Category Archives: Successes

IDENTIFYING THE SUSPEX

Since the release of “Right Now” in 2000, Mitch Allan has been responsible for some seriously catchy tunes. Although “Right Now” may not be as ubiquitous as other power pop songs from the same era, like “All The Small Things” or “My Own Worst Enemy,” it’s equally strong in terms of craftsmanship. As part of the band SR-71, Allan co-wrote and produced “Right Now” with a name that might be even more familiar, Butch Walker. “Right Now” was included on SR-71’s debut 2000 release, Now You See Inside, which also included production from John Shanks. Along with Max Martin and Dr. Luke, Walker and Shanks helped define pop/rock music throughout the 2000s, writing and producing hits for A-list artists like Avril Lavigne, P!nk, Katy Perry, and Kelly Clarkson.

During that time, Allan also churned out some (hugely underrated) singles for artists like Jessie James and Katharine McPhee, contributed to platinum albums from Daughtry and Disney’s successful Camp Rock and Hannah Montana soundtracks, and was perhaps best known for writing Bowling for Soup’s ultimate guilty pleasure hit, “1985.” He also wrote American Idol’s 2009 coronation single, “No Boundaries,” with two equally talented songwriters, Kara DioGuardi (“Ain’t No Other Man”) and Cathy Dennis (“Toxic”). While on paper that sounds like it should have been an absolute smash, DioGuardi later admitted the song almost “destroyed” her career, so we’ll just leave it at that.

Although never quite reaching the status of superstar hitmaker like some of his contemporaries, even if he stopped there, Allan still would have achieved more success as a songwriter and producer than most could ever dream of. Lucky for us, he didn’t.

If you’re unfamiliar with The Suspex, that’s okay. I didn’t know exactly who–or what–it was until today. I heard the name associated with Demi Lovato’s “Heart Attack” and Fifth Harmony’s “Miss Movin’ On,” but never bothered to Google it. The best surprise is when you look something up you know nothing about and end up finding something familiar–which happens a lot in this industry. It’s even better when that something familiar is Mitch Allan, who has long deserved the kind of success as a songwriter and producer that he’s about to get. Paired with Jason Evigan, similarly from the alternative rock scene, the best pop music of the year is coming from a somewhat unlikely source. While the name might not yet sound familiar, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve definitely heard their work.

Heart Attack” (co-written with the phenomenal Nikki Williams), dominated the pop charts this spring. From the explosive opening (complete with strings!) to Lovato’s impressive layered vocals, the song is filled with hooks and legitimized her standing as one of the reigning teen queens in pop music. “Miss Movin’ On,” Fifth Harmony’s debut single following their third place finish on The X Factor, follows a similar sonic blueprint and looks to make them the first success story from the U.S. edition of the show–a female One Direction, if you will. Taking a page from other reality show successes, the single is reminiscent of Jordin Sparks’ powerful “Battlefield” and Kelly Clarkson’s sassy “Miss Independent” (maybe they were all screwed over by “Mr. Know It All”?), while still maintaining a fresh energy. Like Allan’s earliest pop/punk productions, the song kicks off with an intensity that builds throughout, complete with “we mean serious business” stomps on the bridge. The lyrics are also pretty clever and the way “So call me, call me, call me miss movin’ on” is structured will be stuck in your head for days, believe me.

Although not yet a single, “Save the Day,” The Suspex’s track on Selena Gomez’s new album, is the clear standout. Gomez apparently won “Save the Day” over J.Lo, and it’s clear to see why they both wanted it. The track has a similar world dance sound to some of J.Lo’s most recent work with RedOne (and even evokes the pinnacle of her dance pop material, “Waiting for Tonight”) except… it’s better. The guitar and drums remain prominent against a throbbing dance beat, elevating the song from the tired crop of rehashed, uninspired electropop tracks. And, thankfully, there are no jarring dubstep breaks.

Already responsible for three of the best pop songs of the year, according to their Facebook bio, the duo is currently working on tracks with Cassadee Pope, MKS (a.k.a. Sugababes 1.0), Lea Michele, Rita Ora, and Sia–just to name a few. Perhaps the go-to songwriting/production team for this decade have been positively identified?

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THE RIGHT WAY

I love it when something exciting happens on the charts and a new(ish) artist makes an unexpected debut. Without much promotion beyond social media and next to no radio airplay, Ariana Grande’s “The Way” shot to #1 on the iTunes charts within hours this week. It’s also placed within the top 20 on many iTunes charts worldwide. Granted, she has over 5 million Twitter followers, but artists with double that have released singles that have failed to do even half of what “The Way” has already accomplished. But before we get to that, let’s rewind a little bit.

At the end of 2011, Grande released “Put Your Hearts Up.” The juvenile single butchered a sample of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up” (I don’t know in what world that made any sense) and came complete with incredibly cheesy artwork and an equally terrible video. Everything about this single release has been a stark contrast from that. Even though the video for “The Way” is a low budget affair, it’s not something that looks like it would better suit a 12-year-old. It’s age appropriate and she makes out with Mac Miller at the end, which, at the very least, provides a memorable scene that will get people talking (and speculating). A juicy rumor is always helpful when jumpstarting a career and it’s the kind of thing that will send her young fans into a frenzy.

The song itself is sexy, but subtle enough in a way that it’s not desperate. Teen acts, especially coming from Disney or Nickelodeon, seem to never strike an appropriate balance as recording artists. It’s either too cheesy (see: Selena Gomez “Who Says”) or too overt (see: Miley Cyrus circa “Can’t Be Tamed”). Looking at the most recent crop of Disney stars that have released extremely juvenile material and maintained similarly vanilla images, it’s hard to imagine that Britney Spears released “…Baby One More Time” at sixteen-years-old. In 1998, she seductively cooed and showed her midriff and everyone survived. In fact, that’s why she became one of the biggest pop stars on the planet and why Hilary Duff, Selena Gomez, et al. will never be.

“…Baby One More Time” didn’t sound like a sixteen-year-old was singing it, and “The Way” doesn’t exactly sound like a nineteen-year-old’s record (at least in the post-2001 era, where everything has been significantly toned down for teen acts). Grande’s voice and delivery (the breathy vocals, mixed with some powerhouse moments, and those whistle notes!) is reminiscent of Mariah Carey and that makes people pay attention. If the song came on the radio, I’m sure people would listen a little closer and wonder, “Who is this?” While sounding like another singer can be both a blessing and a curse, I think it’s a good thing for Ariana. Besides, if you have to be compared to another female vocalist, Mariah Carey isn’t too shabby. It’s the kind of comparison her PR people can really milk for some extra attention.

Beyond the lyrics and delivery, “The Way” is also a welcome throwback to the late 90s (or mid-2000s) pop/R&B and doesn’t follow the Dr. Luke-produced electropop trend (it’s on the way out, believe me). It’s a light, refreshing jam that sounds perfect for spring and summer, complete with a Big Pun sample (yes, the same one that Thalia used on her one and only crossover single). Miller also adds a bit of a “cool” factor that will further legitimize Grande as more than a Victorious cast member trying to launch a singing career. Like “…Baby One More Time,” it’s just sexy enough that it will reach an audience beyond 12-year-old girls and hopefully establish Grande as an actual recording artist, and not just a Nickelodeon star.

With Z100 and KIIS already on board, it doesn’t look like her quick ascent to the top of the iTunes chart will be a flash in the pan (a la Tamar Braxton’s “Love and War.”) She needs to continue visiting radio stations across the country and secure some high profile performance spots. She certainly has the chops to pull off a solid performance and hopefully her stage presence is equally impressive. A slutty Rolling Stone cover might also help, but I digress. If not, she will go the way of Leona Lewis, who is doing something, somewhere right now. On a similar note, Jordin Sparks co-wrote this song, so I hope she enjoys the royalty checks.

I also hope Grande has a killer ballad to include on her album. She definitely has the voice to do it. Mariah Carey built her early career on ballads and released “Vision of Love” at 20-years-old. I understand that we’ve been conditioned over the past decade to accept 20-year-olds singing about sleepovers and Barbie dolls, but with ballads also making a comeback on pop radio, Grande could really seal the deal with a modern slow jam.

Ariana’s got people talking, listening, and buying. Here’s to hoping they don’t drop the ball and keep the forward momentum going. I think she’s got what it takes…

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A LITTLE BIT COUNTRY, A LITTLE BIT ROCK & ROLL

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In 2010, I featured Hey Monday in a “…Should be More Famous” post. Fast forward a couple years, and the band’s lead singer, Cassadee Pope, just won The Voice. I’m a sucker for music competition shows, but the previous two seasons of The Voice didn’t possess a single competitor who had star quality. Cassadee does. Now, let’s hope they don’t screw it up.

During her stint on the show, three of Cassadee’s cover songs hit #1 on iTunes. All three of them were country tunes. With the success of those singles and Blake Shelton as her mentor, there’s undoubtedly going to be some push for her to go country. But, Cassadee’s not a country artist. Given her history with Hey Monday and (apparently unconditional) love of Avril Lavigne, it’s pretty clear her heart lies in pop/rock. And let’s face it–Blake’s legion of fans were probably the ones more apt to download “Over You” as opposed to “Not Over You.” Having her record a country album would be like Carrie Underwood releasing a rock record based on the popularity of her Idol performance of “Alone.” Even with Blake’s blessing, it would probably be an uphill battle for Cassadee on country radio. First and foremost, she’s a female. She also has tattoos and used to front a pop/rock band. Cue the shock and horror. All the country starpower in the world won’t change the minds of country radio’s staunchy PDs. But, I digress and will save that rant for another post.

Although it wouldn’t be in her best interest to release a full on country album, that doesn’t mean country songwriters shouldn’t be commissioned to work on her debut. In fact, they absolutely should. Above all, it’s Cassadee interpretation of the lyrics that sold those songs. Something like an updated version of her cover of Faith Hill’s “Cry” would work–and based on what I’ve heard Cassadee tell the press, that’s exactly what she’s looking for. Songs with solid stories can be backed by instruments besides fiddle, banjo or steel guitar. It’s also a given that Blake will appear on her debut album and a duet in the vein of “Just a Fool,” would be just as perfect for him and Cassadee as it was for him and Christina. Pairing well-written songs with Cassadee’s signature sound would be an appealing compromise for both the pop/rock and country fans she’s attracted throughout the course of her career and the show.

When it all comes down to it, Cassadee just needs a great song–and quick. On one hand, there’s nothing worse than a rushed album with lackluster singles and a bunch of filler; I’m not saying her album has to be out in a month (even though Cassadee is apparently ready to release something as soon as January). But, they need to, at the very least, release the lead single during the spring season of The Voice. If the previous winner doesn’t have any original material out before the next cycle’s champion, then they run the risk of quickly being forgotten. The album doesn’t have to be her “Breakaway,” just her “Thankful.” She can try on some different sounds and genres, but the first single has to be great. I understand why talent show winners, like The Voice’s very own Jermaine Paul or The X Factor’s Melanie Amaro, didn’t get good material to release. Their success was confined to the few months within the show and they never really had a shot on mainstream relevancy. Cassadee does. Based on what I’ve heard, it seems like Cassadee has a clear, and ambitious, sense of what she needs to do and when she needs to do it by. I hope that once more people (i.e. the label) start getting involved in the project, it doesn’t stray off course. In fact, I hope she’s writing a hit song with her roommate, Alli Tamposi, of “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” as I’m posting this…

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THE NEW MUSIC TELEVISION

Before banking on newlywed pop stars, drunken guidos and pregnant teens, MTV actually lived up to its name and offered music programming. I grew up during the TRL era, where I could count on coming home from school and being exposed to new artists and music on a daily basis. Without TRL, we may not be still enjoying artists like Britney Spears, Eminem, Justin Timberlake, and Beyoncé. But, with the rise of streaming video sites and interactive social media platforms, TRL’s novelty wore off.

Since the rise of the internet, MTV has all but abandoned music programming. I get it. People can go on YouTube and watch whatever they want, whenever they want. While I don’t necessarily miss the abbreviated music video clips played on TRL, I do miss MTV as a tastemaker. I miss Carson Daly and the VJs who facilitated discussion about music and allowed viewers to call in and send messages. The scrolling comments at the bottom of the screen acted as Twitter before Twitter. Yes, while the majority of them may have been, “I love Backstreet Boys!! *NSYNC sux!,” it was nice to see people interacting and talking about music. But, who’s to say a similar platform can’t exist online? While the internet may have killed traditional music television, it’s the perfect place to usher in a new wave of music programming.

MTV could have easily moved some of its music programming online. Shows like TRL, or even Say What? Karaoke, would have thrived as steaming, interactive online programs that integrated social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. But, when it comes to music, MTV’s the old model–stuck in the past. They’ve certainly adapted to make money, with successful reality shows like The Hills and Jersey Shore, but have undoubtedly lost sight of the music in music television. That’s where YouTube comes in. Much like MTV in its prime, YouTube is the place where people go to watch music videos and discover new artists (Justin Bieber, anyone?). It only makes sense that with YouTube launching 100 new digital channels this year, one of the first would be dedicated to discovering what’s next in music: myISH.

The recently launched myISH YouTube channel already has lots of promising content. Their hosts, or VJs (maybe we should call them YJs, YouTube jockeys?), post daily ISHpicks, featuring both established and undiscovered talent, ranging from Madonna and Nicki Minaj to Chairlift and John West. While the hosts, Elliott Aronow, Anthony Hull, and Hesta Prynn shine individually, it’s even more fun when they’re together. On the first installment of Open Mic, they shoot the shit about J.Lo’s “supposed” nip slip at the Oscars. Beyond discussing famous areola, these guys really know their music and make a great team. They’re likable, witty, and have good taste. It’s nice to see people actually discussing music and serving as tastemakers again. Sure, you can read blogs (much like this one) to discover new artists. But, seeing the videos and getting to know the hosts, adds another dimension of personality and entertainment to the mix. For some comedic relief, YouTube sensation Michael Buckley countdowns the top 7 “I am beautiful no matter what they say” songs on the first ISHlist. Considering we’ve been inundated with with these songs over the past year or so, it’s a timely feature that’s a great pick-me-up when you’re feeling like a plastic bag.

myISH also has active Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Tumblr pages, adding even more interactivity beyond YouTube’s platform. The hosts encourage comments and actually engage in discussion beyond the videos. Essentially, myISH takes what killed music television and uses it to its advantage. People are still interested in music-related content. However, where and how they get it has changed. myISH capitalizes on that, combining the best of music programming, with the interactivity of the internet.

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WHY DO YOU THINK THEY CALL HER JESSIE JAMES?

It looks like Jessie James is finally getting her due time. Since her pop debut in 2009, Jessie’s remained one of the most underrated artists in the business. However, with her new country single climbing the iTunes charts, that’s all about to change.

Jessie’s not only a talented writer (her unreleased demos, like the personal “Newnan High,” are better than most artist’s singles), but she’s also an effortless vocalist. I mean effortless in the sense that she sounds exactly the same live as she does recorded and doesn’t feel the need to constantly oversing (I’m looking at you Christina Aguilera). She also performs while chewing gum. Now that’s talent.

Jessie’s sound is a throwback to the golden age of 90s female country (see: Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Martina McBride) that blended traditional Southern twang with the melodic stylings and instrumentation of pop and adult contemporary. She’s a breath of fresh air for country with a little bit of nostalgia to remind listeners of of the songs they grew up singing along to. Her new single, “When You Say My Name” is reminiscent of Faith’s “This Kiss,” a cute, mid-tempo love song that’s perfect ear candy for spring. If anyone’s going to follow in the footsteps of those female country greats, it’s going to be Jessie James. She’s truly the whole package and has already proven she’s capable of churning out catchy, relatable crossovers. She’s one to watch this year!

Her new single, “When You Say My Name,” is now available on iTunes. Katy Perry bought it. So should you.

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YOU CAN’T HAVE EVERYTHING


I don’t care what Lana Del Rey sounds like. For one thing, look at her. You can’t have everything.

No, I don’t only listen to attractive singers. However, so much of Lana Del Rey’s aesthetic is reflected in her music. The common themes of excess, beauty, nostalgia, summertime, lust, heartbreak and the American Dream are expressed over and over again in “Born To Die.” All of those things can also be seen in Lana Del Rey. That’s what makes her so captivating.

What Lana lacks in vocal talent, she makes up for in intrigue. She certainly doesn’t have a commanding stage presence, but there’s just something about her. She’s the only one who can deliver the music she does in the way that she does.

Lana also has something so many artists don’t–a story. What’s even better, no one seems to know whether it’s real, fabricated, or a combination of both. Are those lips real? Is daddy a millionaire? Who exactly is Lana Del Rey? I, for one, am going to keep watching (and listening) until I find out.

So, Lana, keep awkwardly twirling and petting your hair on stage. It doesn’t phase me. I mean, as long as you look hot while doing it.

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WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU MAKES YOU STRONGER

Kelly Clarkson’s relationship with RCA has been a point of fan contention since her public battle with the label during the controversial “My December” era. Following the 6x Platinum “Breakaway,” Clarkson decided to ditch the radio friendly writers and producers (Max Martin, Dr. Luke, John Shanks) and go the singer-songwriter route, penning the entire album herself. Although the album was personal, it didn’t contain any smash hits. However, Clarkson fought for its release and RCA fought back—releasing and promoting only one single off the album.

After an underperforming album, it’s not uncommon for an artist to go back to what made them popular in the first place. However, the damage control following “My December” was blatantly obvious. Clarkson ditched the dark image and came back with the Max and Luke-produced single “My Life Would Suck Without You,” which almost instantly hit number one on the Hot 100. The album, “All I Ever Wanted” attempted to recreate the glory days of “Breakaway,” but felt more like a collection of rehashes than a cohesive offering. It was also released at the height of the electropop explosion, which didn’t coincide Clarkson’s more traditional pop/rock sound. Although the first single was a chart-topper, “I Do Not Hook Up,” the Katy Perry-penned second release derailed the project’s momentum. Shockingly, pop radio’s average listener wasn’t looking for the hottest new abstinence anthem. The album also didn’t connect with the public, only selling marginally better than “My December.” It was clear, this wasn’t all Clarkson (or her fans) ever wanted.

It’s been somewhat of a rough ride for Clarkson since 2007, but with the release of Clarkson’s fifth album, “Stronger,” it seems like the singer and her label are finally back on the same page. Although the first single, “Mr. Know It All,” was a slow grower, it helped push the album to nearly 500,000 sold and became another top 10 hit on the Hot 100 for Clarkson. The song helped reestablish Clarkson on her core formats (pop and adult contemporary) and paved the way for the release of “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” Not since “Since U Been Gone” has Clarkson had such a surefire hit on her hands. It’s in the same empowering vein of “you are who you are born this way like a perfect firework,” but with a typical Clarkson post break-up twist. It’s also retains her pop/rock sound and classic sing your lungs out vocals, but with electropop hints. Approaching the top 5 on iTunes and top 30 on pop radio before its official adds date, it doesn’t look like “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) will be another “I Do Not Hook Up.” While RCA could have gone with this right out the gate, they most likely would have ended up with another “All I Ever Wanted”-esque era. However, instead of copying “Breakaway’s” sound for this album cycle, they copied its release schedule and promotion. A slow burning first single, followed by an anthemic smash will give this album legs and ensure the success of future singles.

Also, in a stark contrast to the “My December” era, RCA’s confidence in “Stronger” can be seen in terms of its promotion. Since the album’s release, Clarkson has had several high profile appearances, including: The X-Factor, Vh1 Divas, and American Music Awards. Not to mention, she has the Superbowl and Grammys on deck. Her participation in the iHeartRadio concert and several holiday radio shows, also helped set up the song nicely for early radio play. There’s also the inescapable Toyota commercial that features Clarkson and “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” Unlike Jennifer Lopez’s Fiat ads, it has done wonders for her downloads.

This was an opportune (and pivotal) time for Clarkson to make her return. Not only is the recent wave of female artists on pop radio starting to wane, but fellow pop-rockers, P!nk, Katy Perry, and Avril Lavigne are currently wrapping up their albums or off the scene. At almost 30-years-old and after a decade in the business, RCA and Clarkson had to make sure this album was a success for the sake of her longevity. For a while, people were asking, “What happened to Kelly Clarkson?” Well, after the likely ubiquitous success of “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” it looks like people will finally have the answer.

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