IN DOUBT

NoDoubt

Less than three months after releasing their “comeback” album, No Doubt is back in the studio with Shellback, one of the industry’s go-to radio friendly pop producers (see: “Moves Like Jagger,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “I Wanna Go”). After a decade-long hiatus between albums, No Doubt’s “Push and Shove” didn’t incite any of the excitement as suggested by the album’s title and failed to reestablish the band as hitmakers. So, what went wrong?

The first signs of trouble came with the album’s numerous push backs. After reuniting in 2009, No Doubt went on tour after hitting a snag in the studio. Following the tour, the album finally came to fruition, but was held back for release until the fall of this year. Any time a label sits on an album for an extended period of time, it’s an indication that something is wrong. It’s likely Interscope didn’t hear any surefire hits and were pushing for a collaboration with Shellbeck (or one of his cohorts, like Max Martin or Dr. Luke) in the first place. At this point, No Doubt has certainly earned the right to record and release the music they want. However, the rush back to the studio with one of today’s hottest mainstream producers is certainly telling. The majority of “Push and Shove” was produced by Mike “Spike” Stent, who also produced a bulk of No Doubt’s 2001 release, “Rock Steady,” including the hit singles “Hey Baby” and “Underneath It All.” That album went double platinum. “Push and Shove” is struggling to cross 200,000 units, which even in today’s climate, is pretty abysmal for an “eagerly awaited” (or apparently not so) comeback.

It comes down to more than just the music that stalled No Doubt’s return. Yes, the majority of the album lacks the qualities of both the music popular today and what made their past hits huge successes. The project’s first single, “Settle Down,” had the most potential to reintroduce No Doubt to the mainstream market. While it wasn’t an ear worm in the “Call Me Maybe” sense, it was catchy enough and reminiscent of the band’s past hits. Unfortunately, the release was botched from the get go. Instead of releasing a radio edit to iTunes, only the six minute album version was released. While I legally downloaded the (unnecessarily long) single, I also illegally downloaded the radio edit and listened to that far more often. In today’s culture of iPod playlists (whether it be for a party, car ride or the gym), a six minute song drags. It’s fine to include on the album, but not so much for a digital single. Additionally, the single’s debut performance was on the Teen Choice Awards. While this may have been a desperate bid to capture the tween market, it was just… out of place. The 12-year-olds watching the Teen Choice Awards for Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez are not going to download No Doubt’s new single. Although Gwen looks great for her age, a band of 40-year-olds isn’t going to pique the interest of today’s teens who weren’t even alive for No Doubt’s heyday. The Teen Choice Awards was not the right venue to stage a comeback performance for No Doubt.

The release of the album’s second single was just as messy. After “Settle Down” slid down the chart, the album was released without a current single to support it. The title track, produced by Diplo, was put on iTunes and supported by a video, but never actually pushed as a single (and likely wouldn’t have worked on any format at radio). Instead, “Looking Hot” was released, complete with a Native American-themed video. As you can image, that didn’t go over well and was almost immediately pulled. While this probably resulted in more publicity for No Doubt than they received the entire era, it didn’t translate into sales or radio play. As “Settle Down” was to “Hey Baby,” “Looking Hot” was to “Hella Good”–a less catchy, watered down version of a past hit. Even after the video was pulled, No Doubt performed the single on the American Music Awards and The X Factor in the UK. But, all the controversies and promotion in the world couldn’t save the song or album. So, here we are.

Before the release of this album, No Doubt embarked on a successful greatest hits/comeback tour. But, they can’t go on another one. Unless No Doubt is content with being a legacy act and living off old hits, they need to repackage “Push and Shove” in the first quarter of 2013 and score a hit to support a tour. There is enough material on the album to occupy their fans without having to record an entirely new record. At this point, “No Doubt” needs to tack on their own “Moves Like Jagger.” As history has shown, one hit single is all that’s needed to reignite interest in a faltering project. No Doubt and Gwen still have name recognition and with the right song, could garner support from radio and the music buying public. I believe No Doubt can have a comeback. This just wasn’t it.

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BREAKING & ENTERING

I’ve been following Nikki since hearing her music on MySpace a few years ago (back when MySpace was still relevant). Yes, this is the same girl who wrote Lauren Alaina’s “Like My Mother Does” and appears on the Country Strong soundtrack. However, it’s been quite a few years since then, and her music has certainly evolved. Her first single, “Kill, Fuck, Marry” written by Sia and produced by StarGate, is a very solid introduction. The song sounds like something Lana Del Rey, Neon Hitch, or even Rihanna would record, but Nikki’s voice really makes the track something special. Like the aforementioned artists, she has a great tone, but with some real power behind it (she sounds just as good, if not even better, in this acoustic performance of the track). Nikki’s also been in the studio with Max Martin, Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, Toby Gad, and Dallas Austin, and judging by the quality of this song and video, Island Def Jam has high hopes for this girl. Get to know Nikki Williams before everyone else does–I guarantee you’ll be hearing a lot about her in 2013!

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Filed under Future, New Music, New Singles

CAN YOU BLOW MY WHISTLE?

People love songs laced with some sexual innuendo–whether they realize it or not. When I was seven, jamming to B*Witched’s “C’est La Vie” at Discovery Zone, I didn’t quite grasp “Do you play with the girls, play with the boys? Do you ever get lonely playing with your toys?” or “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” And let’s not even talk about all the huffing, puffing, and blowing in the pre-chorus. Songs that are a little dirty (not Christina Aguilera “dirrty”) tend to do well. Some of the most memorable pop songs are the ones that sound like confectionary treats, but aren’t actual so sweet. In honor of Flo Rida’s summer smash “Whistle,” check out some of the best pseudo-naughty singles below.

“Whistle” Flo Rida

A strong contender for number one one the Hot 100 next week, Flo Rida’s “Whistle” is currently carrying the torch for songs that are just a bit cheeky. When he’s politely asking for someone to blow his whistle, I don’t think he means the kind you wear around your neck.

“Glad You Came” The Wanted

Boybands have a long history of lyrics that make you go, “Is that what they really mean?” It’s genius for their demographic. It gives their young female fans something to ponder at sleepovers and share with their friends like dirty little secrets. The Wanted continued that tradition with their breakout hit. They’re glad you came… to the party, of course.

“Milkshake” Kelis

One of the world’s greatest unsolved mystery is Kelis’ “Milkshake.” While no one knows exactly what Kelis is referring to, we know it’s naughty. Take a look (and listen, I guess) and decide for yourself.

“Liquid Dreams” O-Town

I remember watching this video on TRL and having no idea why they were dancing in a CGI water tunnel and singing about “liquid” dreams. I get it now.

“…Baby One More Time” Britney Spears

What exactly does 16-year-old Britney, dressed in her Catholic school girl uniform, want you to hit? It’s one of the most memorable debut singles ever, but it’s meaning is still a bit unclear. Maybe the ellipsis in the title say it all…

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THE NEXT ALT POP HIT

As Top 40 radio becomes more and more influenced by digital sales, catchy alternative tracks have been making their way onto station’s playlists. Between the influx of electropop songs and offerings from radio darlings like Katy Perry and Rihanna, alternative acts have scored some of the biggest (and most memorable) hits on pop radio over the past year. From last summer’s smashes, like Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep” and Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” to more recent hits, like fun.’s “We Are Young” and Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” alternative-leaning tracks have become Top 40 staples. Who’s next?

The making of an alt pop hit usually comes on the heels of a Glee cover and/or commercial sync (both very indie). Like “We Are Young” and “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Grouplove’s “Tongue Tied” was recently covered on Glee. It was also featured in Apple’s iPod touch commercial late last year. Although it didn’t take off right away, all of the aforementioned tracks were slow builders–mostly floating around the iTunes Top 100 before exploding on pop radio. “Tongue Tied” is currently in this position, while slowly gaining more Top 40 support. A few weeks ago, it was added by KIIS, the same station that began spinning singles from Foster the People, fun., and Gotye before they took off on pop radio. It was also recently added by Z100, which bodes well for the song’s summer smash potential. As “We Are Young” and “Somebody That I Used to Know” begin to fizzle, “Tongue Tied” sounds like the perfect successor. Sonically, it’s similar to the bombast “We Are Young,” with an uplifting melody. It also features a female vocalist (Grouplove member Hannah Hooper) midway through the song, which has worked for both fun. and Gotye (thanks Janelle Monáe and Kimbra). So, if history repeats itself, it looks like we’ll be hearing a lot more from Grouplove in the coming months…

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THE NEW BOYBAND SOUND


The boyband is back. With The Wanted and One Direction successfully crossing over to America, it made me take a closer look to who’s behind them. No, I’m not talking about Scooter Braun and Simon Cowell. I’m talking about who’s actually behind the music. While we’ve all seen boybands come and go, the writers and producers who create the irresistible pop confections often stick around. The Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC brought us Max Martin. Will the new batch also launch a superstar pop producer for the next decade?

Three producers are responsible for sharping this generation’s boyband sound: Steve Mac, Rami Yacoub, and Carl Falk. It’s no surprise that Yacoub and Falk, like Martin, are Swedes. Scandinavians seem to have a knack for creating irresistible pop melodies and hooks (see also: Robyn, Stargate). Together, Yacoub and Falk produced “What Makes You Beautiful” for One Direction and “Lose My Mind” for The Wanted, among others. For pop fans, Yacoub should be a familiar name. He also helped usher in the teen pop explosion of the late 90s, co-producing songs like “…Baby One More Time” and “Larger Than Life” with Max Martin. However, as the pop/rock sound became more popular, Martin seemingly traded Yacoub for Dr. Luke, and his career cooled off. Never reaching the status of the aforementioned superstar producers, this could be the time for Yacoub to breakout. In addition to his work for One Direction and The Wanted, he’s also recently produced Nicki Minaj’s “Starships,” Nicole Scherzinger’s “Don’t Hold Your Breath,” and The Saturdays’ “White Lies.” In case you haven’t been keeping track, they’re all great pop songs.

Yacoub’s partner, Carl Falk, is a little newer to the scene. Not around for the first boyband influx, Falk began producing for mostly European artists, like Westlife and Dannii Minogue, in the mid-2000s. For the rest of the decade, he collaborated with former boybanders and some artists you’ve probably never heard of. During that time, he also worked with Kristian Lundin, another talented Swedish producer, responsible for songs like “Bye Bye Bye” and “I Want It That Way.” Falk obviously picked up some of those pop sensibilities, and continued to work in Europe, where pop music never goes out of style. However, as pop music has exploded internationally, so have his productions. He’s collaborated with Yacoub on tracks for One Direction, The Wanted, Nicki Minaj, and Taio Cruz.

It would be remiss to acknowledge Yacoub and Falk without also mentioning songwriter Savan Kotecha. Kotecha co-wrote six songs on One Direction’s debut, including three with Yacoub and Falk. Like Falk, Kotecha started working in the industry around the mid-2000s, writing for mostly European artists. Serving as an A&R executive for Simon Cowell’s label, Kotecha has written for many other former X Factor contestants, including Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke, Cher Lloyd, and Shane Ward. It’s no surprise he’s riding the boyband wave, as his writing style pairs perfectly with bombast pop productions.

While Yacoub, Falk, and Kotecha make a powerhouse pop trifecta, there’s also Steve Mac. Mac scored his first hit single in the UK over twenty years ago and has racked up a number across the pond since then. He’s had some international success with songs like Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This” and O-Town’s “All Or Nothing,” but has mostly worked with British artists like Boyzone and Westlife. For years, Mac seemed to be the go-to guy for big pop ballads. While that may still be his wheelhouse, as he’s responsible for One Direction’s “Gotta Be You,” his sound has certainly evolved over the past few years. Mac produced The Wanted’s breakout international dance hit “Glad You Came,” along with other electropop influenced tracks for the group, “Lightning” and “Gold Forever.” He also produced Cobra Starship’s “You Make Me Feel…” and upbeat pop hits for The Saturdays and JLS. Already one of the UK’s most successful songwriters and producers, it will be interesting to see if Mac brings his signature sound to more artists as the boyband craze heats up.

Will Rami Yacoub, Carl Falk, and Steven Mac join the ranks of Max Martin, Dr. Luke, and RedOne as go-to pop producers? Although they’ve proved they can bring the heat for boybands, I think it will depend on who else they work with in the meantime. Both Yacoub and Mac are established and have been paying their dues in the industry for years. However, if history repeats itself, One Direction and The Wanted only have a few albums left in them before they embark on solo careers or fade into oblivion. Although Max Martin was racking up the hits with the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, he branched out to work with Britney Spears. With boybands making a comeback, the market is ripe for a new female popstar. “Call Me Maybe” proves that female pop will sell, but Carly Rae Jepsen is 26. In order for one of these producers to follow in the footsteps of Martin, their next step is to find a new teen queen that can have some longevity after the boyband bubble bursts. The question is, which one of them will do it?

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Filed under Producers, Songwriters

WHERE HAVE ALL THE GIRL GROUPS GONE?

Last July, I asked, “Where have all the boybands gone?” Nine months later, I think we know the answer to that. Now, I’m left wondering, what about the girls groups?

Pop girl groups usually come off as trampy (The Pussycat Dolls), cheesy (Spice Girls), or a unique combination of both (Danity Kane). That’s not to say they don’t have their place, but they’re much more of a gamble. As long as there are hormone-crazed teen girls, boybands have a market. However, girl groups have to work harder (and make some changes) for that same kind of adoration.

There are a few ways for an ordinary pop girl group to become, well, CrazySexyCool. You can go only go so far with lifting your leg in the air and singing “I’m hotter, more famous, and richer than you” songs. Take, for example, Destiny’s Child and TLC. Both groups were built on female empowerment. From “Independent Women” and “Survivor” to “No Scrubs” and “Unpretty,” they made themselves relatable to female fans. Destiny’s Child and TLC prove that good things come in 3s. Although it took Destiny’s Child a few times to figure that out, three members allows for each to have an identity and not get lost in the shuffle. While boyband members can get by on looks, it’s essential for girls to be able to relate to female group members. Combining pop with R&B also gave Destiny’s Child and TLC some edge. Sure, they had their matching outfits (thank you Tina Knowles) and choreographed dances, but the music was good. Although One Direction has its faux pop/rock and The Wanted is riding the electropop wave, I think the next great girl group will follow in the footsteps of The Supremes, En Vogue, TLC, and Destiny’s Child, with a fusion of pop, R&B, soul, and hip-hop. This will also allow for multi-format radio support–another key to girl group success.

I think the market is ready for another girl group. But, it has to be done right. The perfect girl group is empowering but relatable, sexy without being lewd, and edgy rather than cheesy. Oh, and talented. So, let’s keep partying like it’s 1999 and bring back a girl group to compete with the new batch of boybands.

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BREAKING & ENTERING

Keeping with the tradition of the last post, another British artist, Emeli Sandé, is set to make her American debut next month. “Next to Me” impacts April 17th, coming off the heels of its #2 peak in the U.K. Being a British, female recording artist will obviously garner comparisons to Adele, whether fair or unfair. With that said, I’m going to compare her to Adele. “Next to Me” is sonically reminiscent of “Rolling In the Deep.” It builds in a similar way and fuses elements of soul with modern pop. Thematically, however, it’s more similar to Joan Osborne’s 1994 hit, “One of Us.” Like the aforementioned singles, will Sandé get her breakout hit in the U.S. with this track? I’d say so. A year ago, I was unsure about Adele’s prospects for Top 40 radio success, but she’s undoubtedly opened the doors and changed radio’s climate over the past year. “Next to Me” sounds like it would fit perfectly among “We Are Young” and “Somebody That I Used to Know,” showing that we are truly in a new era of pop radio.

Two for the price of one today. European artists are really killing it lately, and this track is no exception. There’s been buzz building around Marina and the Diamonds for the past couple of years, but she still hasn’t scored a true breakout hit. “Primadonna” could change that. Having been produced by Dr. Luke, it obviously sounds like another Dr. Luke production. This time, it borrows from “Hold It Against Me,” with hard hitting, electropop verses accompanied by a melodic, glistening chorus (check out that acoustic guitar). The lyrics, however, are a step up from “Hold It Against Me,” and actually would have been fitting for Britney. Alas, it’s a Marina track and she delivers it perfectly, complete with throaty Katy Perry-esque vocals. All in all, it’s a perfectly crafted pop song and I would expect nothing less from this pairing. However, I’m not so sure of its hit potential. It reminds me of Sky Ferreira’s ill-fated, Ryan Tedder-produced “Obsession.” Hopefully radio’s more receptive to this one.

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