Popjustice » Etc http://www.popjustice.com 100% Solid Pop Music Wed, 27 Aug 2014 14:13:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Ariana Grande’s ‘My Everything’: A first listen review thing http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/ariana-grandes-my-everything-a-first-listen-review-thing/129906/ http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/ariana-grandes-my-everything-a-first-listen-review-thing/129906/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 09:40:24 +0000 http://www.popjustice.com/?p=129906 Ariana Grande

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.

1. ‘Intro’

Eighty seconds of pleasantly breathy Mariah-isms, but this is basically a waste of everyone’s time.

4/10

2. ‘Problem’ feat Iggy Azalea

Still amazing.

9/10

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.

8/10

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.

7.5/10

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.

9/10

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.

7/10

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.

7.5/10

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.

8/10

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.

8.5/10

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.

4/10

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.

9/10

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.

6/10

‘My Everything’ is released on August 25 but will probably be streaming somewhere this week, one imagines.

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The eighth Rihanna album: eight reasonable demands http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/the-eighth-rihanna-album-eight-reasonable-demands/128720/ http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/the-eighth-rihanna-album-eight-reasonable-demands/128720/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 15:48:26 +0000 http://www.popjustice.com/?p=128720 Rihanna with magazines

Rihanna recently tweeted a photo of a mixing desk with the caption “#R8”. This marks the first ‘official’ reference the ‘Birthday Cake’ hitmaker has made to what will be her eighth studio album.

(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.

Imaginative producers

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.

Great, sorted.

And just for old time’s sake:

What a song!

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These are pictures taken before and during La Roux’s ‘gig’ in London last night http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/these-are-pictures-taken-before-and-during-la-rouxs-gig-in-london-last-night/128757/ http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/these-are-pictures-taken-before-and-during-la-rouxs-gig-in-london-last-night/128757/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 14:38:44 +0000 http://www.popjustice.com/?p=128757 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.

Some highlights:

  • ‘Uptight Downtown’
  • ‘Bulletproof’
  • Elly’s dancing

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.

La Roux sitting

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.

La Loo

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.

photo 5

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.

Cocktail

Stylish.

Here’s the inside of the menu.

Cocktails

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.

La Roux live

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.

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I supported Lily Allen at her Shepherds Bush ‘gig’ in London last night http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/i-supported-lily-allen-at-her-shepherds-bush-gig-in-london-last-night/126670/ http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/i-supported-lily-allen-at-her-shepherds-bush-gig-in-london-last-night/126670/#comments Tue, 29 Apr 2014 12:39:32 +0000 http://www.popjustice.com/?p=126670 Lily 1

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.

Lily 2

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.

18:00
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.

Lily 4

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.

Lily 3

18:47
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.

Lily 5

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.

Lily 6

19:03
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.

HIYA!

Lily 7

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.

Lily 8

I choose the soup, the risotto and then the treacle tart.

19:32
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?

19:35
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.

19: 47
The bass player’s gone missing. Amateur.

19:58
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…

20:02 – Shit. I’m onstage.

See. Told you.

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.

Lily 11

20:08 – Here’s a picture of Fryars ‘doing his thing’.

Lily 10

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.

Lily Allen, who wasn’t aware that this was even happening, then retweeted that, so things got a bit odd.

Not everyone was a fan to be honest.

20:22 – Sam and I have now started throwing bags of crisps and individual Malteasers into the crowd. I worry I may have lodged one in someone’s eye by mistake.

20:25 – Showbiz behemoth Dean ‘Pipo’ Piper’s in the audience so we have a nice chat for a bit.

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:

20:29 – Oh dear.

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.

On stage

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.

Oh and by the way, the actual popstar in all of this was pretty good too. 8/10.

Lily Allen

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I went to Barcelona to hear the Shakira album and this is what happened http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/i-went-to-barcelona-to-hear-the-shakira-album-and-this-is-what-happened/125608/ http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/i-went-to-barcelona-to-hear-the-shakira-album-and-this-is-what-happened/125608/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 10:34:12 +0000 http://www.popjustice.com/?p=125608 Shakira invite

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.

ShakiraHaving 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:

Shakira plan

Later when I have a microphone thrust in my face to ask a question (more on all that in due course), I am addressed as Mr Pop Justice, while other people on my table are down as Regional Radio and Tabloid 1.

Once inside we were all presented with another hint that this would be A Big Event: a wall of Shakira. I remember at the time thinking ‘I will take this picture of it for now but later, after a few wines, I’ll come back and stand in front of it and have another one taken’. Unfortunately by the time I left the wall of Shakira had been taken down. :(

photo 3-3

Then inside a giant hall laid out like a Shakira-themed award ceremony with circular tables, a stage at the front and two big screens featuring the album ‘art’, we were serenaded by the album. ‘Spotlight’, ’23′, ‘The One Thing’ and the Sia-assisted ‘Chasing Shadows’ were good, but you probably already know that due to the aforementioned leak. But here’s something you don’t get with the leak: lyrics scrolling up on a massive screen so that if you’re so inclined you can have a bit of a singsong, although no amount of alcohol can help with ‘Loca por Ti’ to be honest.

It’s all very pleasant and the food involves things like giant prawns in shot glasses, foie gras and fish on toast.

Shakira

While Shakira may be good with a ska-tinged singalong or a carnivalesque football-themed banger, she’s not amazing with time-keeping and so the 8pm start for the Q&A drifted to 9:05 before suddenly, with a brief wave and a bow, there she was! Compered by your friend and ours Kevin ‘Pop Prince’ Hughes, there was some chat about how great she is and how amazing the album is etc. There was a funny bit where she basically said that collaborating with other people can get a bit annoying when she doesn’t get on with them, but she obviously didn’t name names. (I threatened to shout ‘WAS IT BEYONCÉ?’ but chose instead to keep quiet and drink my red wine.)

For some reason I was picked to ask a question and in my panic I suggested to the table of label people that I would ask her who she’d trust more to babysit her son, Beyoncé or Rihanna. The reaction was, shall we say, muted, so I had a quick re-think and asked her a fairly boring question about how hard it must have been picking the tracklisting for the album given the fact that it’s taken two and half years of recording and she probably had about 70 songs.

The was her response:

“Well the whole process started two and a half years ago, some things happened in the middle, among which was having a baby. Small detail. There was a lot of stops and go’s and back and forth and many song I discarded and many songs survived and this is what it is. This album is a result of that process of creation and self-doubt and experimentation. That’s why I decided to self-title it because this is not a thematic album, this is not a conceptual album. It’s an album that has many different genres and variations and after all, it is just a reflection of who I am as an artist and as a person – with imperfections and all.  It’s just me, there, honestly. I always try to listen to my gut and follow my instinct. Every artist has to rely on their instinct – it’s all we have to survive in this industry, really.”

After my slightly dry question the microphone was then passed to another man who asked Shakira when her football-playing boyfriend – who was sitting in the room – was going to propose to her. To her credit, Shakira sort of laughed it off and said “when ever he asks me”, but out of the corner of my eye I saw a slightly tense-looking American woman from the label run up and swipe the microphone from the man’s hand before he can carry on. We were then reminded that all questions must focus on the music. I suddenly felt happier that I didn’t ask my babysitting question.

After a bit more chat – in English and in Spanish – Shakira said she had a surprise for us all. And with that she called out some bloke with an acoustic guitar and delivered a pretty amazing rendition of ’23′ while sitting on a slightly higher stool.

Shakira

With a quick goodbye she briefly disappeared and we were left to enjoy our food (fish to start followed by beef and some chocolate mousse, if you must know), but suddenly Shakira was back, doing the rounds of the entire room, posing for pictures and generally saying ‘thank you’ to increasingly inebriated people. When she got to our table I took a number of covert pictures because as we’ve established I’m a professional, before we were ushered into a huddle for an official picture, which was also captured for posterity on my iPhone.

I think you’ll agree it was worth it.

Shakira and I

Seriously, well done everyone.

At about 11:45, having chatted to just about everyone, stayed for the food and been a pretty good sport (most artists probably would have legged it after the singsong), Shakira cleared off. And with that were all encouraged to follow suit.

Cheers Shakira! Thanks for the memories.

‘Shakira’ by Shakira is out on Monday.

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I went to a Beyoncé concert and here are six things I learned http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/i-went-to-a-beyonce-concert-and-here-are-six-things-i-learned/124952/ http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/i-went-to-a-beyonce-concert-and-here-are-six-things-i-learned/124952/#comments Mon, 03 Mar 2014 21:31:04 +0000 http://www.popjustice.com/?p=124952 Beyonce

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

BeyonceWhen 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

Beyonce merchObviously 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

Beyonce chairWhile 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.

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I went to have a drink with Enrique Iglesias in his hotel and here’s what happened http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/i-went-to-have-a-drink-with-enrique-iglesias-in-his-hotel-and-heres-what-happened/124097/ http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/i-went-to-have-a-drink-with-enrique-iglesias-in-his-hotel-and-heres-what-happened/124097/#comments Thu, 06 Feb 2014 20:19:11 +0000 http://www.popjustice.com/?p=124097 EnriqueBack 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.

Enrique bus

:(

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.

Enrique

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.

photo-8

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?

Yeah.
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]

Enrique autograph

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.

Blimey.

[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.

*

‘Sex and Love’ is out on March 17.

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Here’s a list of seven things to look forward to on The Big Reunion II http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/heres-a-list-of-seven-things-to-look-forward-to-on-the-big-reunion-ii/124104/ http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/heres-a-list-of-seven-things-to-look-forward-to-on-the-big-reunion-ii/124104/#comments Thu, 06 Feb 2014 16:28:16 +0000 http://www.popjustice.com/?p=124104 big reunion logoThe 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 

EternalWhether 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

Oh dear

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.

It didn’t end well.

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.

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My own tips for 2014 http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/my-own-tips-for-2014/123182/ http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/my-own-tips-for-2014/123182/#comments Fri, 10 Jan 2014 10:49:07 +0000 http://www.popjustice.com/?p=123182 1. Sam Smith (Capitol)

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.

2. Shakka

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.

TBH.

9. For us artists to stop using hashtags in our official song titles.

TBQH.

10. Middle 8s being all chordy-like again.

11. For Lady Gaga to keep growling, she sounds great. 

DOWATCHAWITHMEHHHH.

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.

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My seven favourite songs of 2013 http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/seven-favourite-songs-2013/122260/ http://www.popjustice.com/blogs/etc/seven-favourite-songs-2013/122260/#comments Thu, 05 Dec 2013 13:46:19 +0000 http://www.popjustice.com/?p=122260 1. Miley Cyrus – ‘We Can’t Stop’

I love that Miley likes to twerk and she has no ass. There’s something quite gratifying about her sense of humour. Great song. A real grower.

2. Disclosure/Sam Smith/ Nile Rodgers/Jimmy Napes – ‘Together’

This song made me pregnant.

3. Breach – ‘Jack’

I love this song, but I can’t shuffle. I was in the club trying to catch up with all these 21-year-olds bare shuffling. I was a bit like, “ok, I’ll just two step in the corner, this isn’t working”. :(

4. Lily Allen – ‘Hard Out Here’

Lily Allen is such a fucking G. When this song/video came out, it got me so excited to hear new Lily stuff. I’m a fan.

5. Lady Gaga – ‘Do What U Want’

DERRWATCHAWANTWITMEH. I love Gaga when she growls. She’s good at it.

6. Gorgon City – ‘Ready For Your Love’

Yeeeeahhh, I like this song cos I’m on it, NGL.

7. All About She – ‘Higher (Free)’

‘Higher (Free)’ is such a banger, it just came out this week. I recommend everyone get it – it’s so catchy and has a great feel good vibe about it!

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