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.