It looks like Katy Perry is ready to say so long to the whipped cream bras and cotton candy clouds that launched her into super stardom.
The “Roar” singer, who is dating fellow musician John Mayer, debuted the cover art for her upcoming album PRISM during an appearance on Good Morning America on Sept. 6, and from the looks of it she is shedding her confectioner’s image for a more natural look.
On the cover Perry is surrounded by flowers and a sky of pastel blues, yellows and pinks. She ditches the typical bright colored wigs and equally vibrant pop star outfits we have grown accustomed to. This natural side of Perry juxtaposes the loud jungle-themed music video she released for her first single off the album, “Roar” in which Perry plays a stranded jungle warrior who learns to live on her own as a champion.
“The reason why I called this record PRISM is because I actually finally let the light in and then I was able to create all these songs that were inspired by letting the light in and doing some self-reflection and just kind of working on myself,” Perry said to MTV News.
Whether she is swinging in on a vine or going all natural, we have to admit we love seeing Perry transform herself.
Check Katy Perry’s PRISM with this track listing.
2. “Legendary Lovers"
4. “Walking On Air”
6. “Dark Horse” featuring Juicy J
7. “This Is How We Do”
8. “International Smile”
10. “Love Me”
11. “Double Rainbow”
12. “By the Grace of God”
WASHINGTON — Beyonce drew a loud cheer from the audience Monday even before her impressive rendition of the national anthem.
The applause started when she took her place with Jay-Z at the Capitol to watch President Barack Obama take the oath for his second term in office. The two stopped to chat with the Rev. Al Sharpton.
James Taylor kicked off the musical performances, strumming his guitar and singing “America the Beautiful.” Kelly Clarkson followed with a different arrangement of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” Then Beyonce was introduced and the crowd again roared its approval.
Beyonce had a definite fan in Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who applauded eagerly after she finished singing the national anthem. She offered R&B-esque vocal riffs as she sang on and the crowd seemed to love it, cheering loudly as she finished. Clarkson, too, hit high notes.
Beyonce may have been the star musical attraction, but she had plenty of company from Hollywood at the Capitol on Monday. Katy Perry and John Mayer sat side by side. Singer-songwriter Ke$ha was there, too.
People flocked to the colorful pop star, snapping photos. And Perry did the same, taking shots of “Girls” actress and daughter of news anchor Brian Williams, Allison Williams.
Actress Eva Longoria was seated on the platform outside the Capitol after making an appearance at a Kennedy Center performance Sunday night. Perry sang at the children’s concert the night before.
Former Boston Celtics great Bill Russell was in the crowd, too, along with actor Marlon Wayans.
There is a reason Taylor Swift’s current hit “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” with its guileless, brand-name gloss, sounds like the music Kelly, Avril and Britney made their careers with a decade ago; it is produced by the same Swedish producers (Max Martin and Shellback) that have made a serious business out of synths-and-guitars earworms.
It is not as if Swift could not write her own hooks — she is Martin and Shellback’s top protege, having grown up on their hits (like “…Baby One More Time” and the Backstreet Boys) and deftly deploying their style in her songwriting. Was there a better couplet in 2010 than “you made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter” from the the single “Mine”? There’s been an inherent Swedish tinge to her brand of country music.
But Swift has been the kind of musician that makes music she likes to listen to. And that notion comes through strongly on her new album, Red. It is the most stylistically varied and sonically middle-of-the-road she has ever sounded. Much of the music on the album wouldn’t be out of place in the records of her singer-songwriter and indie rock contemporaries.
There are three Martin and Shellback-produced prime cuts (and on their best collaboration, “I Knew You Were Trouble,” some light dubstep), the kind of carefully constructed blitzes that gave Katy Perry seven number-one hits. They are the stickiest pieces of bubblegum the duo has ever produced.
And yet those songs are a little disingenuous as they are interpolated between moody, atmospheric indie sounds (“State of Grace”); soft, intimate confessionals (“I Almost Do”); and impeccably produced Starbucks pop (“The Lucky Ones”). While Red doesn’t turn out to be her “pop” album, it is her most mature, oddly enough.
Red is also Swift’s official declaration that she is becoming a full-on crossover artist, but she is not taking any cues from Shania Twain or Faith Hill; she is going bigger, to Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon territory. Those aspirations mostly materialize as indie chanteuse pattering, like in Mazzy Star B-side “Sad Beautiful Tragic.” She does not quite have the gravitas — at least not yet — to sell a sparse, somber arrangement.
She does better at channeling those ideas into sky-wide arena anthems like “All Too Well,” with its big, rushing moment of cathartic release and the jangly roadhouse boogie of “Holy Ground.” For Swift and Red, bigger does better, like in the formidable grandeur of the title track.
It is the album’s closer, “Begin Again,” where Swift has her epiphany: to be truly revealing, you have to let us see you bleed a little. Here, she finally acknowledges, in her classic, throwaway verse kind of way, that she is no longer the girl from Nashville, but a young woman facing decidedly adult problems: “And we walked down the block to my car / And I almost brought him up.”
Red is an odd package, but fitting given the place Swift is in her career. She sells out stadium tours and is one of the few artists who can sell so many albums. She has found country music superstardom, so this album, her fourth, is her trying on everything else she could be, too — a musical coming-of-age.
Printed on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 as: Swift approaches new maturity, gains sparks with diverse album
The two artists who undeniably garnered the most attention preceding the 54th annual Grammy Awards were triumphantly Adele and tragically Whitney Houston, each of them indelibly gifted with standout voices of their generation. Between the award announcements and performances, the attention seemed to bounce between Adele’s success and Houston’s untimely death. As predicted, Adele swept up six awards including Record of the Year and Album of the Year for her album “21.” With almost every performance came an artist’s impromptu dedication to Houston, ultimately leading to singer Jennifer Hudson’s chilling tribute performance.
Backed by a full orchestra, Bruce Springsteen kicked off Grammy night with enthusiastic kicks from underneath his electric guitar. In the audience, Paul McCartney clapped along to the Boss and the E Street Band’s latest single, “We Take Care of Our Own.”
Host L.L Cool J followed up with a prayer to honor Whitney Houston, who passed away Feb. 11, a day before the show, at age 48. The audience—from Katy Perry to Faith Hill and Tony Bennett—bowed their heads as L.L. Cool J finished with, “Whitney, we will always love you.”
Nominated for six Grammy awards this year, Bruno Mars performed “Runaway Baby,” from his album Doo-Wops and Hooligans. Mars synchronized costumes and choreography with his band, looping dapper in a gold blazer as he slid into the splits mid-song, never once missing a beat or his key.
Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt joined country and R&B forces on shortened yet soulful version “Sunday Kind of Love” in tribute to another lost artist this past year, Etta James.
As expected, the award for Pop Solo Performance went to Adele for “Someone Like You,” despite competing against pop mega-forces Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Pink. In her acceptance speech, Adele said that the song changed her life. With this win and a classic look of voluminous curls and red lips, Adele proved not all pop hits are the result of sugar-coated dance beats and scantily-clad songstresses.
Chris Brown made his Grammy comeback with three nominations after a three-year absence following the release of violent images of his assault on then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009. His signature pop-and-lock dance moves dominated his song “Turn Up the Music” against a technicolor stage that times flashes of rainbow colors and skyline images perfectly as each beat dropped. With this performance, Chris Brown reminded the audience of his stage presence as he pleased the crowd with his dance moves despite his likely lip-syncing and court record of violence against women.
The clementine-clad Fergie and Marc Anthony presented the award for Best Rap Performance. Nominees include Jay-Z and Kanye West for “Otis,” Drake and Nicki Minaj for “Moment 4 Lyfe,” and Chris Brown featuring Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne for “Look at Me Now.” Watch The Throne’s Jay-Z and West won, though they unfortunately were not in attendance to accept the award. Perhaps there was another event substantially cooler and more worthy of the rap stars’ attendance?
In typical Grammy fashion of pairing performers with clearly different sounds, the unexpected duo of Rihanna and Coldplay performed together. Rihanna slithered on the ground to her hit “We Found Love,” tossing her newly blonde locks as the song’s signature techno dance beat kicked in. As her song ended, the camera cut to Chris Martin of Coldplay on an acoustic guitar playing “Princess of China" when Rihanna joined him after only a few lyrics. After a quick duet, Martin raced to stage where the rest of Coldplay was waiting to perform hit single, “Paradise.” The performance didn’t prove to be an authentic collaboration but rightfully gave two of this year’s biggest acts much-deserved stage time on music’s biggest night.
The Foo Fighters in all their bearded glory beat out rock cult favorites Radiohead, Coldplay, The Decemberists and Mumford & Sons for Best Rock Performance. The band’s winning single, “Walk,” comes from album, Wasting Light, which was recorded on tape in the garage of lead singer Dave Grohl’s garage. Grohl marks the first winner of the night to be cut off by the show’s outro music as he screamed out, “Rock 'n' Roll.”
In celebration of The Beach Boys reunion, Maroon 5 performed the California band’s classic, “Surfer Girl.” Foster The People was up next with even more well-known Beach Boys’ staple, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” Finally, The Beach Boys swung slowly along as they sung “Good Vibrations” which ended with a standing ovation by the audience and smiles all round.
It seems that only a legend is worthy of presenting another legend. Stevie Wonder introduced Paul McCartney, who crooned “My Valentine” in front of a full orchestra which included the sorrowful yet sweet strings of a classical guitar.
Surprisingly not dressed in her usual sequins, Taylor Swift took the stage in a modest boho dress. With a bango slung around her shoulders, Swift sang a lackluster version of her single “Mean.” She winked and smirked through the “I told you so” lyrics, reminding her audience that despite her poor track record as a live performer, she’s unbearably charming.
Song of the Year nominations included “The Cave” by Mumford & Sons, “All of the Lights” by Kanye West and Rihanna,“Grenade” by Bruno Mars, “Holocene” by Bon Iver and “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele. Not surprisingly enough, Adele happily skipped up the stage hand-in-hand with the song’s producer Paul Epworth to accept the award.
However, in a surprising turn of events, country’s girl-next-door Taylor Swift did not crush her country competition for Best Country Album. It was instead Lady Antebellum who won for Best Country Album with Own The Night.
Adele’s much-anticipated performance lived up to the hype as she crooned a hauntingly beautiful rendition of her song “Rolling In The Deep,” which won Song of the Year earlier in the night. With each second of her performance, from the acapella beginning to the bridge she belted out, Adele continued to outdo herself, clearly showing the world that she’s not the next big thing; she has already arrived.
Country stars The Band Perry and Blake Shelton honored Glen Campbell. Their performances pleasantly primed the stage for the true star, Glen Campbell, who proudly sang “Rhinestone Cowboy” while the audience clapped and sang along.
Jazz legend Tony Bennett sang alongside a refreshingly less-country version of Carrie Underwood’s voice that swapped southern twang for fluid jazz harmonies on “It Had To Be You.”
Bon Iver beat out The Band Perry, Skrillex, J.Cole and even Nicki Minaj who had an undeniably explosive year for new artist. He humbly accepted the award, tipping his theoretical hat to the musicians who have yet to be discovered.
In honor of the tragic death of Whitney Houston, Jennifer Hudson, who just a couple nights ago was praising Houston’s voice on “Piers Morgan Tonight,” took the stage. Hudson stood under a spotlight while she delivered an impressive (though not quite on par with Houston’s) version of “I Will Always Love You.” Considering the obviously short notice of this performance and Hudson’s chilling rendition, you have to wonder if this is a song she’s dreamed of performing since she was a little girl.
Deadmau5, Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, David Guetta and Foo Fighters attempted to rouse the crowd with what the Grammy’s had been calling a “dance party” preceding the performance. David Guetta’s electronic beats slunk up and down as background music for Chris Brown and Lil Wayne in a haphazard performance that lacked cohesion. Strobe lights and smoke distracted from a performance that the show could’ve done without. As it turns out, a Deadmau5 and Foo Fighters collaboration make for a pretty abysmal performance.
Looking fresh in a tuxedo, rapper Drake teases us with an introduction of his “good friend” Nicki Minaj, instead of a performance of his own. It’s quite obvious through Minaj’s typical clothing style, that she strives to be different than your average pop or hip hop star, so her bizarre acting and rapping hybrid performance doesn’t come as much of a surprise. After rap lyrics littered with the word “bitch,” she sampled the Christmas carol, “O Come, All Ye Faithful” resulting in an odd performance that left the audience cheering but completely confused nonetheless.
The Band Perry presented the Record of the Year to Adele, sharing the same attitude as the rest of the audience with a simple, understated, “No surprise, 'Rolling in the Deep!'” At this point, does it even really matter who else was nominated?
Adele pulls off a six-for-six clean sweep with tears in her eyes as she accepts the final award of the night, Album of the Year. Despite a runny nose and a little voice cracking, she maintains a level of class and grace that other pop stars can only dream of having. “It has been the most life-changing year,” she sobs. And that is perhaps the understatement of the night.
When “California Gurls,” Katy Perry’s sugary, rollicking piece of pop, was unleashed in the summer of 2010 — out of car stereos, on TV commercials, at bars, barbecues and in the innuendo-leaden music video — it was like being steamrolled. The song, whether liked, loved or bemoaned, commands surrender — throw your hands up in defeat, give in to the fantasy; the lyrics “sun-kissed skin so hot we’ll melt your popsicle” have been woven into the pop cultural lexicon.
Perry’s song is one in a series of what the music industry and press calls Songs of Summer; the top 40 summer season hit that become so large, so beyond the scope of a four minute song that they permanently become part of the cultural consciousness. They are not forgotten. They define years, moments and artists’ careers. They are so well-known and have melodies and lyrics so easily regurgitated, that to not know them is alienating. Millenials know them: The Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” (2009), Rihanna’s “Umbrella” (2007), Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” (2002).
But how does a summer song embed itself so permanently into our brains? Because you commit them to memory, says David Allan, an assistant professor of marketing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia who has worked in the radio industry for more than 20 years, including at Clear Channel Communications. Summer songs are often experienced in the background to some of our most memorable moments — the soundtrack to summer fun. These episodic or autobiographical memories, Allan says, are why Songs of Summer stick with you 20 years later.
So what has 2012 wrought? With Memorial Day just behind us, there are a handful of contenders, frontrunners and outliers. To narrow down our own search, we’ve adapted some industry standard rules:
• No ballads
• Top 40 radio fare are what will be primarily considered — they have the marketing and airplay muscle to become serious earworms. But we’ve indulged other tastes.
• Songs that have reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 before Memorial Day are ineligible (sorry, Gotye).
Going forward, we will give weekly Song of Summer 2012 updates, looking closely at songs’ ubiquity (that “booming-out-the-car-stereo” quality), sales and Billboard chart positions and general buzz.
THE FRONT RUNNERS
Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”
Bieber and tween-teen-approved, this seemingly innocuous breeze is really more like a Canadian storm system — no use hiding, it’s everywhere.
We like “Climax” better, but based on how aggressively successful this single has been, it’s foolish to discount “Scream”’s au courant club rush.
Rihanna, “Where Have You Been”
There’s an exotic, pulsating undercurrent to Rihanna’s latest. It’s not a classic like “Umbrella,” but it’ll take hold just as well.
Justin Bieber, “Boyfriend”
He raps! Or something. Bieber’s attempt at Justin Timberlake-ification is intriguing, possibly misguided, but formidable.
Katy Perry, “Wide Awake”
Having dominated the Song of Summer market for the past few years, Perry is an immediate contender, regardless of the (slower) song.
Rita Ora, “How We Do (Party)”
An homage to Notrious B.I.G.’s “Party and Bullshit,” this song is a four minute hook: Jay-Z’s latest protege is our pick for the Song of Summer’s dark horse.
One Direction, “What Makes You Beautiful”
Even amidst other teen stars like Jepsen and Bieber, these Brits and their breakout single have staying power. Its guilty pleasure factor is ridiculous.
Maroon 5, “Payphone”
This is the kind of shimmery, widescreen pop that was this group’s claim to fame. It’s smooth.
OUTLIERS AND INDIE JAMS
Tanlines, “All of Me”
Those droning vocals and rhythmic syncopation wash over you in a beach party montage kind of way. An alternate summer jam.
Icona Pop, “I Love It”
If only these Swedes were more famous! This is the kind of anthemic, blow-your-roof-off blitz that would do well on Top 40 radio. You will still hear this at parties.
Santigold, “The Keepers”
Compared to other songs on this list, Santigold’s latest single is mellower and much simpler. “Keepers” is a nice foil to summer songs’ heavy production.
Madonna’s age looms large over her latest album, MDNA. At 53, she has remained relevant (despite protests from her critics to the contrary) in the world of entertainment where celebrities are edged out before you can say “Miley.”
However, on the album, her age does not matter in the wake of the ageist responses that surrounded her Super Bowl performance, which expressed bewilderment that she’s still dancing and singing pop music. No, her three decades in the pop music gives the album a sense of heft. She brings her psyche in all its perfections to MDNA, a pop album willing to try anything and get away with it — something that could only be accomplished by a woman who’s seen and just about done it all.
With that, MDNA has a number of references to Madonna’s vault of past hits, like “Lucky Star” or the lightweight first single “Gimme All Your Luvin.” But musically, the album is tailor-made for the pop music of now. Benny Benassi, Martin Solveig and William Orbit, who produced her critically acclaimed Ray of Light over a decade ago, contributed to the album.
Thumping bass and whirling Ibiza electrobeats pulsate on the second single “Girl Gone World” over a monosyllable-heavy chorus (He-ey, -ey, -ey) while the synths swirl to a bouncy, soaring melody on “Turn Up on the Radio.” These songs, along with a handful of others, are produced for maximum radio impact, the kind of songs Madonna has successfully made since 1983’s “Holiday.”
But they feel derivative, from the dubstep breakdowns to rap guest appearances, a grasp for an inch of space in a time when Katy Perry rules supreme. Only “Gang Bang” in its shrouding, dark beats and provocative lyrics about murder scintillates and surprises listeners.
The Orbit-produced second half of MDNA is when the album finally transforms itself into something a bit more profound without losing its pop sensibilities. Her divorce from director Guy Ritchie permeates the songs.
On “Love Spent,” against jumbling Eastern strings and winding electronic blips, she wonders, “I guess if I was your treasury, you’d have the time to treasure me,” a reference to the millions Ritchie received after the divorce. Her reflections are the messy thoughts of a single mom (who just happens to be a celebrity and millionaire). Album highlight “Falling Free” clears away the dance floor and puts away the autotune for soaring strings as Madonna sings, “When I let loose the need to know, I’m free to go.”
Throughout her thirty-year career, Madonna has realized the power of pop music to reveal or evoke. She doesn’t forget that on MDNA, utilizing the dance floor as her confessional once more.
Madonna's "Gimme All Your Luvin'" Official Video
Editor's Note: This video contains explicit content.
Printed on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 as: 'MDNA' proves Madonna's relevance
Katy Perry - ‘Part of Me’
Though her last single, “The One that Got Away,” was eerily timed with the announcement of her split from Russell Brand and the tabloid speculation of her shock and sadness, it seems Perry has gotten way over it and released this break-up anthem, “Part of Me.” She sings in her usually shrill vocals that he can “keep the wedding ring. In fact, you can keep everything (yeah, yeah) except me.” Get it, girl.
Producer Dr. Luke doesn’t stray from the formula that gives the duo five No. 1 singles (now six). In fact, you can hear parts of “California Gurls,” “The One that Got Away” and “Teenage Dream” melded into this pop machine of a song. Insufferably reductive? Sure. Painfully addicting? You betcha.
Nicki Minaj - ‘Starships’
Before the release of Nick Minaj’s “Starships,” the latest single off her yet-to-be-released Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, you can assume the conversation between her and the record executives went similar to this: “While we appreciate the frank honesty of ‘Stupid Hoe,’ we’d love to hear another ‘Super Bass.’ So fun — and so successful! If you don’t have any inspiration, take a listen to some LMFAO and Katy Perry.”
Although “Stupid Hoe” was aggravating and annoying, at least it felt genuine. This mess, on the other hand, feels like Minaj turning into yet another alter ego: the record executive drone. The beats are stale, the lyrics cliche. Maybe “Super Bass” was a fluke, but at least preserve the pop sanctity of it by not trying to repeat it.
Usher - ‘Climax’
Knowing Usher’s predilection for bedroom slow jams and the title of his latest single, “Climax,” this song didn’t appear to be anything more than R&B sexy-time jam. But Usher pulled a fast one on listeners and has somehow managed to stay ahead of the curve. A complete 180 degree turn from the Euro-trash of “OMG,” “Climax” drenches itself in the slow, dubstep-inflicted synths of James Blake and The Weeknd.
It’s a smart move for him, as the dance craze wanes down. However, more importantly, it works damn well. Usher’s smooth falsetto, crooning for a lover to stay against the icy beats goes down like a good drink.
Madonna - ‘Girl Gone Wild’
Despite the huge hype of her Super Bowl performance and worldwide radio release that preceded Madonna’s first single “Give Me All You Luvin,” the song has all but disappeared from consciousness after the Super Bowl. For an entertainer that thrives on cultural relevancy (in the best way possible), it was likely a big scare, explaining the rush release of second single, “Girl Gone Wild.”
And oh dear. Against a four-on-the-floor beat heard time and time again from Benny Benassi, Madonna unconvincingly sings, “I’ve got that burning hot fire” in paper-thin and high vocals. Madonna proved with 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor that she could still groove even with Euro-dance beats. Apparently, she now equates fun with stupidity, reaching the for the lowest common denominator. Where she once commanded listeners to Vogue, she’s now picking leftovers from Deadmau5’s musical trashcan.
Published on Tuesday February 28, 2012 as: Nicki, Madonna sound stale, Usher impressses with single
As pop star Katy Perry swung above on a pink cloud suspended by metal rafters, it seemed as if a Barbie had truly come to life. Fans stretched out their arms and sang along to a bittersweet love song until her chariot made its return to a stage decorated with candy and glitter.
On her one-night stop in Austin, as part of her California Dreams Tour, Katy Perry turned the Frank Erwin Center into a shrine to all things girly. A sea of miniature Perry replicas, in blue wigs and peacock getups inspired by the stars’ heavily-costumed performances, covered the area Saturday night.
While some of the more risqué material in the show might have soared clear over the younger fans’ heads, what did translate was Perry’s aim to connect with her audience: whether it was professing her love for Texas (in particular, queso) or inquiring where her Texas boyfriend was in the crowd, one could tell she was pulling away from the narrative of her live show to create a more personal environment.
The pyrotechnics, multiple costumes changes and dancing gingerbread men might have seemed over the top and plastic had they not been paired with Perry’s sincerity toward her fans. At the end of the night it was the stars’ personality that left this strong dose of pop sugar without a sour aftertaste.
(Photo Courtesy of Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three)
Pokey LaFarge seems to live in the world in which a performer whose name is Pokey LaFarge would not elicit any arched eyebrows. But alas, despite his faded sepia album cover, zoot suit and slicked back hair, he lives in a time when Katy Perry is striving for her fifth number-one single in a year.
It could just be that fact that makes his second album, Middle of Everywhere, recorded with his band, the South City Three, sound so refreshing. He combines the classic folk of early Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, the swing music of the early ‘50s along with the early traces of true rock ‘n roll. This is Americana at its purest.
On the jumpy “Drinkin’ Whisky Tonight,” there’s a devilish excitement about passing and downing a bottle of Jack in the melody and in LaFarge’s voice. He shows a giddy romantic side on “Head to Toe,” telling his loved one, “I just say in my way that I love you from head to toe.” The songs never fail to amuse, such as the well-crafted lyrics that evoke heartbreak and passion or the small details in the music, like the playing of a washboard.
LaFarge sings in a strong high-pitched vocal that has a styling that lends itself to the narratives. He also plays a mean harmonica. The band deserves special mention for its supple and full harmonies. The horns pop. The drums cackle. The strings zing.
Of course, there’s a nostalgia factor in listening to Pokey LaFarge. It harkens back to the illusion of a pure America, which any good “Mad Men” fan knows never existed. While maybe our county’s social and cultural norms were never so great, Middle of Everywhere shows that music sure was and, in this case, still can be.