Monthly Archives: July 2011

THE NEXT WAVE OF POP RADIO

The tides are turning at pop radio. Over the past few months, different sounds have infiltrated the charts. Electropop has dominated the top 40 for almost the past three years and it’s starting to feel like it’s run its course. Here are some of the next trends I can see making a splash:

House
Although house music is often associated with the cheesy, one-hit wonders of the early 90s, I can see it making a comeback as a natural progression from electropop. Rihanna delved into synth-heavy, house territory on “Only Girl (In the World)” and the influences are all over Lady Gaga’s new album (particularly on “Marry the Night” and “Scheiße”). Max Martin also tried it out on Britney’s “Up N Down,” only a bonus track on “Femme Fatale,” but one of the most downloaded cuts on iTunes. I’m just waiting for a big-voiced diva (think Whitney’s “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay”) to really hit it home.

Ballads
Sure, there have been a few one-off ballad hits on pop radio over the past few years, but they’re few and far between. Rihanna couldn’t even score a big hit with “California King Bed,” following a string of number ones. However, if anyone can bring them back, it’s Adele. Coming off a massive hit and the number one album of the year, “Someone Like You” should have no problem at least getting noticed. Hopefully pop radio gives “Someone Like You” a chance and Adele doesn’t follow in the footsteps of Cee Lo Green and Amy Winehouse (R.I.P.), with only one big (novelty) hit in the U.S. It will also be interesting to see how radio responds to “Yoü and I,” a very different sound for Lady Gaga and after ten singles, her first ballad.

Alternative Rock
Before it was even officially announced as a single, radio jumped on Rihanna’s “Cheers (Drink to That).” You may be wondering why I’m mentioning that under this category. I’ve seen quite a few people say “Cheers” reminds them of the alternative rock crossover hits of the late 90s. At first, I didn’t hear it either. But, after going back and listening to songs like Semisonic’s “Closing Time” and “Save Tonight” by Eagle-Eye Cherry, I get it. It’s definitely a different sound for her and I’d love to see alternative rock make a comeback as opposed to more disposable pop/rock. I don’t think Rihanna’s the artist to bring back alternative rock, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere.

Eastern Europop
Another natural progression from electropop is the Eastern European-influenced dance sound. Enrique Iglesias and Jennifer Lopez both scored comeback hits with Eastern European dance-tinged songs (“Tonight (I’m Lovin’ You)” and “On the Floor” respectively) and new artists have also recently made their debut on the pop charts with a similar sound. Romanian singers Edward Maya and Vika Jigulina had a surprise hit with “Stereo Love” earlier this year and Alexandra Stan (a fellow Romanian) is poised to break the U.S. with her international smash, “Mr. Saxobeat.” Keep it coming from Romania, because I like what I’m hearing.

R&B
R&B hasn’t gone anywhere, but it’s certainly not dominating the pop charts like it was in the early 2000s. However, songs like Nicole Scherzinger’s “Right There” and Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Into You” are getting more attention on the pop charts now than they probably would have a few months ago at the height of the electropop craze. Most surprisingly is Kelly Rowland’s “Motivation,” which just entered the top 40. Her track record on pop radio is less than stellar and this song sounds tailor-made for rhythmic/urban radio. Is top 40 radio finally ready for more R&B jams?

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TRY AGAIN (AND AGAIN)

Nicole Scherzinger has a hit. Kelly Rowland has a hit. The world is not over.

Nicole Scherzinger the former lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls, has been trying to land a hit solo single for years. After releasing four songs in 2007, none of which were exactly smashes, her album was shelved. So, what’s changed? Maybe the Pussycat Dolls stigma has worn off? On the flip side, maybe no one actually noticed the Pussycat Dolls weren’t the girls dancing behind her in the “Right There” video? Maybe people can finally pronounce her last name? Whatever it is, Nicole Scherzinger’s “Right There” is picking up steam on radio and iTunes. Strangely enough, Interscope followed the same pattern that led to Scherzinger’s flop in 2007. Both “Whatever U Like” (Nicole’s debut solo single, for those of you who missed it) and “Right There” are urban-leaning tracks that respectively feature rent-a-rappers T.I. and 50 Cent. Earlier this year, Nicole released a more dance-oriented album, “Killer Love” overseas. I was surprised they didn’t go for one of the RedOne produced tracks in the states as well, but it looks like they made the right decision. Now, the question is, will the X Factor do for Nicole’s career what “American Idol” did for Jennifer Lopez and “The Voice” for Christina Aguilera? We shall see.

The only person who’s released more “first singles” than Nicole Scherzinger is Kelly Rowland. The single releases for this album campaign kicked off over a year ago with “Commander.” It was a hit overseas, but failed to do anything in the states. A few other singles were released after that, but met the same fate. Similar to Nicole, I thought her label would have pushed the more dance-leaning Guetta produced tracks, but “Motivation,” a strictly R&B joint featuring Lil Wayne, has become Kelly’s first bonafide hit since her start as a solo artist in 2002.

With both of these girls moving away from the dance/electropop trend and scoring hits, it begs the question: have we reached the end of an era? We all know music comes and goes in cycles and I can see the beginnings of a change…

These two girls have a lot in common. They’re both coming from girl groups and have been floating around the industry for years, but have never scored a solo hit. They’ve also never had any sort of definable image or sound, so hopefully they take what’s working and run with it. Regardless, the moral of the story is, if at first you don’t succeed, pick yourself up and try again.

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RIH-INVENTION

When Rihanna released her debut single, “Pon de Replay,” it looked like she was heading for one-hit-wonder-dom. It was a catchy, island-flavored ditty perfect for the summer. It was a hit, but her album sales weren’t great and her stage presence left a lot to be desired. She wasn’t as strong of a singer as Beyoncé and couldn’t move like Ciara, so did we really need another one-named entertainer? Fast forward five years and Rihanna’s one of the biggest stars in the world.

How did Rihanna go from basic island girl to international superstar? She quickly kept a stream of albums and singles coming and differentiated herself from the pack. These are two very important lessons for new artists. After you release your debut album and gain some momentum, don’t wait another two years to release something else. People will forget about you. One album and handful of it singles is not enough to solidify your spot in pop music. Rihanna released “Music of the Sun” in August 2005, “A Girl Like Me” in April 2006 and “Good Girl Gone Bad” in May 2007. This one-two-three punch helped make Rihanna a star. She kept the hits coming and remained visible in a fast paced market. Lady Gaga did the same thing by releasing “The Fame Monster” EP to hold fans over and remain relevant in-between full-length albums. Even five albums into her career, Rihanna released “Loud” less than a year after “Rated R.” When you’re a new artist, keep the albums and singles coming. Your fans won’t lose interest and you can continue touring and promoting new material. If a debut starts slow or an album underperforms, release a follow-up quickly and don’t give pop music listeners the chance to latch on to the “next big thing,” leaving you in the dust.

Even with her somewhat shaky start, Rihanna always had something different. Hailing from Barbados, the island influence can be heard in a lot of her music and many of her biggest hits. That’s not something other artists (like the aforementioned Beyoncé) can pull off, at least not convincingly. Rihanna’s hair has also been an instrumental force in her career. Yes, her hair. Ten years ago, all it took was long, blonde hair to be a pop star. Now, you have to think outside the box. Katy Perry’s career exploded when she plopped a blue wig on her head and Lady Gaga’s sported every color of the rainbow at one point or another (and sometimes simultaneously). Rihanna’s first bold hair move was chopping it all off for “Good Girl Gone Bad” and setting herself apart from all the weave-wearing pop star pack. It was a little darker and moodier than her counterparts, providing an alternative to glossier female stars. She’s currently sporting a shade of red, once again going for something different, and complimenting Perry’s smurf look quite nicely. In all seriousness, image is important and Rihanna found a definable image along the way that has matched the sound of her music for each era. In addition to developing her look, she also found her stage presence and personality.

Rihanna was not a superstar when she first came out. It took a couple years. There are some stars like Britney and Gaga that have it from the get go. Rihanna’s become a much better singer and performer over the past five years. Continuing to release material and promote allowed her to hone her craft and become more comfortable onstage. Rihanna’s gone through more transformations in five years than most artists do in double that time, constantly releasing new music and changing up her image. This makes it seem like Rihanna’s been around for much longer and has further solidified her status as a superstar. With rumors of either a “Loud” rerelease or entirely new LP this fall, it looks like Rihanna won’t be slowing up anytime soon, and why would she? She’s 23 and on top of the world. I’m just looking forward to seeing how Rihanna will reinvent herself this time around…

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WHERE HAVE ALL THE BOY BANDS GONE?

It’s been years since a traditional boy band or girl group have hit it big in the US. In the late 90s and early 2000s, groups like *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, Destiny’s Child, Spice Girls and TLC were dominating the charts. What happened?

There’s definitely a stigma surrounding groups, because most people see them as gimmicky. The “manufacturing” of endless boy bands in an attempt to mimic the success of *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys by other labels certainly gave prefab pop groups a bad name. In order for another boy band to girl group to breakthrough, the process of putting them together will have to be much more organic.

There have been some successful girl groups in the past decade, like the Pussycat Dolls and Danity Kane, but both groups fizzled after two albums, plagued by infighting between the members. In the case of the Pussycat Dolls, the group was obviously built to launch front woman Nicole Scherzinger as a solo star. This was pretty apparent to anyone watching or listening to them and can be off-putting for fans of the entire group. Sure, there are always inevitably one or two members that standout, but in order for a group to achieve long-term success and make an impact, each member has to have an identity and share the spotlight.

The time is also right for a group explosion. Within the past few years, the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, have all proven that tween pop is still an incredibly viable marketplace. We’ve had breakout male and female solo stars and “bands,” but a good old singing and dancing troupe of teens has yet to hit it big. The audience is there, but the niche hasn’t been filled.

This fall, the X Factor debuts in the US, where unlike “American Idol,” groups are allowed to audition. Will this be the platform to launch the next boy band or girl group? Maybe. It’s certainly not organic, and the entire show will undoubtedly be gimmicky, but with millions of people watching, it’s not a bad place to start. Also, if the demographic is similar to “American Idol,” with a large tween, female audience, it’s the perfect place to do it.

Boy bands and girl groups are also pretty versatile with the kind of music they can create. They thrived during the bubblegum pop explosion and have also rode the waves of hip-hop and R&B. However, with dance and electropop still dominating the airwaves, it makes things even easier.

Pop groups are still popular overseas, particularly in Asia and the UK. One of the UK’s most popular boy bands, The Wanted, is releasing their first single stateside this month (“All Time Low”). The question is, have we recovered from the fatigue of the teen pop explosion over a decade ago and are we ready to embrace boy bands and girl groups once again? I for one am ready to hear some solid, catchy pop harmonies and hooks once again.

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