So, this is something new and interesting.
The night before my interview with Sky Ferreira, I received a vaguely mysterious e-mail from MuuMuse reader Sam Lansky with an attachment entitled “Fame Fatale.” The e-mail suggested that the attached may assist me in preparing for my interview.
As soon as I began reading, I already knew: This had to be published immediately.
“Fame Fatale” is not only a remarkably in-depth analysis (and personal account) of Ferreira’s curious rise to fame, but a thoughtful contemplation of the manufacturing of the modern pop star and the very conventions of the music industry itself. It’s extremely well-researched, poses tough questions, and deserves your full attention.
With his permission, I’ve asked Sam to feature his article on MuuMuse. It’s an incredible piece, and I do highly recommend that all of my Muusers give it a thorough reading–even if it’s “tl;dr” territory.
I do, after all, hope to keep a literate company.
Click “Read More…” to read Sam Lansky’s “Fame Fatale: The Rise of Sky Ferreira.”
Reinvention can be a tricky thing.
The Bionic campaign began with the promise of a pop superstar’s futuristic return to the scene after an extended love affair with ’20s and ’30′s-inspired vintage sound. On the way back (to the future, if you will), Christina Aguilera would confront setback after setback in trying to properly relaunch herself.
In looking back at the campaign’s early stages, there’s little doubt that the Iamamiwhoami viral videos–now all but confirmed to be a project created by Swedish singer Jonna Lee–largely contributed to the initial deconstruction of the Bionic campaign’s magic.
For those unfamiliar, the mysterious web series first cropped up on the web in late 2009 as a series of two or three minute clips uploaded on YouTube. The videos featured an unidentifiable blonde frolicking around in the forest licking trees, rolling in mud–and generally just being weird–as lovely, lush electronica music played in the background.
While warped video and sound effects veiled the singer’s voice and face, early screen-shots from the clips all stubbornly pointed to the same source: Christina Aguilera.
At some point, most people began to believe–or at the very least, wanted to believe–that the “proof” photographs that circled the blogosphere did indeed come from Aguilera’s camp.
After all, the album was newly titled Bionic (which sounded forward-thinking), she was flying below the radar (filming Burlesque with Cher, as it turned out), and her album’s growing collaborator list was comprised of avant garde, left-of-center artists and producers like Ladytron, Hill & Switch, and Le Tigre.
So when the preview of the radio-friendly lead single “Not Myself Tonight” finally premiered on Aguilera’s website back in March, the hope that one of pop’s princesses was going deep underground quickly and definitively deflated.
“Not Myself Tonight,” too, was another major strike against Bionic. Production wise, the song sounded as though it were recorded in 2002; a by-the-numbers club banger that was neither bad nor particularly innovative. For a comeback track after an extended absence from the pop scene, however, the decision to release the song as the first single was devastating. The song’s final chart positions only further solidified proof of the folly, peaking at a modest #23 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The final blow against Aguilera came in the form of a new-found rival pitted against her in the media: Lady Gaga. Almost immediately after revealing the cover art and album title for Bionic (and truly, ever since her masked VMA performance in 2008), Aguilera continued to battle sharp, inaccurate criticism for allegedly lifting Gaga’s future-pop styling, eventually leading her to write a formal response to the drama on her website.
Yet anyone that truly understands pop should know that there’s no real style swiping between Gaga and Christina. They’re two blondes operating within the confines of the mainstream pop industry and both happen to hone excellent voices. Beyond that, there’s are few comparisons to make.
Their sounds are entirely separate, and as far as their artistry is concerned, Christina had been exploring issues of sexuality and dabbling in exotic fashions long before the name Lady Gaga ever hit the ears of most critics now lashing out against the singer. In fact, Gaga is probably one of the only artists that Christina doesn’t sound like on Bionic.
To be fair, the video for “Not Myself Tonight” did no favors in building a case for Christina as an artist in her own right. Scenes featured within the video depicted Aguilera in various states of undress and bondage, as well as shot-by-shot homages to Madonna‘s early ’90′s work including “Express Yourself,” “Human Nature,” and “Erotica.” While clearly out of reverence rather than unoriginality, the decision to release a video based on the work of another artist was ill-timed at best.
And so, at long last, comes Bionic–a record four years in the making, produced by the artists and producers that Aguilera admires, written to express her thoughts on womanhood, sexuality, and lifestyle.
Kicking off the new record comes its dubstep-laden title track “Bionic” which, while an excellent number, sounds as though it were lifted straight from the recording sessions of Santigold’s debut album back in 2008. It’s hardly surprising, given that the producers of the song are the very same who first worked with Santigold, but the general expectation behind an artist-producer collaboration is a creative middle ground that sounds entirely new (in theory, anyway).
“Many times imitated, not duplicated / Can’t be replaced,” Aguilera sings on top of the stuttering, grinding beats, she sings during the song’s second verse. Yet herein lies the problem with Bionic: It does sound duplicated.
One of the singer’s greatest weaknesses here is a propensity toward sounding like a mimic. From lifting Sia‘s warbling delivery style on “I Am,” to the dead-on imitation of M.I.A.‘s monotone delivery on “Elastic Love,” the singer seems to be so lost in the shuffle of talent that I can’t help but wonder if “Not Myself Tonight” would have made for a far more fitting title for the record.
Imitation aside however, there’s no denying that a great deal of Bionic is actually quite good.
Despite her reinvention into robot territory, Christina’s still found plenty of time to entertain her lady region (as with Back to Basics‘ “Still Dirrty”), including the booty-popping “Woohoo,” featuring Nicki Minaj, which finds the singer doling out instructions on how to navigate below the belt. “You don’t even need a plate, just your face, ha,” she offers during the instructional chorus.
There’s also the Latin-tinged “Desnudate,” a romping, stomping burst of breathy desires being purred into the listener’s ears. Further on, the tempo drops for a coo-heavy, Janet-esque offering with “Sex for Breakfast.”
Then there’s just plain self-indulgence, as with the album’s final moment, “Vanity,” a wonderfully cocky electro-pop ride through tongue-in-cheek lyricism. “Mirror mirror, on the wall / Who’s the flyest bitch of them all? / Never mind, I am,” Christina taunts off the top of the track before calling on her queens and launching into a flurry of bratty boasts.
Given all the controversy surrounding Christina’s pop star status in 2010 however, the irony sort of just writes itself in the final seconds of the song: “And the legacy lives on, going strong / Let us not forget who owns the throne,” Aguilera pompously declares. “You do, mommy,” baby Max responds. Crickets.
And while the gorgeous Linda Perry-penned ballad “Lift Me Up” is the next best candidate to follow Aguilera’s already established classics, “Beautiful” and “Hurt,” there’s little debate as to the album’s true shining moment(s), which comes in the shape of three Sia ballads: “I Am,” “You Lost Me,” and “All I Need.”
These songs aren’t just torch tracks–they’re the kind of next level balladry we’ve come to expect to come from the Australian singer-songwriter responsible for “Breathe Me.” Here is where Christina truly shines, delivering a wealth of vulnerability and control when needed and a signature yelp when it’s time to truly unleash.
At the same time, the album also suffers from a fair share of filler, including the noisy, childish chant of “I Hate Boys” and the needless noodling found on the rather unspectacular “Prima Donna.” “Glam” is another dud that, while initially promising, ultimately fails to inspire enough energy in the chorus to prove itself as fierce as the lyrics imply.
As one may gather from the song descriptions, the main issue with Bionic is that it lacks any solid musical identity, as well as any real sense of cohesion.
Perhaps if the album had been separated into a more logical two-disc process–a side for serious contemplation and sophisticated pop such as “Birds of Prey,” “Monday Morning,” (both of which having been unfairly ousted onto the second disc) “Bionic” and all of the killer ballads–as well as a side for the best of the sex-drenched club jams (“Vanity,” “Woohoo,” “Desnudate”), the package itself would be more appealing.
As it stands, Bionic is a convoluted set of semi-working parts that could use some serious rewiring. But while the machinery included within isn’t necessarily pieced together properly or as cutting edge as promised, there’s still good enough reason to invest in Aguilera’s latest reboot.
From the NRJ Awards in France on January 23, a performance of “Russian Roulette” from the impossibly chic Rihanna. The singer would later go on to win the International Female Artist of the Year that night. Congratulations, Riri!
On Friday night, Madonna performed “Like a Prayer” for the Hope for Haiti televised benefit. I’m not going to speak ill of a performance meant exclusively for charity, but her “new” face has left me feeling distraught. Please Madonna: Age gracefully, both in your career and your own skin. The world will love you that much more for it!
On the same show, Christina Aguilera performed the Linda Perry-penned “Lift Me Up” off of her upcoming album, Bionic. Avoiding the sometimes stomach-churning vocal acrobatics she’s sometimes akin to, Christina offers up an intense, emotional show of talent. A wonderful performance.
Finally, Justin Timberlake‘s performance of “Hallelujah” for Hope for Haiti, featuring Matt Morris. I don’t even care for Justin anymore, but this is stunning. No ego, no Timbaland. In case you forgot why he’s in the industry in the first place, watch this now.
Also from the NRJ Awards comes David Guetta‘s performance of “When Love Takes Over” featuring Kelly Rowland in person (and sounding as strong as ever), as well as “Sexy Bitch.” The entire performance is complimented/made strange by the synchronized dancing of the audience, which is fairly precious to watch. Once the giant robot on stilts come wandering out amid glitter-ball gals and the background burlesque dancers, I’m completely lost. But I wish I were there at the same time.
It’s a familiar situation: The songwriter seeking to transition to the stage.
For some artists, it’s worked. For others, not so much: While it seems Lady Gaga has all but eclipsed the songwriter title with her newly found icon status, other incredibly talented heavyweights, including Cathy Dennis (“Toxic,” “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”) and Linda Perry (“Get The Party Started,” “What You Waiting For?”) have garnered a moderate, niche popularity that, while enough to establish a devoted following, ultimately pales in comparison to the success enjoyed by the superstar singers of some of their greatest works.
It’s hard to say exactly where Keri Hilson will wind up along that scale. As one of today’s leading modern pop songwriters, she’s already proven herself as an accomplished talent, with credits on such radio smashes as Britney‘s “Gimme More,” Omarion‘s “Ice Box” and Timbaland‘s “The Way I Are.”
Yet her solo career singles, including “Energy” and “Knock You Down” have largely wavered in popularity. Of all the singles off of In A Perfect World…, the most successful of them all happen to sport a “featuring” spot from the likes of Kanye West, Lil’ Wayne and other mega-wattage superstars, ultimately begging the question: Can Keri carry herself as an artist in her own right?
“I Like” is Keri Hilson’s latest release, a German-only single penned by David Jost (Tokio Hotel) and Robin Grubert released on December 11. The song was selected as the theme song for the German film, ZweiohrkÃ¼ken, and has since peaked at #1 on the German Music Charts.
Though “I Like” seems destined to slip past the world’s radar, the smooth, slinky electro-tinged number happens to be one of Hilson’s finest solo tracks–and ironically, one which she had almost nothing to do with. According to an interview with songwriter David Jost, Hilson was selected because he thought she would supply “the perfect voice” for the track.
In a perfect world, this song would be rocketing up the radio charts right now, but just because the rest of the public hasn’t caught on to this sublime track doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.
I like, I like…I love.
One just wasn’t enough.
A little while after posting my initial “Most Anticipated” list for 2010 (read: approximately three seconds), I realized that I had left out far too many important upcoming releases that merit an equal amount of attention.
Let’s keep it going with another installment then!
Christina Aguilera, Bionic (Fourth studio album)
What it is: From WWII to the post-apocalypse, Christina’s upcoming reinvention in sight and sound is poised to raise the bar in pop next year.
Expected shelf date: March 2010.
Confirmed tracks: “You Lost Me,” “Monday Morning”
Production by: Goldfrapp, Ladytron, Sia, Le Tigre, M.I.A, Sam Endicott, Diplo & Switch, Linda Perry, Tricky Stewart
What we know: Loads. Every one of the producers and writers for the new album has been absolutely raving about their work with Christina. Tricky Stewart told Vibe that “She did things that sheâ€™s never necessarily heard on the radio.” Ladytron cannot seem to sing higher praises of Christina’s taste in music and talent in the studio. Sia’s called the songs they’ve wrote together “classical music beautiful” and “sad and awesome.” As far as what I personally know from my sources (such a cock tease!), it’s all sounding quite good.
MuuMuse hopes to hear: A shocking, next-level FutureSound set to knock Gaga down a peg or two.
Goldfrapp, Head First (Fifth studio album)
What it is: The new dawn of another era in Goldfrapp.
Expected shelf date: March 23, 2010.
Confirmed tracks: “Rocket”
Production by: Goldfrapp
What we know: From their official site, courtesy of Alison: “this album is very different from the last, but i hope you enjoy it just as much for different reasons. iâ€™m really looking forward to playing the new songs live as a lot of them are so up and jubilant. even the revenge songs are kind of joyous! its gonna be a blast!”
MuuMuse hopes to hear: Whatever they’ve got to offer. Who dislikes any of the Goldfrapp albums, honestly?
Sia, We Are Born (Fifth studio album)
What it is: The spunky follow-up to 2008′s Some People Have Real Problems, helmed by the producer behind Lily Allen‘s fabulous It’s Not Me, It’s You.
Expected shelf date: April 2010.
Confirmed tracks: “You’ve Changed,” “Clap Your Hands”
Production by: Greg Kurstin
What we know: The album is basically complete, and a new single will be released in the first quarter of 2010. It’s also full of happy, upbeat sounds a la “You’ve Changed,” which you can download at MuuMuse and “Clap Your Hands,” which has been performed live during her Australian tour.
MuuMuse hopes to hear: A brighter, poppier Sia with more hooks and melodies than ever before.
Nicki Minaj, TBA (Debut album)
What it is: After creating a handful of mixtapes and lending verses on literally everyone’s songs, Minaj will finally roll out her debut as one of the most promising female rappers since Lil’ Kim.
Expected shelf date: 1Q 2010.
Confirmed tracks: None.
Production by: Unknown.
What we know: It will be bossy, braggy, and full of Harajuku Barbie style. As the only female rapper on Young Money Entertainment, it will undoubtedly feature everyone from Drake to Lil’ Wayne.
MuuMuse hopes to hear: “Itty Bitty Piggy,” as well as more references to signing boobs and ‘poppin’ that pussy on his Suzuki so crazy kooky in them Daisy Dukies.
Janet Jackson, TBA (Eleventh studio album)
What it is: Returning to her original label A&M Records, Janet’s follow-up to 2008′s Discipline is a top priority release to send Jackson back to the top of the charts.
Expected shelf date: 2Q 2010.
Confirmed tracks: None yet, aside from the possible inclusion of “Make Me.”
Production by: According to the NY Daily News, Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins.
What we know: During her interview with Robin Roberts for ABC, Janet spoke a bit about her new material: “So far I’ve kept it light, but I’m sure it’s going to have its moments of getting a little heavy, a little deeper, lyrically speaking. I need a little bit of escapism right now…something that’s fun to listen to.”
MuuMuse hopes to hear: The classic Janet formula–two or three solid club bangers and a bunch of slinkier grooves a la “When We Oooo” and “That’s The Way Love Goes.” I’m also expecting some darker work and hopeful balladry, given the hardships she’s had to face over the past few months.