? Also, not being funny, but Lorde’s soundtrack thing for that new Hunger Games film is one of the best things to emerge in 2014.
What I’m saying here is, yes we need to maintain the ‘essence’ of this Star Wars theme but at the same time, let’s whack a massive donk on it, slap it on an album and watch it sail to the top of the charts for six months.
Here are some options for sonic reswizzlers if the film’s producers are stuck for ideas.
Obviously. Obviously! The original has all the ingredients for a Calvo banger: a recognisable riff, some nice calm bits to bolt a massive drop on the end of, enough space to fill up with lots of unnecessary sonic squiggles and – most excitingly – he has a Rolodex of singers to warble something deep and meaningful about Freudian nightmares over the top. Imagine.
There seems to be more to our friend Avicii than just being a typical EDM producer. He has, dare I say it, a touch of finesse about his work that sometimes gets overlooked when enduring ‘Wake Me Up’ for the millionth time. Mind you, having said that, film soundtracks don’t always need finesse do they? Sometimes you just want to hear a massive, bowel-puncturing goliath playing over a scene of some distant planet or something. There’s not much subtlety about John Williams’ original version so I say get Avicii and his hands-in-the-air synth riffs and fucking banjo and let’s do this right.
See above but probably a bit cheaper to be honest.
Look, Madeon’s basically a genius so could do this in a heartbeat. In fact, he’s probably already done it ‘just for fun’ anyway. It’s probably lying around on a hard drive somewhere so it wouldn’t take too much effort for him to email it over to George Lucas or whoever and ‘make it so’ (a little Star Wars reference for you there!!).
French laughing boys Daft Punk have ‘previous’ in this sort of field having already worked with Disney – who are releasing the new Star Wars film after they brought it for shitloads of cash – on the soundtrack for Tron a few years ago. Obviously in their hands the theme tune would likely be slowed down, elongated and made to sound pretty boring, but there would also be a chance they’d turn it into a big disco-tinged wedding anthem and you can’t say fairer than that really.
This is probably who they will get to do it isn’t it? That’s if this is even happening at all. But if it does, it will likely be dance-producer-for-bores fun abuser M83 and I’ll likely enjoy it once and then never listen to it again.
Or, OR, why not just get someone in to make a soundtrack album of songs that don’t even need to be in the film itself. John can keep the theme tune and take the day off.
And for that we only need one person:
Lorde’s not got a lot on at the moment having finished touring ‘Pure Heroine’ and performing ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ like a woman possessed on seemingly every US TV show. She’s also pretty good at cobbling together an amazing list of people to make a proper soundtrack, so why not just give the whole thing over to her. She could get a handful of her mates to write some songs that feature some of the general themes of the film – love, family, fighting, er, space – then write a couple of new ones herself, get Kanye to remix one of them and Bob’s your geeky uncle. Sia should be involved too just because she’s done this Annie remake and can knock out a good song in the time it takes most people to take a shit.
About a month ago I first watched the music video for Ella Eyre’s rather good song ‘Comeback’ (you can watch it above if you have no idea what I’m talking about).
In the video Ella is angry about her boyfriend’s philandering ways, so she breaks into his house with a bunch of her friends and makes a bit of a mess of the place. It all seems quite fun, even when she blows up his car.
However, after repeated viewings I knew that something wasn’t quite right about the whole thing.
Let me break it down:
This is Ella Eyre’s adulterous ex-boyfriend
He is quite a handsome chap, isn’t he? Look at how perfectly coiffed his hair is. Also, that looks a bit like designer stubble to me. This is, to all intents and purposes, a man who cares about his appearance and spends time cultivating his ‘look’.
This is Ella Eyre’s adulterous ex-boyfriend’s house
Ariana Grande’s ‘My Everything': A first listen review thing
Aug 18 2014, 10:40
In less than twelve months, Ariana Grande’s gone from former Nickelodeon sitcom star to vaguely diverting “throwback” chanteuse circa ‘Yours Truly’ to the cusp of potential pop greatness with ‘Problem’. All while slipping in dog piss, defending her penchant for ponytails and trying to avoid eye contact with a giggling Rihanna at some award show or other.
She also found the time to record a new album and I went to hear it last week in a small record label meeting room.
As is the way with these things, it’s hard to get a proper feel for an album on one listen, but ‘My Everything’ feels like a genuine attempt to steal the currently vacant pop throne, as well as being the kind of gloriously all over the shop album that you often get when the planet’s songwriting and production a-list decide that they all want to get involved with an artist while the pop iron is extremely hot.
Eighty seconds of pleasantly breathy Mariah-isms, but this is basically a waste of everyone’s time.
2. ‘Problem’ feat Iggy Azalea
3. ‘One Last Try’
Lyrically we’re not exactly breaking new ground here – “liar” is rhymed with “fire” – but this subtle banger is an obvious album highlight. The chorus feels like it’s about to go off but never quite does, Ariana’s insane vocal flights of fancy weaving in and around a textured, EDM-esque backdrop that Wikipedia says is the work of part-time aural terrorist David Guetta, but it’s actually a Max Martin/Rami/Carl Falk trifecta of amazingness so don’t worry.
4. ‘Why Try’
This mid-paced bonanza features a massive Ryan Tedder-esque chorus, which is apt because it was quite literally written by Ryan Tedder. Production-wise, highlights include a sort of rolling, marching band beat, echoey “na, na, na” bits and there’s a great moment where Ariana sings the words “heart skips” and – guess what – the beat skips! There’s a good lyric as well, which goes something like, “we be loving like angels, living like devils”, although Ariana sings so high and so rapidly that she could have been saying anything.
5. ‘Break Free’ feat Zedd
This song – and its accompanying alien-kissing, bra bullet-shooting, Zedd-embarrassing video – feels like the arrival of Ariana as a proper popstar, and hearing the song blasted out in a small record label meeting room certainly doesn’t change that.
6. ‘Best Mistake’ feat Big Sean
This #slowjam sounded a bit boring when it first emerged last week, but in the context of the album it’s a nice breather from all the fizzing synths that dart around the album’s first five songs. Not sure about fish dinner fan Big Sean rapping about fancying Ariana’s mum, but what can you do.
7. ‘Be My Baby’ feat Cashmere Cat
Produced by Benny Blanco and Cashmere Cat, ‘Be My Baby’ is a low-slung, Rihanna-esque mid-paced stomper with a chorus that goes “be my, be my, be my baby and drive my crazy”. It is, as that line suggests, not exactly high art in terms of lyrical insight, but there’s a great middle eight drop bit and some absolutely insane backing vocal bits that make Ariana sound like she might explode at any moment.
8. ‘Break Your Heart Right Back’ feat Childish Gambino
She’s already ‘teased’ bits of this via the medium of Instagram video (see above, obviously), but this is that one that samples Diana Ross’ ‘I’m Coming Out’ and is apparently inspired by an ex-boyfriend who may or may not of cheated on her with a man. Again, Ariana needs to work on her diction because the first verse of this is so inaudible it sounds like a chorus of cats, but the sample – which was also used on this Notorious B.I.G song which is itself sampled here – is used in a really interesting (and surprisingly subtle) way. Again, it’s not exactly a balls out banger, more of a mid-paced, bouncing bop of a song.
9. ‘Love Me Harder’ feat The Weeknd
As anyone with fully functioning ears will tell you, The Weeknd’s own songs are a non-stop borefest of emotional inertia, but ‘Elastic Heart’ showed that he’s pretty good in small doses. And that’s true of ‘Love Me Harder’, which starts small and slightly pervy – “if you let me invade your space” is uttered in the first verse – before mushrooming out into a ‘throbbing’, electro-heavy chorus. There’s a really catchy post-chorus bit where Ariana sings “love me, love me…harder, harder” before some big vacuum-esque synths zip around all over the show.
10. ‘Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart’
Oh dear. This Harry Styles-penned, string-drenched ballad is so insipid that even post-Bodyguard Alexandra Burke would probably turn it down for being too clichéd. Ariana does her best, and the production tries hard to smother the lyrical clichés in all the strings and pianos the label could afford, but this feels like a fairly cynical PR exercise. Mind you drafting in one of One Direction is an upgrade of sorts considering the first album featured one of The Wanted.
11. ‘Hands On Me’ feat A$AP Ferg
This Rodney Jerkins-produced banger is brilliantly odd and that oddness is only magnified by the fact that it’s sandwiched between the album’s two syrupy ballads. Coming on initially like something from Christina Aguilera’s ‘Bionic’ (wait, come back), it fizzes and pops like classic early noughties R&B, A$AP Ferg’s grunts and hollers peppered throughout, while Ariana sounds convincingly coquettish in a way she hasn’t done before.
12. ‘My Everything’
Ariana’s been crying, she’s been missing her baby, she’s been pondering why she only realises what she has after its gone, etc. There are lots of pianos and the faint whiff of the stuff that clogged up her first album, but this one is basically quite a boring way to end an album that shows flashes of proper megastar potential.
‘My Everything’ is released on August 25 but will probably be streaming somewhere this week, one imagines.
(Obviously I’m aware that there are rumours of this whole animated film soundtrack, but it doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon due to the film being delayed, so best to ignore that for now).
As you know, it’s been a while since we’ve had any new Rihanna music. In fact, ‘RiRi’ hasn’t released a full album since she kidnapped a bunch of journalists and flew them around the world for seven days. And, in case you’d forgotten, that was almost two years ago – which in Rihanna terms is basically a decade.
But it’s more than that; it sort of feels like the right time for Rihanna to make a comeback. Look what a shambles pop has become in her absence: Ed Sheeran is the most powerful person in urban music, Gary Barlow is singing with meerkats and Cheryl is changing her pop name, again. Ultimately, Rihanna might look good in a dress made of diamonds, but she’d look better singing an amazing song on The X Factor in a dress made of diamonds, right? Right.
But what will a Rihanna album sound like in 2014? What should it sound like? Will it feature horns? Will it feature four-to-the-floor beats? Will it feature another ode to strippers? Or will it be an experimental, guitar laden prog-rock opus (no thanks)?
So here are eight reasonable demands for Rihanna’s eighth album.
Ballads (but good ones not ones for Nivea adverts)
Unlike a lot of popstars, Rihanna isn’t shit at ballads, but Rihanna ballads only really work when they have a bit of grit to them. Songs like ‘California King Bed’ are 90% fluff, but with a song like ‘Diamonds’ it felt from the very beginning (“find light in the beautiful sea, I chose to be happy”) like there was a real connection. She didn’t write it, but she owned it. The same goes for ‘Russian Roulette’. Both these songs ooze Rihanna: they’re emotional, they’re confident, and they’re not afraid to make a statement. More songs like that please Fenty, and a little less emphasis on the state you’ve made of last night’s sheets.
The right feat ratio
On her last album, Rihanna had no fewer than five extra vocalists along for the ride. Sometimes she gets it right – the sexual chemistry between Drake and Rihanna on ‘What’s My Name’ was great – but when you’re dealing with a song like ‘Nobody’s Business’ it can be devastating in all the wrong ways. Striking the right balance is crucial for #R8 but for feats to work they need to add something to the song, as Mikky Ekko did with his tender contribution to ‘Stay’. Rumours of a Nicki Minaj feat are already circulating, but let’s not have collaborations for the sake of it, eh?
Actual Rihanna songs, not just songs sung by Rihanna
We all know that tracks like ‘Umbrella’ and ‘We Found Love’ could have gone to other artists – and nearly did – but a surprising number of Rihanna’s signature songs feel like only Rihanna could have pulled them off. Just as importantly, you can imagine Rihanna actually wanting to listen to songs like ‘Rude Boy’, ‘Man Down’, ‘No Love Allowed’ and ‘Te Amo’. At this stage in her career, Rihanna should only be bothering with songs that tick both those boxes.
Some decent lyrics
It doesn’t really matter who’s written them, but Rihanna songs in 2014 shouldn’t be indicative of what people think she might have been like two or more years ago. Whether it’s poignant songs of friendship or love letters to the stripper pole, lyrically #R8 should represent who Rihanna is now.
A coherent ‘aesthetic’
Cohesion in pop is always fun, but wouldn’t it be amazing if Rihanna’s 2014 album also came with a strong aesthetic? For both ‘Rated R’ and ‘Loud’, Rihanna had clearly defined looks that were, as they say, ‘era defining’. The red locks of ‘Only Girl In The World’ and ‘What’s My Name’ became synonymous with that album campaign. Likewise the short back and sides of the resolutely monochromatic ‘Rated R’ campaign embodied the fiercely cold and dark nature of that record. Get the moodboard out Robyn.
Rihanna should make sure there’s a Stargate track on there, but she should also rope in young geniuses who are breaking new ground. Would a Rihanna X Sohn megaballad work? Or how about a bonkers Gorgon City jungle-infused rave-a-thon? Equally, perhaps we should cross another Calvin Harris megabanger off the list. Obviously ‘We Found Love’ is amazing. OBVIOUSLY. However, should Rihanna go back to Calvin now he’s worked with every other Tom, Dick and Ellie? Rihanna should lead the way and never look back. Which brings us to…
Something that changes pop for 2015
Do you remember when ‘We Found Love’ came out and it sounded so fresh that every artist, producer and ‘DJ’ spent the next six months trying to recreate that sound? Or the way ‘Umbrella’ pushed expectations of pop hooks into new territory? Or how ‘Where Have You Been’ basically kickstarted this current trend of instrumental choruses? These songs took pop to places it hadn’t been before. Rihanna must innovate.
A Rihanna who seems like she gives a shit
The Rihanna of ‘Rated R’ and ‘Loud’ was engaged and generally quite into it, whereas the Rihanna of ‘Talk That Talk’ and ‘Unapologetic’ felt, at times, like she couldn’t be arsed. Pop works best when there’s determination at the heart of it but, at the same time, doesn’t look like hard work. Rihanna always did that quite well. Hopefully her decade (two years) away means she’s got that spark back and will deliver the album of the year.
These are pictures taken before and during La Roux’s ‘gig’ in London last night
Jul 02 2014, 15:38
Last night prolific tunesmith La Roux played her first ‘gig’ in London for about four years at somewhere called Conway Hall in Holborn. It was, without exaggeration, really rather great.
With that detailed analysis out of the way, here are some pictures I took of things I saw, some of which you may or may not find interesting.
Firstly, the venue was peppered with cardboard cut outs of Elly striking different poses. This one below was near the ‘merch’ table, which had a rather fetching La Roux t-shirt that I could never pull off, though it might work on a slightly more sartorially extravagant person.
Obviously I immediately decided that I would waltz off with one of these at the end of the night after a few La Roux-themed cocktails (more on all that later), but some fool had actually tied them onto poles with wire.
Here’s another one I like to call La Loo. Or La Poo. Going In For A Piss? Quickshit? No? Fine.
And then there was this one of Elly loitering at the bottom of a stairwell. Please note the security guard, who has clearly been briefed re my kleptomaniac intentions.
This being some sort of ‘launch’ or ‘industry’ thing (Maxi Jazz form Faithless was there, for example), there were a couple of bars serving themed cocktails.
Here’s the front of the menu.
Here’s the inside of the menu.
The Silent Partner was nice, thanks for asking.
Now then, let’s just ignore the fact that they’ve spelt one of the track titles wrong, because it was a lovely evening with no space for negativity.
That image above was taken during ‘In For The Kill’ and looks quite nice doesn’t it. You can’t really see in this picture but Elly was wearing a green shirt with a red jacket over the top, which is a bit of risk ‘fashion wise’ but she managed to pull it off.
Basically, I’d recommend popping along to see her in a live scenario if you get the chance.
I supported Lily Allen at her Shepherds Bush ‘gig’ in London last night
Apr 29 2014, 13:39
Last week I got a slightly rambling phone call from your friend and mine Ben Garrett, aka Fryars, aka the man who made the excellent ‘Cool Like Me’ and other such songs, and, more importantly, the man who worked on Lily Allen’s ‘Sheezus’ and by sheer coincidence was also her support act for the Shepherd’s Bush comeback ‘gig’.
After some general chit chat about labels and band members and art projects and liveblogging and the collapse of journalism as we know it, it suddenly dawned on me that in his own inimitable way Fryars was asking if I’d like to be in his band. That he wanted me to be on stage with him at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire – a venue that once hosted 5ive, Steps, Will Mellor and B*Witched all on the same lineup. He wanted to finally allow my musical skills to shine. Only rather than have me muddle my way through Greensleeves on an Argos keyboard, he wanted me to pretend to play a drum machine while sort of liveblogging the whole thing.
Feeling like this was all some elaborate prank that would obviously come to nothing I said ‘yes of course Fryars, I will sit on stage with you in front of a couple of thousand impatient Lily Allen fans pretending to hit a drum machine like I’m Jamie xx or something’.
Only he wasn’t joking and it was real and I did go to west London yesterday for a 5:30 to ‘soundcheck’ and all that business.
Basically this is what happened:
17:36 I meet Fryars at the backstage door, strolling in past a gaggle of Lily Allen fans who I know will later see me eating a bag of Malteasers onstage and will probably want to hurt me. For now, they seem pretty bored.
17:40 I’m introduced to various proper musicians who will also be onstage with us tonight. I sense some hostility at first but once they realise my Twitter follower count is above six thousand they understand the social media meltdown that’s about to take place.
17:42 I get to meet my prop for this evening.
I have literally no idea what any of it does, which is obviously fine for what I’m going to be doing with it. It’s decided that the lead should just dangle down off the table to make it really really obvious it’s not plugged in. At this point I’m just going along with whatever’s suggested because, you know, this is all pretty new to me.
This is going to sound a bit ridiculous given the fact that what I’m about to do on the stage involves no real talent or skill, and frankly no one’s here to see any of us anyway, but stepping out onto the stage to soundcheck was a bit of a moment. It all looked pretty amazing. I may shed a tear. Anyway, I pull myself together because there’s a drum machine to not plug in and a laptop to open. It’s a strange feeling trying to explain to an impatient roadie that no I’m not going to need any power sockets and yes I am really just going to sit down and pretend to hit a machine and check my emails. I feel slightly fraudulent but remember Will Mellor was once on this stage and feel confident again.
Here’s a picture of the back of Fryars practising his singing.
You can just see it in the picture, but Lily has a tele-prompter thing, which works like a karaoke machine of all her hits (and ‘Littlest Thing’).
Here’s a blurred picture of it.
Soundchecks are long and boring. Levels are constantly checked and altered; words are sung into microphones and guitarists are actually asked to noodle about like they used to do in their bedrooms. Obviously I don’t really need to check the levels on my drum machine so instead I take pictures of some of the backdrops for Lily’s show.
19:00 With an hour until stage time I am taken up to my dressing room. I say ‘my dressing room’ but inconveniently I had to share it with the rest of the band and indeed Fryars himself. On the way there I spot a special door saved only for Lily.
You might assume that the food on offer to a journalist chancer pretending to play a drum machine will be limited to some crisps and maybe, just maybe, a Cadbury grab bag of some sort. Perhaps there’d be some wine on offer too, to lubricate the vocal chords.
Don’t get me wrong, this is enjoyed with gusto, but I am subsequently handed a raffle ticket thing and told to go into the canteen (!) and sit with the production crew and the dancers and the people that make the whole thing run, and choose something from this bad boy.
I choose the soup, the risotto and then the treacle tart.
With dinner over I start to feel a bit nervous. It reminds me a bit of that feeling I got just before I played an innkeeper in a school nativity production when I was about 10 years old. What if I walk out on stage and trip over a lead and head butt a guitar? What if I fall off the little drum stool I’ve been given? What if I’m suddenly overcome by it all and grab a microphone and start scatting a la Jessie J? What if I wet myself?
Obviously I need the loo so I try and find one and end up standing outside a room in which Lily Allen is doing her vocal warmups. She sounds good.
The bass player’s gone missing. Amateur.
We’re all in place and ready. I’m disappointed by the lack of a team huddle, but there you are. Just before we go on Fryars announces our debut, including an obligatory hashtag. The idea is to get it trending worldwide…
20:05 – The plan from Fryars is that for the first couple of songs I should look like I’m actually playing along with the song, so I attempt to channel my inner muso and press the pads on the thing in time to the music. It’s quite satisfying actually. I feel myself hunching over to make it all look a bit more real. I ruin it slightly by then getting a bag of Malteasers out because frankly I really like Malteasers.
20:08 – Here’s a picture of Fryars ‘doing his thing’.
Please note the homemade Sheezus t-shirts in the front row. These people are not here for thirty minutes of downcast pop featuring idiots eating crisps and chocolate onstage. There are glares.
20:15 – The wi-fi isn’t really working so I decide to walk about a bit. That feels a bit weird so I sit back down again and decide to continue some social media interaction.
20:27 – I decide to utilise the video option on my phone to distract myself from the fact that this is all still happening and that a bunch of Lily Allen fans have been showered in crisps and Malteasers and that I probably look like an annoyingly smug prick sat up onstage pissing about. Here’s said video:
20:30 – Sensing that we might be over-staying our welcome a bit and actually distracting from what’s been a lovely half an hour of music, Sam and I decide to just get up and walk off at the start of the last song, ‘Cool Like Me’. Oddly no one applauds us as we head off, which I can only assume is out of politeness to Fryars.
Here’s a picture of ‘the band’ from the front of stage courtesy of someone called Charlotte Hanna.
It looks like I’m singing along. Amazing.
So that’s that. My debut on stage at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Afterwards there’s some talk about replicating it all should Fryars be asked to support Lily again, perhaps at some large arenas, but I shoot them down. Tonight was a once in a lifetime moment for all of us.
I went to Barcelona to hear the Shakira album and this is what happened
Mar 21 2014, 10:34
More often than not album playbacks involve sitting in a fairly hot room in a record label office, usually in west London, with a small group of other journalists and a couple of PRs. There’s usually a lot of awkwardness. Sometimes, as with the Daft-Punk-up-the-Shard-record-label-budget-spunkathon last year, it’s something slightly more elaborate. Occasionally, however, playbacks will take place abroad because the artist lives in another country and they’re big enough to get people to travel, or it’s quite a nice way of distracting people from the actual album in question.
For ‘Costume Makes the Clown’ chanteuse Shakira, I went to Barcelona to hear ‘Shakira’ – which obviously leaked all over the place the night before I left anyway – and to generally have quite a nice time in a posh hotel near the sea with a load of foreign journalists.
Having arrived at the W Hotel for the playback ‘event’ I proceeded to queue up behind a gaggle of smartly-dressed people outside the room in question. A room, by the way, labelled ‘Great Room 2′. Incredible.
I’m not sure if it was some sort of tactic to throw people off the scent or if someone had just forgotten to update the board, but the room had a sign next to it that read, ‘Spirit of Excellence: Growing Values’, which seems a bit of a long-winded album title even for Shakira.
Obviously having flown out to Barcelona for a whistle-stop tour of hotels and taxis I was told I wasn’t on the list. Amazingly this was because I was down simply as ‘Pop Justice’, which also means I am down on the table plan like this:
I went to a Beyoncé concert and here are six things I learned
Mar 03 2014, 21:31
There aren’t many popstars who could get away with touring the world without properly releasing any new material (songs on adverts, films or given away for free with a DVD don’t count), only to then start the tour again properly once an album did materialise. Yet that’s exactly what Beyoncé has done and frankly no one seems to care because a) it’s Beyoncé and b) the LOOK OVER HERE YOU GUYS nature of the surprise album was such an injection of amazingness into a flatlining 2013 pop corpse that she could have announced an acoustic tour of Shropshire and we all would have lost our shit. Thankfully she didn’t, choosing instead to visit some of the UK’s massive arenas and that’s where I saw her ‘do her thing’ over the weekend.
Here’s what I learned:
This is basically the Mrs Carter Show 2.0 and Beyoncé seems much happier about it all
When Beyoncé started the Mrs Carter Show tour in April last year it was in support of nothing but Beyoncé’s own star power. A delayed tour for her album ‘4’ in all but name, it was still better than most nights out in an enormous, corporate-sponsored greenhouse, but there were massive holes where the new songs should have been (as much as we all love ‘Flaws And All’, no one wants to see that third on the list at a Beyoncé concert). Less than a year later and the show is now starting its second trip around the world, complete with eight new songs, visuals that now make more sense within the context of the new album and a visibly more energised Beyoncé (if that’s possible), who is clearly quite excited about singing and dancing along to some new songs. In fact, it was the new songs that stole the show, specifically a Jay Z-assisted ‘Drunk In Love’ (the “LOOOVVVEEEE” bit was sung by the crowd like a football chant), the Studio 54-tinged ‘Blow’ and the chair mounting ‘Partition’. Oh and ‘Heaven’ into ‘Halo’ towards the end might have made some people near me cry like babies.
You can buy a Beyoncé money clip
Obviously the first thing you do when you arrive at the O2 for a concert by a popstar is check out the merchandise. In fact, it seemed like most people there were doing that, with girls taking selfies so that a black sweatshirt with the word ‘SURFBOARD’ could be seen in the background (the sweatshirts were FIFTY FUCKING SHITTERS by the way!). Along with the sweatshirts, tote bags, t-shirts and glossy programme (the same one as the last tour, ‘FYI’), you could also get a keyring for a tenner, some Beyoncé-branded sunglasses, two different types of bobble hat and a ‘gold’ money clip which you wouldn’t actually need anymore because you’d be skint. Also, just a bit of advice: DO NOT buy some merch then watch a gig and then when you’re high on excitement and beer go back to the merch stand and spend even more on a t-shirt you’ll never wear. Just don’t do that.
She’s a massive fan of ‘Why Don’t You Love Me’
‘Why Don’t You Love Me’ was the ninth (NINTH!) single to be released from ‘I Am…’ and peaked in the UK at Number 51. During a set that involves lots of stop-start bits and songs being curtailed early – the quite popular ‘Crazy In Love’ lasts for about 50 seconds before morphing into ‘Single Ladies’, which itself gets about 90 seconds of airtime – the set piece for ‘Why Don’t You Love Me’ drags on for what feels like about half an hour. There’s some brilliant pauses for the crowd to go completely batshit mental and lots of band ‘workouts’, but it feels like a slightly odd choice of song to give so much time to. I’m all for some #beyoncedeepcuts, but if that’s the case it might have been nice to get some of the ones from ‘4’ back (‘I Care’ perhaps).
The chairs in the O2 need to be sturdier
When I went to see Taylor Swift sing some songs at the O2 the other week a miserable man with two sour-faced children prodded me in the back and told me to sit down. I politely pointed out that we were at a pop concert not a funeral and also that I wasn’t actually standing up, but sitting on the arm of the chair (I was only doing that because there were some kids in front of me holding up a massive banner of two cupping hands for the entire show). Anyway, at Beyoncé I noticed there were two kids sat behind me so I decided to sit on the arm of the chair again and in the end my chair dancing got so vigorous during ‘Drunk In Love’ that the arm snapped right off. Mind you, it made a perfect arm extension for the bit at the end when the house lights came up and everyone tried to get Beyoncé’s attention: “BEYONCÉ! OVER HERE! I’M THE ONE WAVING A BIT OF BLACK PLASTIC ABOUT! FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER YEAH!”.
She’d still quite like women to feel empowered
When the Mrs Carter Show 2.0 opened in Glasgow it started with the slightly maudlin double-whammy of ‘Ghost’ and ‘Haunted’. By the time it lurched its way into London it had shifted back to 1.0’s opening number, ‘Run The World’, which then flowed into ‘***Flawless’. Switching around the song slightly by placing the Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche speech at the song’s beginning, it meant everyone got to hear what it sounds like when 20,000 people cheer the word feminist when it’s emblazoned on a screen the size of a house.
She’s not great at sitting on chairs properly
While I was having my own problems with chairs at the O2, Beyoncé didn’t seem to be having much luck with them either to be honest. During ‘Drunk In Love’ she sits astride a simple wooden chair facing the wrong way, which seemed a bit careless, before then swinging her legs about and laying down on it like it was a bed. But that’s nothing compared to what happens during ‘Partition’. To be fair to Beyoncé it’s more of a chaise lounge than a chair, but she still seems incapable of sitting on it properly and even commits the cardinal sin of putting her feet up while wearing shoes. At one point she climbs up the back of it and the swings round and sits on it properly but by then the damage has been done.
I went to have a drink with Enrique Iglesias in his hotel and here’s what happened
Feb 06 2014, 20:19
Back in the halcyon days of last October, I received an intriguing email with the following subject line: ‘Do you like Japanese food and/or Enrique Iglesias?’
The answers to which are yes and occasionally. Having replied saying I would be interested in dinner and a chat with the ‘Suéltame las Riendas’ hitmaker, things went quiet. Perhaps I was being too forward. Then in January I got another email apologising for all the teasing along with a further apology for the fact that dinner would now just be drinks. A fan of free wine in expensive hotels I decided I would still like to go along and see what Enrique had to say for himself.
So this happened on Wednesday evening, the first night of the tube strikes in London, which meant that a normally quite sedate journey could potentially turn into a five hour bus ride. So for that reason I decided to chart my journey just in case I didn’t make it and I’d still have some ‘content’ to share with the Enrique fans glued to their computers for updates on his forthcoming album, ‘Sex and Love’.
So here we go:
17:32 – I get on the number 30 bus mainly because the one I actually needed didn’t stop and so I panicked. A woman at the back of the bus on her phone starts detailing every single thing that happens. ‘We’re not moving’. ‘There are loads of people outside’. ‘Can you get me some milk?’
17:33 – I think I’m on the wrong bus.
17:34 – “BAILAMOOOOS!”
17:36 – It’s fine. This bus will do.
17:42 – Really heavy traffic around the Highbury area you guys.
17:46 – How does that Enrique song about ping pong balls go again?
17:47 – Everyone seems quite relaxed actually.
17:50 – Someone in front of me is organising a meal out at Pizza Express for later this evening.
17:55 – I mean, ‘Hero’ is how you do a ballad isn’t it? “And I will stand by you… Foreverrrrr”. Lovely.
17:58 – Ugh King’s Cross is a bit if a nightmare. Avoid if you can.
18:07 – We’re still in King’s Cross :(
18:11 – Red light special.
18:17 – I doubt Enrique’s having any travel problems.
18:29 – Nobody panic! I’ve just edged past Euston.
18:36 – I’m off the bus and walking around the Regents Park area. Everything’s fine!
18:43 – I have arrived at Enrique’s hotel. It’s pretty fancy. The lady at the reception desk tells me the Enrique event is taking place in a bar around the corner. I imagine velvet sofas and champagne fountains.
18:45 – It’s actually just in the public hotel bar, in a bit towards the back. There are some people from the label milling about already.
18:49 – Everyone’s sitting down initially but then we’re told to stand up as he’s on his way.
19:10 – No Enrique as yet. :(
19:11 – There’s a man playing the piano which is nice.
19:20 – Oh Enrique, where are you?
19:22 – There are nibbles, obviously, and they are: mini pizzas, chicken satay on sticks and battered prawns. Pretty standard.
19:28 – I shove a mini pizza in my mouth just as he arrives.
19:30 – He’s wearing a trucker cap and had fallen asleep so that’s why he’s a bit late. Apparently he was in Paris the day before doing some promo.
19:35 – He’s talking to some label people now. The pianist is playing an Alicia Keys song.
19:39 – Really nice red wine, served in a massive glass the size of a small bucket.
19:49 – I have a chat with Enrique’s manager, who seems nice. He tells me some bits about Enrique’s upcoming schedule, which all sounds really tiring.
19:58 – The piano man has fired up ‘Hero’, the cad.
20:14 – He’s chatting to various members of the print media first.
20:28 – “This guy grabbed my nuts in GAY” is a thing Enrique says to the print people.
20:35 – Oh it’s my turn, hang on.
Hello Enrique. How did your Kylie duet – ‘Beautiful’ – come about?
The Kylie one was a song I wrote about a year ago and then Mark Taylor, who’s a producer, he was working with Kylie and they were talking about a collaboration and he was like ‘what about Enrique?’ and she said ‘yeah, whatever’. So we were actually going to write a song together but then I thought ‘why don’t you play her the song I did a year ago’ and then she emailed me saying, ‘I love this song, let’s do it’ and the next day she recorded vocals for it.
Did you record it together?
No, she was here in London. I met her once like ‘hi and bye’, but I’ve seen her a million times.
[At this point another journalist starts asking him a question and before finishing his answer he turns to me and asks me how tall I am.]
I’m 6 foot 7.
People ask you that all the time right?
It’s cool to see someone who’s taller than me.
Usually when I meet popstar people they’re smaller than I imagine but you’re a bit taller in real life.
Yeah, people say that. I’m 6 foot 2. Do you play basketball?
I did when I was young.
I bet they always picked you for it. But it is true, it’s hard to tell people’s height on TV.
Beyoncé to me seems about seven foot tall but obviously isn’t.
Really? Beyoncé’s not that small in real life actually. You know who is? Madonna. Kylie is tiny too. But when I met Madonna I was like ‘oh my God, I didn’t realise you were that little’. But it says a lot about how powerful they are on screen. But Beyoncé wasn’t small at all.
Oh well that’s good to know. Why do you work with Pitbull so much?
Because I like him. We’re good friends and whenever we work together we’re in a studio together – it’s not one of those things where it’s like ‘do you want to collaborate’ and then never meet. He lives near me so we always meet up and we’re good friends.
What’s he like in real life?
He’s awesome. He really is. He’s enjoying where he’s at and you can tell that he doesn’t for granted. He takes it seriously to the point where if he tells you he’ll be there at 5 o’clock, it’s 5 o’clock, and he’s a hardworking guy.
[I ask Enrique if he'll sign an autograph for my Nan, who's a big fan and recently had a bit of a fall. He's very happy to do it, which is nice isn't it]
I heard some of the other new songs of yours today.
Oh you did. I actually think the other Pitbull song [we can't tell you what that one's called yet, apols, but it features Pitbull rapping the line "I'm a mail man, I deliver"] should have been maybe also the first single, because I love that song.
How was the video shoot for ‘I’m A Freak’?
It was exhausting. I’m not that type of person…It was just fun. Actually the director just threw a party and said let’s just film everything, let’s have a good time. You can kind of see it in the video. It doesn’t feel very thought out. There are moments where if you actually focus you’ll see my eye balls are looking at different places and people are just shouting ‘go go go’.
Did Pitbull enjoy himself?
He did, yes.
Did I overhear that some guy grabbed your balls at GAY by the way?
Yeah this guy grabbed my balls and was giving me the thumbs up.
[We have a picture taken together. Enrique's not happy with the first pic. “I look so small”. I try to bend down but he prefers it if I stand normally and he goes on tip toe. He's happy with the second one. "Five inches makes such a big difference." After some more small talk about the British press ("there are lots of tits in the papers here"), he's off to bed.]
23:32 – After some post-Enrique drinks I am back on the bus on my way home.
Here’s a list of seven things to look forward to on The Big Reunion II
Feb 06 2014, 16:28
The Big Reunion was one of the surprise pop culture highlights of 2013, shining a light on the often difficult road faced by mid-level pop stars in the years after the spotlight fades.
It succeeded in making Kerry Katona appear sympathetic, introduced the world to the uniquely brilliant world view of Abs(z) from Five, and put The Honeyz at the centre of two massive UK arena tours.
In the grand tradition of sequels, Big Reunion II – which kicks off on ITV2 tonight – offers more of the same, but with a few twists. So we’ve got the usual collection of fondly remembered pop groups of yesteryear (Eternal, A1), a few slightly less anticipated comebacks (Girl Thing, really? Were N-Tyce busy?) and the introduction of the first Big Reunion Supergroup – featuring chart-gobbling solo artistes Dane Bowers, Gareth Gates, ‘The Best Thing’ hitmaker Adam Rickitt, Kenzie from Blazin’ Squad and Kavana.
I’m not psychic or anything, but here are seven things likely to happen over the next few weeks or so.
Obviously there will be drama
Whether it’s Eternal’s Kelle Bryan confronting the Bennett sisters about the time they used a fax machine to inform her that her services were no longer required, or Emma Bunton being named as the Yoko Ono of the Damage story, expect enough tears, tantrums and recriminations to make the last series of Celebrity Big Brother look like an episode of Call The Midwife.
Everyone will pretend they haven’t seen each other in years
Just as last year there was no mention of the ‘feuding’ B*Witched sisters dressing like a Lady Gaga tribute act and releasing an album together just months before the show, a failed Five reunion in 2012 or the fact that The Honeyz had been touring the University circuit for years, expect minor details like Eternal’s aborted 2006 comeback tour or the fact that A1 have been releasing albums exclusively for the Norwegian market for years to be conveniently glossed over.
There will be an intense confrontation with a traumatised missing band member
One of the highlights of last year’s show was a gripping scene in which J from Five – looking like he’d spent his post-fame years in a remote mountain retreat living off acai berries and witchetty grubs – was reunited with Abs to explain the dark secrets behind his refusal to rejoin the group. This year Correé from Damage, Paul from A1 and – most controversially – Louise from Eternal are all MIA. It’s bound to kick off.
Someone will be very bitter about never getting to sing lead
Every Destiny’s Child needs a Beyoncé, and as we learned in last year’s show, every B*Witched apparently needed an Edele – the focal/vocal point of the group, much to the annoyance of sister Keavy. Similarly, Atomic Kitten’s Natasha revealed that Kerry Katona ‘didn’t really do harmonies’. Will the likes of Kelle Bryan, TJ from 3T and the ones from Girl Thing who aren’t Jodi Albert still be content to stay in the background? Don’t count on it…
An eleventh-hour arrival will puts everyone’s nose out of joint
Let’s face it, once the feuding former bandmates have been put in a room together, hurled their accusations, cried a bit and hugged it out, the Big Reunion is in danger of flagging a little bit. Last year they added some additional drama by introducing the not-technically-separated Blue to the lineup, causing the original groups to mutter darkly about ‘arrogance’ and ‘putting the work in’. Could there be an All Saints, an S Club 7 or even an E-Male waiting in the wings this year to keep the ratings up?
The super group will be a complete train wreck
There’s a precedent for this Big Reunion super-group idea, and it’s called MTV Totally Boyband. That show featured Dane Bowers teaming up with Lee from Steps, Jimmy from 911, Bradley from S Club 7 and Danny from New Kids On The Block for a collective stab at returning to their former glories as Upper Street.
Ultimately, it will be genuinely heart-warming television
Because for all the staged arguments, historical revisionism and drawn-out drama, the real highlight of the Big Reunion is the joy of watching a group of people getting one last chance to relive their dreams. God I’ve missed it.
Sam is a good friend of mine, and his album ‘In The Lonely Hour’ is dropping this spring. His voice is incredible, he’s a massive talent and I say show love. MONEY ON MY MINDDDDDDD.
Shakka, again, another friend of mine and we went back and forth listening to each other’s album material. And his shit?! INSANE. The praise hand was OUT. Soooo talented, hilarious guy and a massive one to watch.
3. Kwabs (Atlantic)
HE. IS. THE. TRUTH.
4. Ella Eyre (Virgin/EMI)
HER. HAIR. IS. THE. TRUTH.
5. Sinead Harnett (Virgin/EMI)
The Thairish beauty. We wrote two songs together on the Rudimental album, and I’ve got soooo much time for her, her whole vibe is sick.
6. Becky Hill (Parlophone)
My darling Rebecca. We met when I was really fat. We’ve written a lot together, I’ve helped write and produce her first single ‘Losing’, which should be out soon. She’s become one of my best friends, sweetest girl in the world and her voice is world class.
7. Leo Kalyan
Leo Kalyan is someone I’ve known for a bit, and I’ve been working on his project on the looooowwwdooowwnnnnnn. His sound is mad sexy, really cool, chill, his production is top notch, Jessie Ware meets Bondax meets Sade REALNESS. That voice is the sex too. His original stuff isn’t out just yet but defo check out his refixes on his Soundcloud.
8. Product placement becoming less bait in music videos.
9. For us artists to stop using hashtags in our official song titles.
10. Middle 8s being all chordy-like again.
11. For Lady Gaga to keep growling, she sounds great.
12. African print Kufi hats and shirt-short sets.
Hopefully these become a thing, I’m playing my part.
13. For Nigella Lawson to remain ***Flawless.
Just look at her tho. I want her to win in life so bad.
14. My debut album and everyone to pronouncing my name correctly.
It’s actually coming this time, I promise. I’m so proud of it. We’re aiming for end of the year. It’s got some dancey stuff, some vibesy bits, some babymakey moments. I’m excited for all to hear. HURRAH.
Let’s have a look at the One Direction advent calendar
Dec 01 2013, 15:53
IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN.
Yeah, YOU HEARD ME.
Time take a final look your One Direction advent calendar before the image is torn apart like an open wound day after day throughout December.
But before we start pretending we want subpar chocolate more than we want an undisturbed One Direction picture in our bedrooms, let’s have a look at what’s in front of us. LET’S LIVE IN THE MOMENT GUYS.
Only an idiot wouldn’t take the opportunity to analyse the arrangement of the doors!
Which 1D member has their face completely ripped open first?
Whose smiling face makes it to Christmas Eve?
What does it mean for their chances of a solo career?
LET THE FESTIVITIES BEGIN.
5. Niall is the first casualty, bowing out of the Christmas excitement in consecutive days on the EIGHTEENTH and NINETEETH. Bleak. These calendars must’ve been made in 2011.
I went to see Jessie J in concert and here are six things I learned
Nov 05 2013, 15:45
Is there a more divisive popstar working in the pop ‘milieu’ than Jessie J? That was a rhetorical question, obviously, because there really isn’t. But, I’m not being funny right, I saw Jessica Cornish sing some songs at that Beyoncé charity ‘shindig’ at Twickenham in the glory days of the summer and, the ‘Grown Woman (Pepsi re-edit)’ hitmaker aside, J was the only person to get the crowd going.
Basically, when she wants to be, Jessie J can be a really good popstar and has a handful of bangers – ‘Laserlight’, ‘Wild’, ‘Do It Like A Dude’, for example – that only a moron could argue with. Unfortunately, she also has the public persona of the world’s most patronising self-help guru, spouting ‘love yourself’ banalities and accusing anyone that criticises her of being a ‘hater’. It’s ‘look at me, don’t look at me’ syndrome at its worst/finest, but perhaps this is what makes her interesting, who knows.
Anyway, I got sent a ticket to see her in the intimate environs of London’s 02 and while most of my friends’ reacted to the news that I was actually planning on going with ‘why?’, I was mildly intrigued but what she might have in store.
This is what I learned.
NO ONE REALLY KNOWS THE NON-SINGLE SONGS FROM THE NEW ALBUM
Having sung a bit of ‘Big White Room’ from her multi-platinum debut album to open the show, Jessie then launched into three new songs from her not-doing-that-well-really second album and basically no one really cared. I was sat behind a gaggle of kids who were so excited before the show started that I think one of them might have pissed themselves, but by the end of ‘Sexy Lady’ all of them were sat playing Candy Crush on their phones. When the riff to ‘Domino’ (seriously, what a song) finally kicked in it was a blessed relief for all involved. But, clearly wanting to ram ‘Alive’ down everyone’s throats, it was quickly followed by another new song in the shape of the ‘old school’ slow jam, ‘Daydreamin”. Continue reading I went to see Jessie J in concert and here are six things I learned »
I was just watching the quite good music video for that incredible new John Newman single when this unfortunate looking ‘wraparound’ ad thing for a different John, on money-grabbing music video ‘hub’ VEVO appeared before me.
Just look at that face.
The Country Artist John Mayer does not look happy at all about being stuck as the wraparound advertisement for a proper good song.
Would you The Listener/Viewer, really be so enthralled and intrigued by the facial expression and general ‘rugged’ demeanour of Mayer, that you felt it necessary to click through to the ever-so-fascinating John Mayer ASK:REPLY ‘Q&A session’ that the world class marketing folk at VEVO have branded must-see ‘video content’ because grammatically questionable colon deployment is currently ‘all the rage’?
Let’s just zoom in on John’s head.
So what the bloody hell could have Johnny down? I offer five possible conclusions.
1. He’s having a spiritual crisis
I actually bothered clicking through to this ASK:REPLY thing to see what all the fuss was about and the first question he answered was ‘why are you wearing a bandana all the time lately?’, so it was good to know in the first thirty nine seconds that my decision to check out this groundbreaking content was a good one. Continue reading John Mayer looks incredibly disappointed on VEVO »
The eight highlights of Mutya Keisha Siobhan’s slightly odd ‘Flatline’ video
Aug 19 2013, 15:12
Mutya Keisha Siobhan’s ‘Flatline’ is a sad song about the end of a relationship wrapped up in a pretty melody. Siobhan’s first verse is about a drunken argument and the chorus is about a relationship dying, before Mutya sings about the fact that even crying through all the pain won’t make it right during the second verse.
All this makes the sun-dappled, Instagram-filtered, beach-modelling, arm-waggling, high-fashion video – which ‘premiered’ at midnight last night/this morning/whatever – pretty baffling, the whole thing screaming ‘WE’RE NOT MOODY AND ALOOF ANYMORE YOU GUYS’ while losing a bit of what makes them special.
It’s not bad, per se, it just doesn’t really help the song and weirdly has the feel of a behind the scenes video of a music video – or, worse, a behind the scenes video of a photoshoot. In fact, the director, KT Auleta, is primarily a fashion photographer.
Still, the first video to feature Siobhan, Mutya and Keisha together since 2001’s ‘Soul Sound’ (basic premise: three girls house-sitting for a rich family friend), is worth celebrating, so here are the Top 8 moments.