Saturday, February 6, 2010

Take Off

Jumping on My Tutu

While I've always had a certain fascination with pop music since my first exposures to it back in early middle school, the biggest recent influence that started me on the path towards pop music blogging and criticism was a coworker and friend I met while living in London for a year pursuing my MA degree. She and I originally hit it off when we discovered a shared love of a similar kind of music, as well as an interest in and substantial knowledge of the current pop music industry and repertoire. Through her I not only got to revisit some acts from days past who I would realize I still enjoyed thoroughly plus the bonus of time, wisdom and experience allowing me to appreciate them on a different level, but I also got an invaluable education on British pop music, from the artists to the very consciousness. It was then I was first introduced to the likes of Amy Winehouse, Girls Aloud, Lily Allen, Estelle, Paolo Nutini, Arctic Monkeys, Jamelia, and others who were players in the UK pop scene long before the US market picked up on them (if at all), watched Leona Lewis win the X Factor, had my knowledge of Sugababes greatly expanded beyond the single club hit I'd enjoyed in 2004, had my first exposure to Madonna in concert (broadcast on television, not live, but still profound), got some vital 80s music history basics, and mainly had my appreciation for and love of pop music stoked and fueled enormously.

Girls Aloud, currently the big girl group in the UK, is something of a successor to the Spice Girls (although their career in Britain at least rivals that of the Spice Girls and I believe GA has already outlasted the other infamous quintet), formed through a "Making the Band" type reality program years back like numerous bands have in the US; the main difference is that Girls Aloud started out a big hit and have been able to stay that way five studio albums and ten million copies sold. While I was in London, one of the five girls in the group, Cheryl Tweedy, had just married a popular soccer (football) star named Ashley Cole and their wedding photos were everywhere for a good month or two; if the whole thing smacks of Posh and Becks, you're absolutely right (girl group members and reality tv stars are the cheerleaders to the soccer stars' quarterbacks in British tabloid society). The song I came to associate with Girls Aloud was a raucus dance thumber called "Something Kinda Ooh," the lyrics and performance of which my friend and pop muse and I never tired of discussing and that never left my iPod the whole time I was there. While I've learned since then that it's hardly their best single, it's still my favorite and a good one for a rainy Saturday morning.

"Something Kinda Ooh"
Girls Aloud
(Decca International, 2006)

Trivia: As much as it might seem like just about everything has been made into a reality show in the US, the Brits are the real masterminds of reality television (and are to blame for a great deal of the reality program concepts that have graced US televisions; Survivor, America's Next Top Model and The Real World are the only notable reality concept franchises born in the USA). Girls Aloud was formed during the second installment of "interactive reality" competition program Popstars, in which the original formula got a hefty face lift the subtitle The Rivals. Instead of simply selecting the members of a pop group, viewers would be voting for which young singers would make up not one but two separate groups, one of five men and the other of five women. The final selection was timed so that the new groups' debut singles would debut just before Christmas and would essentially compete for the top spot on the singles chart (it apparently was a given that one of them was bound to in fact earn the top spot in its debut week, not unlike how new American Idol champs' singles tend to debut big the week following the finale but in most cases quickly drop quickly). Girls Aloud's first single, "Sound of the Underground," beat out boy band One True Voice's "Sacred Heart/After You're Gone" for the "Christmas Number One," and only one of the two bands is still around. You do the math.

Check out Girls Aloud's best reviewed album, 2005's Chemistry.

Nice Contour

Monday, February 1, 2010

What's He See?

Tie Me Down Just Like It Used to Be

Perhaps I was ahead of my peers, or perhaps I was simply eager and willing to listen to anything that came out of the clandestine Orange County vocal chords of Gwen Stefani, pink hair or no pink hair, but I remember being thoroughly entertained by and fascinated with No Doubt's infamous critical smash and commercial underperformer of a followup to their Diamond-certified smash album Tragic Kingdom. The groovy new wave mid-tempo tracks, eerily glam yet not sonically depressing ballads, and understated up-tempo rockouts to me were both fun listens musically, but also appealing to my late adolescent mindset, which apparently set me on the same plane as the ska band who had until then seemed so young but were in 2000 approaching *gasp* thirty. And my goodness, did that gal want to get hitched...bad (so much so that her subesquent nuptials with singer Gavin Rossdale provided a shared moment of joyful wish fulfillment that No Doubt devotees felt as much as the popular and beloved songstress.

"Marry Me"
No Doubt
Return of Saturn
(Interscope, 2000)

Trivia: While Return of Saturn's over 270,000 copies sold in its first week scored No Doubt's second album its highest chart position (#2, surpassed only by N*SYNC's No Strings Attached) and would have left Susan Boyle in the dust long before Ke$ha finally did last month, the album, which went platinum, is still considered a commercial failure. Only one of its four singles even charted on the Billboard Hot 100, and it lost the one Grammy for which it was nominated (Best Rock Album). Shame.

Get No Doubt's phenomenal fourth album Return of Saturn.

Nice Ink