Everyone’s got something to say about Lana Del Rey.
In Late June, the cut-and-paste clip for the singer’s “Video Games”–then just a buzz track–dropped with a thud onto YouTube. Spliced between old movie sequences, paparazzi clips and fuzzy home videos, we watched as a husky-voiced, otherworldly chanteuse pouted and cooed a dreary, vintage-sounding ode to her beloved: “It’s you, it’s you/It’s all for you, everything I do,” she begs. The song’s haunting melody, coupled with Del Rey’s bombshell looks and curious mannerisms, drew adoration and anticipation from countless bloggers worldwide, including myself.
Only weeks after the clip premiered, the overnight Internet sensation came under fire, as dissenters were quick to point out what Google already knew for months: Lana Del Rey, born Lizzy Grant, was raised by her father, a real-estate entrepreneur, and her mother, an advertising account executive in Lake Placid. After a stalled launch two years prior, the singer had since been signed to Interscope in March of 2011, paired off with top UK writers and hip-hop producers, and thrust quietly into the world (again) as Lana Del Rey.
Critics scoffed at her stories in interviews of living in a trailer park (despite this fairly telling interview from back in 2008 in…a trailer park), as though an artist’s legitimacy is earned only by being born into hardship. Her image changed, too, including an unquestionably fuller set of lips (“They’re fake!”, they cried), as though the emotional value of a song is determined by a single Restylane injection.
In short, haters continued to hate: Internet campaigns–spearheaded by the ever-sarcastic Hipster Runoff–effectively began a Del Rey witch hunt, tearing apart her music lyric by lyric, her videos frame by frame, and over-analyzing every word she’s ever uttered in an interview to an obsessive degree.
It didn’t help that Del Rey’s star skyrocketed too quickly: When the singer took to the stage of Saturday Night Live in early January for a jittery performance of her double A-side debut, the world–largely unaware of her particular brand of deep-voiced, slow-spoken artistry to begin with–pounced: ABC news anchors, musicians and all began eagerly participating in the most bizarrely overwrought public skewering, labeling it “the worst performance in SNL history.” (It wasn’t.)
To this day, the persecution continues with sexist headlines (“Lana Del Rey shows off some upskirt on some magazine cover!”) and nasty blog comments, as Indie absolutists hungrily seek any opportunity to “out” Del Rey with a quivering, condemning point of the finger shouting “FRAUD!”
In reaction to a recent interview in which Del Rey discussed drinking underage to deal with her own troubles, Hipster Runoff posted a mocking meme of Del Rey, the words “My daddy only cared about hoarding dot-coms: Confessions of a Teen Drinker” written across the picture.
If there were ever a case to be made about cyber-bullying, Lana Del Rey’s e-burning at the stake would be the shining example.
In September of 2010, the world (well, the UK) watched as a jittery Worcestershire-born girl named Cher Lloyd strolled across the stage–suited in a a fitted black jacket and shredded white jeans–to audition for the X Factor. After a brief grilling by the judges regarding her name and age (“You look more!” Louis Walsh exclaimed after learning she was only 16 years old), Lloyd announced she’d be performing (Keri Hilson‘s cover of) Soulja Boy‘s “Turn My Swag On.”
And then she opened her mouth to sing.
Kelly Clarkson‘s come a long way in just under a decade.
After becoming the first (and let’s be real, still easily the best) winner of American Idol in 2002, the singer first made her official mark with 2003′s Thankful, a debut collection complete with safe-yet-amazing post-Idol balladry (“Anytime”), soulful R&B-pop offerings (“Just Missed The Train”) and slightly rambunctious, attitude heavy pop-rock anthems, including “Miss Independent” and “Low.”
The runaway success of the latter two singles quickly helped to sculpt the sound of what would become Clarkson’s grand opus in 2004: Breakaway, one of the most defining pop records of the ’00′s–a pristine collection of electrifying pop-rock anthems produced by Max Martin, Dr. Luke and Ben Moody including “Behind These Hazel Eyes” and “Since U Been Gone” that officially shed the singer’s Idol image and quickly made Clarkson’s name synonymous to any and all things angst-pop.
Following the record-breaking success of Breakaway came My December in 2007. Generally dubbed as Clarkson’s “rebel moment,” Kelly opted to breakaway (pun!) from the familiar pop mold of her past and go a slightly less radio-friendly route, penning tougher, darker, and more revealing rock tracks than ever before. The album’s development led to a very heated, very public head-to-head power struggle between Clarkson and Sony BMG label head Clive Davis, who very openly professed his lack of faith in Clarkson’s upcoming release. And while My December–which spawned “Never Again” and the devastating power ballad “Sober”–was by no means a failure (in fact, it was generally received more favorably by critics than Breakaway), its performance was ultimately underwhelming.
In 2009, Clarkson returned once more with her fourth studio album, All I Ever Wanted. It was another strong release (as with every Clarkson album) and a smash hit, although marked with a certain by-the-numbers familiarity, including safe, radio-friendly anthems (“My Life Would Suck Without You”) and Katy Perry album rejects (“I Do Not Hook Up”). The album’s own cover painted the album’s narrative perfectly, featuring an uncomfortable Clarkson forced to half-smile against a schlocky, candy-coated Photoshop background. It was, in effect, a quiet acknowledgement that Davis had won this round.
Two more years have passed since then, leading to Clarkson’s fifth studio release: Stronger–the most perfect representation of harmony achieved.
Combining the power-pop anthems and radio friendly accessibility of Breakaway with the darker confessional appeal of My December, Stronger plays like the perfect marriage between artistic intent and label demand. It’s an effortless combination–counterbalancing the threat of overindulgence by an artist gone unchecked and the “sell-out” sound of a label with too many hands in the cookie jar–resulting in one of the strongest, most triumphant and wholly satisfying records of the year.
Nicola Roberts is a different kind of pop star.
There’s just no getting around it, really: Ever since her name was called as one-fifth of the band that went on to become Girls Aloud during the finale of the 2002 reality series Pop Stars: The Rivals, the Lincolnshire-born redhead with porcelain skin stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the pristine pop quintet. There was something special about Nicola, something different–dare say “alternative” about the then 17-year-old songstress.
Roberts made her mark in the Aloud as the quiet, quirky vocalist responsible for some of the band’s most memorable moments–the opening seconds of “Untouchable,” the second verse of “Whole Lotta History,” the show-stopping bridge of “Call The Shots.” More often than not, it was Roberts’ shaky, vulnerable vocals that placed an ice-coated cherry on top of some of the Aloud’s finest work.
But being “different” can often be problematic, and for Nicola, induction into the Almighty Aloud was nearly a curse: From the get go, Roberts was relentlessly teased and bullied in the British tabloids for her appearance, as well as an apparent bad attitude: “Ginger.” “Pale.” “Ugly.” In 2003, Busted‘s Matt Willis pronounced her a “rude ginger bitch,” a nickname that the press fondly appropriated for years. And despite the best efforts made by her fellow bandmates to protect her against seeing the stories, Roberts was still well aware of the continuous public mockery, leading to several years of excessive drinking and an unhealthy obsession with tanning.
Lest anyone be confused and think she simply stood there and dealt with the criticism however, it’s simply not true: Nicola Roberts has always found ways to fight back.
During a performance at G-A-Y in London in 2003 for instance, the quiet crooner took a cheeky stab at Matt Willis’ attack by donning a black skirt with the words “RUDE GINGER BITCH…BOTHERD?!” painted on the back. Later on in her career, as Roberts slowly grew confident in her natural appearance, she would tackle her tanorexia head-on in an eye-opening BBC special, Nicola Roberts: The Truth About Tanning.
Now, with the release of debut record out on September 26, Cinderella’s Eyes, Roberts has gone one step further and turned the tables on her detractors completely with one loud, defiant rallying call: “TEAM GINGE.”
It was right after she first began posting demos on her MySpace–songs like 2007′s spacey “Surveillance” (which remains as next level today as it did the day she unleashed it upon the world), that I first took notice of Wynter Gordon, the 23-year-old underdog with a superstar’s worth of potential waiting to be unleashed each time she lays a pen to paper.
Just a few years after graduating from LaGuardia’s High School for the Performing Arts (alma mater of such notable acts as Kelis and Nicki Minaj), the young songstress had already notched herself a major writing credit with “Gonna Breakthrough,” a song from Mary J. Blige‘s Grammy Award-winning seventh studio album, The Breakthrough.
Ever since then, the co-writes and features (and unfortunately, the myriad leaks) only kept flowing for Wynter securing a spot on Danity Kane‘s 2008 sophomore record, Welcome To The Dollhouse (“2 Of You”), penning the impossibly catchy chorus of Flo-Rida‘s chart-topping 2009 radio smash “Sugar” and David Guetta‘s “Toyfriend,” joining The Freemasons on their essential 2010 summer jam “Believer” and, most recently, scribing three tracks off of Jennifer Lopez‘s stellar 2011 comeback record LOVE? including title track, “(What Is) Love?”
But despite all of her success as a writer, the song that truly launched Wynter as an artist in her own right was 2010′s “Dirty Talk,” a filthy-mouthed foray into kinky taunts and raunchy references to S&M above a dark disco beat that debuted nearly a year before Rihanna ever started crooning about her enthusiasm for chains and whips.
The song not only notched the singer’s first-ever #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance/Club Play stateside, but kept her straddling Australia’s ARIA Chart at #1 for three weeks in January (and the duration of Australia’s summer season).
Now, nearly four years since she first started making ripples across the blogosphere and beyond, the Queens-born singer/songwriter has finally released her long-awaited, much delayed debut: The fabulously titled With The Music I Die.