Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Do What U Want | Lady Gaga feat. Christina Aguilera

Rating: ★★★★★

Well, just when you thought Lady Gaga had pulled out all of the stops in ARTPOP's promotional schedule, she shocks us all once again, now opting to shadow over her current single "Do What U Want" with... well... "Do What U Want."

"Do What U Want" was originally marketed with rapper R. Kelly, just as it appears on the track listing of ARTPOP, but as of the last live performance of the song, R. Kelly has been axed and replaced by none other than Christina Aguilera, despite a seemingly rocky past between her and Gaga.

This version marks a fourth for the song: a live solo version, the R. Kelly dub, a (terrible) Rick Ross remix, and now the Legend X duet. Minus the Rick Ross remix, which I've tried to banish from my memory, each version has been great. R. Kelly's verse takes a more sexual road, offering up a flirtatious relationship ("You're the Marilyn, I'm the president / And I'd love to hear you sing, girl"). 

Meanwhile, the solo and Christina Aguilera edits share the same lyrics in the second verse, going back to the original root meaning of the songs, when Gaga was struggling to make it through each show with her broken hip and was still dealing with constant tabloid rumors ("My bones hurt from all the shows / But I don't feel the pain because I'm a pro" and "My body belongs to you when I'm on stage").

I must say, when I first heard of this duet possibly being a happening thing, I was appalled. I even texted my friend (who is a massive Christina Aguilera fan) and had a giant meltdown, afraid that Aguilera would use her awful sing-growl technique all over the song to ruin it. I was not here for that at all. However, once I heard it, I found that DJ White Shadow did a great job at toning down Aguilera's inner tiger. The production helps emphasize that nice blend between her and Gaga and overall I think the duet will help the song.

Lady Gaga has been completely silent on this version of "Do What U Want" thus far. The song was released as a single two months ago and still doesn't have a music video yet, and Gaga seems completely unsure on what she's doing with the song. I can't help feel like the music video delay and this new Christina Aguilera duet is partially thanks to Interscope's promotional team. 

Promoting such a controversial figure like R. Kelly is much more challenging than promoting Christina Aguilera, who has seemed to be recently kicking life into everybody's career except her own (say hello to Pitbull and A Great Big World and goodbye to Bionic and Lotus). But will this version of "Do What U Want" perhaps ride off of the Legend X wave created by "Say Something" and help boost the song overall? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

10 Best Albums of 2013

Here we go, everyone! It's time for another countdown post for 2013. First, it was all about the best singles of the year, but now we're going to talk about full-length albums as a whole. Sadly, Beyoncé's new self-titled album wasn't able to be included on the list, because I had already wrote most of this post before she surprise-released it. I'm sure it would have made it somewhere in the top ten, but I just haven't had enough time to listen to it all and analyze it.

10. Music From Baz Luhrmann's Film 'The Great Gatsby' | Various Artists

In terms of soundtracks, I'm not usually the biggest fan. They're usually not exactly of high-quality, but both The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Great Gatsby had outstanding soundtrack albums this year. Personally, I was excited for Music From Baz Luhrmann's Film 'The Great Gatsby' ever since Lana Del Rey's "Young and Beautiful" was announced and released as the lead single to the album. The song blew me away, especially the Dan Heath orchestral version, and I was further impressed with songs from Sia, Florence + The Machine, Emeli Sandé, and Gotye. With such great artists all on one disc, what is there not to love?

9. Bangerz | Miley Cyrus

As I said before in my last post, the Top 20 Singles of 2013, I'm completely aware that Miley Cyrus has gone off the deep end this year, but when you take all of the crazy antics away, you can still find some alright music from her, and obviously Bangerz is proof of that. Don't shoot me, but... I actually like the album cover for the standard edition of Bangerz. I love the 1980s Miami Vice vibes; it looks so retro. And Cyrus is covering the majority of her body in the cover, which is another plus. 

I'm not saying Bangerz is perfect, because it is far from it, but it has some good bops on it. "SMS (Bangerz)," which features Siri Britney Spears, is a likeable trainwreck. It's messy, it has the stupidest lyrics ever written, and it doesn't make any sense, but I can't stop listening to it on repeat. I've found myself walking down the hallways at school randomly saying "Bangerz, bangerz / Fuckin' bangerz" and I seriously cannot control it. And let's not forget both of the legendary singles from the album, "We Can't Stop" and "Wrecking Ball," and two of the best ballads on the album, "Adore You" and "Someone Else." However, with messes like "4x4" and "#GetItRight," the album gets dragged down by haphazard filler tracks.

8. Secondhand Rapture | MS MR

Secondhand Rapture is the hardly-publicized yet high-quality debut by indie band MS MR. The duo has created a bit of buzz with lead single "Hurricane," but has yet to majorly break through on a bigger caliber. "Hurricane" gives a great insight to the rest of the album: some indie pop with some twisted lyrics. I especially enjoy the lyrics of the chorus of the lead single: "Welcome to the inner workings of my mind / So dark and foul I can't disguise / Can't disguise / Nights like this I become afraid / Of the darkness in my heart / Hurricane." Other highlights include "Fantasy" and "Dark Doo Wop," with the latter including some more intriguing lyrics: "If we're gonna die, bury us alive / If they're searching for us they'll find us side by side" and "This world is gonna burn, burn burn burn / As long as we're going down / Baby you should stick around."

7. Prism | Katy Perry

Prism was meant to be Katy Perry's "fucking dark" return, but was somehow contorted to a bright album full of posies and a stray "Dark Horse" or two. I think most of the "fucking dark" comments came when she was still bitter about her divorce from Russell Brand, but she obviously got over it because she seems pretty happy now. Most of the album sounds somewhat bland, recycle the same sounds over and over from song to song, but it's still listenable. 

Believe it or not, there are actually a few diamonds in the rough. I can't believe I'm saying this, but "Unconditionally" did not deserve to flop so hard when compared to Perry's other singles. It can easily be added to the fairly short list of truly genius Katy Perry songs: "E.T.," "Unconditionally," and "Dark Horse." Speaking of which, "Dark Horse" gives way to a new trippy sound on Prism, while "Walking On Air" brings in strong 1980s vibes. The album nods back a few decades for "Walking On Air" and "Birthday," and brings in a more of a spiritual sound on "Legendary Lovers." It's an alright album, but I can still see room for improvement.

6. Stars Dance | Selena Gomez

This year, we saw a new Selena Gomez: one that isn't backed-up by the Scene. However, her debut solo album, Stars Dance, is better overall than any of the albums by Selena Gomez & The Scene. As we all know, Stars Dance contains the legendary "Come & Get It," but even with that single under its belt, the album seemed front-loaded with all of the truly great songs. The Baja party that is "Like a Champion" and the dubstep-inspired title track join the impressive lead single in the first half of the album.  While the second half of the album was decent, it just wasn't as explosive as the first for some reason. But it was still a pretty decent album and was one foot ahead of the albums of both of her Disney counterparts.

5. Avril Lavigne | Avril Lavigne

This year, the real curve-ball was Avril Lavigne; I didn't really expect it to be so good. I was surprising debating between giving it a three or a four star review, but ended on a three star note because of her seemingly bi-polar attempts with her career. Surprisingly, I actually really like Avril Lavigne (minus "Bad Girl" and the lyrical aspect of "Hello Kitty") and I wouldn't be lying if I said it is one of my favorite albums yet from the "motherfucking princess."

I can tell that it's going to be a great album to listen to in the summer; why it was released in mid-November, I have no clue. A lot of the songs just give me visions of driving down a country road at dusk in the middle of July. Two of the songs in the track listing even reference the season: "Bitchin' Summer" and "Sippin' on Sunshine." If I had to describe the album in any other words, I would definitely use "fun." There's no other way to put it; Avril Lavigne is just a fun album, and sometimes all I need is fun little pick-me-up during the  day, and "Here's To Never Growing Up" and "17" do just the trick.

4. Trouble | Natalia Kills

Natalia Kills let it all out with Trouble. Her debut album was a major synthpop album, but this release focuses on a dark sound that I instantly fell in love with. This album makes it obvious that Kills has suffered in her life; from what we can tell through the music, in her childhood life there were alcohol and drug problems, domestic abuse, run-ins with the police, and family torn apart by an imprisoned father. She poured every single one of the memories into this album and it shows. When an artist puts so much feeling into a piece of work, it's easy to tell because the quality goes through the roof. 

Songs like "Saturday Night" directly profile the abuse between her mother and father ("Mama, you’re beautiful tonight / Movie star hair and that black eye / You can’t even notice it when you smile so hard through a heart felt lie"), while "Daddy's Girl" clarify her confused feelings towards her abusive father ("I'll keep your secrets, I'll never tell / You know I'll ride with you right through the fire of hell / They got your number, but you're safe with me / Even if they lock you up and throw away the key"). The album is undoubtedly the most cohesive albums of the year, perhaps even the decade, and every song is quality piece of work that adds a new piece to a beautiful puzzle.

3. Pure Heroine | Lorde

Now, here is a girl that started with nothing and somehow ended up with everything using just her voice a simple beat from a drum machine. All she had to utter was "I've never seen a diamond in the flesh," and suddenly she can buy a diamond bigger than the state of Texas. "Tennis Court" flew around the Internet while "Royals" dominated the radio, leading for a total domination from Lorde. The lyrics of all of the songs from Pure Heroine are pretty deep; it's surprising to know that a girl who is younger than me came up with all of these concepts. Predictably, the lyrics are extremely relatable to teenagers like myself (especially those of us from relatively small towns), which makes me like her so much more. Like Natalia Kills' Trouble, this album is very cohesive and flows well from song to song and it's actually weird to only listen to one song out of the album and then skip the rest. The whole album is so perfect together that I don't know why anybody would want to only buy or listen to just a few of the songs.

2. Halcyon Days | Ellie Goulding

To be honest, Halcyon Days really caught me off guard this summer, as I was just growing into the sound of the original Halcyon album and finally truly starting to appreciate it. I'm really glad I did stumble upon this one, because it really accelerated my love for Ellie Goulding. Although the ten new tracks cannot be purchased as a separate album, but are instead bundled together with Halcyon, I made my review only over the Halcyon Days portion of the album. I love how the sound is separated between dark sounds on the first album ("Figure 8," "Don't Say A Word," "Hanging On"), while the new tracks explore a slightly-happier yet similar electronic sound ("Goodness Gracious," "You, My Everything"). 

What I really love about Halcyon Days is that Goulding still isn't trying to be anybody who she's not; that's how all of her albums have been thus far. She's just... being Ellie Goulding. There's no forced character behind the music, nor is she trying to impress anybody. She's just making music that she likes and sharing it with everybody. Goulding was once quoted saying, "I like simplicity, which is why I'm not afraid of pop or dance music. I just look for the hook, the center. And it can be the words or the melody, just the one thing that can relate to everyone." I love this quote because she's not trying to be anymore than she actually is, but she's completely underestimating herself because Halcyon Days can easily be considered a masterpiece on my list. I mean, any album that contains a song as strong as "Hearts Without Chains" gets a top-notch grade from my standpoint.

1. ARTPOP | Lady Gaga

It's quite obvious that ARTPOP has smashed all of its competitors this year. Fans have been waiting for this album since Born This Way but absolutely nobody expected such a genius era plot: To combine concepts of classic and modern art with pop music. The album cover hit me like a Sour Patch Kid; at first I hated it, but soon afterwards it grew to be one of my favorite covers from Lady Gaga. She's pumping a bigger meaning into pop music, which is something extremely challenging to do, but it's Lady fucking Gaga... She can do as she wants. She has literally built an empire around herself full of fans that she can't disappoint, and thus far, she has really delivered.

The best parts of ARTPOP are the amazing beats and the completely hidden symbolism behind most of the songs. "Do What U Want" was inspired by tabloids writing about Lady Gaga's weight gain while on tour with the aborted Born This Way Ball, "Applause" was written about her love for performance and the connection with her fans, and "Dope" was meant to act as a confessional to her fans and family about her looming drug addiction. With productions from DJ White Shadow, Zedd, Madeon, and even Lady Gaga herself, the album really hit a home run in terms of quality. And if anybody tries to deny that this album is meaningless garbage, make them listen to "G.U.Y." and "Gypsy." They'll retract their comment immediately.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

20 Best Singles of 2013

It's that time of year again; bloggers are now scrambling to get in last-minute views and wrap on their thoughts on the past year, and I'm no different. I thought I would start off my spree of end-of-the-year blogging with a list of the best singles of 2013. This started as a list of just seven, then ten, and finally grew twenty; there were just so many great songs that I couldn't possible ignore them all! In this list, I gave myself a rule: One single per artist. So, chances are one artist could have appeared on this list multiple times, but I wanted this list to be really varied. So, enjoy!

20. Yung Rapunxel | Azealia Banks
Azealia Banks has had a rough year but at least she was able to pop one good song out this year. "Yung Rapunxel" was meant to be the lead single for Banks' still-upcoming debut, Broke With Expensive Taste, but ended up seeming like a random digital single from her. The song is insane, starting with "Danger, danger, danger" and spiraling into a verse that is composed entirely of screams and muddled noises, but Banks still finds time to show that she still knows how to rap like nobody else, which is why I'm still holding out for her album.

19. Wake Me Up | Avicii feat. Aloe Blacc
"Wake Me Up" is one of the more innovative songs of the year, and it thoroughly impressed me upon my first listen, however it rated so low on my list because it really hasn't aged well. It was great and dandy when I first heard it, but it quickly grew old each time I heard it... Truly amazing songs don't grow old that fast. Aloe Blacc's voice is amazingly smooth in the song, though, which I feel is important to note. I'm sure that new solo work from him would not be ignored.

18. American Girl | Bonnie McKee
Bonnie McKee has played behind-the-scenes work for pop singers like Katy Perry and Britney Spears for years, helping co-write their songs, but now she has taken her songwriting skills and used them for her own advantage. "American Girl" is just a simple, fun pop song; nothing more and nothing less. However, the style that McKee has gone for is so quirky that it's almost impossible to love her. She's got just the right amount of spunk to gain a following and isn't just following the trend of all of the pop stars she has written for.

17. Problem | Natalia Kills
Here's a great song that didn't get any attention for some reason. "Problem" is the perfect opener for the Trouble era: It reveals the bad-girl past of Kills and sets the scene for the rest of the album. The running theme runs throughout the song that makes it quite clear that Kills is a "God-damn problem" and it just sounds like an overall bad-ass song, to be honest. The production style of the song is also repetitively unique, as well, although it is close to some of Lana Del Rey and The Neighbourhood's work. Well, actually, The Neighbourhood's work sounds like Kills' album because Trouble pre-dates their album.

16. Crazy Kids | Ke$ha
Poor Ke$ha was not shown any mercy this year in her solo career, even when she was actually pumping out quality content. "Crazy Kids" was one of my favorites from Warrior since day one, and when I heard it was going to be sent to radios as a new single, I was so sure it was going to be a hit... But apparently I was wrong. The song has everything a pop song needs to be somewhat popular: a catchy chorus, seductive lyrics... It even had Dr. Luke backing its production. Of course, that dreadful will.i.am chorus probably didn't help it, though... (Please note that I'm rating the song based on the clearly superior solo version, not that version with will.is.annoying.)

15. 22 | Taylor Swift
Okay, listen... If you don't love this song, you're obviously just in denial. It's Taylor Swift! How could anybody not like it? It's a great feel-good song that is actually a happy-medium between the genres of Swift's latest album, Red. Songs like "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "I Knew You Were Trouble" makes it seem like Swift was moving completely over to pop music, but "Begin Again" and "The Lucky One" pushed her back into the country scene. "22" is a nice meeting of country and pop that nods back to songs like "Mean" and "You Belong With Me."

14. I Love It | Icona Pop feat. Charli XCX
This song was originally released as a single in mid-2012, but didn't reach it's peak in the middle of 2013. It technically shouldn't be included in this list because of it's early release date, but you know what? "I DON'T CARE. I LOVE IT." Icona Pop tried to replicate the song's success with a similarly-formulated song called "All Night," but it just isn't the same; "I Love It" is just the crowning jewel on the Icona Pop crown. Seriously, this song makes me what to scream and yell and it usually distracts me from driving while in the car, but that's okay. One day, I'll "crash my car into the bridge" while listening to it, but... "I DON'T CARE. I LOVE IT." 

13. Mirrors | Justin Timberlake
I think we can all agree that 2013 has been overfilled with Justin Timberlake and his return. I've listened to both volumes of The 20/20 Experience and Timberlake's new-found style is definitely a breath of fresh air. Like everybody else on the face of Earth, I was listening to "Mirrors" on repeat this summer, but like Avicii's "Wake Me Up," it did not age well with me, but that could partially be due to me overplaying it. Regardless, Timberlake's voice is still admirable in the song and the lyrics are still beautiful.

12. Here's To Never Growing Up | Avril Lavigne
When I first reviewed "Here's To Never Growing Up," I only had a lukewarm feeling about the song, but I've come to like it a bit more. It's a fun-loving song that is great for listening to in the summer (just like many of the other songs on Avril Lavigne), and although it's not Lavigne's best work, it's sufficient enough. Her sound is improving since the downfall that was The Best Damn Thing, and "Here's to Never Growing Up" starts to show that fact. 

11. Heart Attack | Demi Lovato
I never was a fan of Demi Lovato until last year when "Give Your Heart A Break" became a radio hit, but "Heart Attack" was even better. Although it's probably one of only three highlights from DEMI, it definitely gave Lovato some rep points in my book. The runs of "You make me glow / But I cover up, won't let it show" and "If I ever did that, I think I'd have a heart attack" show Lovato's vocal strength and truly draw me in to listen.

10. Unconditionally | Katy Perry
Katy, Katy, Katy... Her comeback single, "Roar," was a complete let-down considering it was clearly just a knock-off of Sara Bareilles' "Brave" and had lyrics simply composed of simple clichés ("I went from zero to my own hero" and "I've got the eye of the tiger"), but the follow-up to "Roar" is much, much better. The song is struggling to keep itself in the top twenty of the Billboard Hot 100 and its video only has a measly eighteen million views, but it truly is a great power ballad. I must say, when sang correctly, the belt of "unconditional, unconditionally" does sound amazing.

9. This Is What It Feels Like | Banks
"This Is What It Feels Like" is the only single on the list not to chart somewhere on the Billboard Hot 100, but it definitely deserves its spot here. Taken from Banks' debut extended play, London, the song caught my ear the very first time I heard it. From the chilled instrumental to the haunting vocals, the song is impressive from beginning to end. Personally, I love to blast the song through my car stereo while driving at nighttime; for some reason, I always associate "This Is What It Feels Like" with darkness. 

8. Clarity | Zedd feat. Foxes
Zedd is another new artist that makes my list this year, as well as Foxes, who helps make up the beauty of "Clarity." This song parallels "I Need Your Love," a Calvin Harris and Ellie Goulding collaboration, as they both feature a beautiful soprano voice and an electronic breakdown, but Zedd's production style is a bit more explosive and heavy than that of Harris. I heard the song before the radio even picked it up and generally liked ever since I heard it, to be honest. It's just a fun dance song.

7. Summertime Sadness (Cedric Gervais Remix) | Lana Del Rey
It's been a semi-bumpy year for Lana Del Rey. She threatened to quit music, made a song for the soundtrack of The Great Gatsby, threatened to quit music again, released a short film entitled Tropico, and announced her new album, Ultraviolence. Meanwhile, Interscope Records had a different plan: to market Del Rey to an electronic dance audience with a remix of "Summertime Sadness." This remix is definitely far inferior to the original version of "Summertime Sadness," but it's not the worst thing I've ever heard. Plus, it's been nice to finally see Del Rey getting the credit she deserves from the general public that control radio plays. I guess, if anything, the song still features Del Rey's soothing vocals.

6. Elastic Heart | Sia feat. The Weeknd and Diplo
Okay, so I could go on forever about Sia and her heavenly voice, but I'm going to try and keep it to a short paragraph. I have loved "Elastic Heart" since the first day I heard in on SoundCloud, and was my main motive behind purchasing the soundtrack to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I'm not even a fan of the franchise, but I own the soundtrack because of this song (as well as Ellie Goulding's "Mirror.") I have a small fan-boy attack whenever Sia rips into the chorus with "Well, I've got thick skin and an elastic heart / But your blade, it might be too sharp." And don't even get me started with that immaculate blend between Sia and The Weeknd. Oh my goodness it's amazing.

5. Burn | Ellie Goulding
Ellie Goulding is beginning to pick back up in terms of popularity in the United States while still keeping an extremely high quality sound with "Burn." Although I love Halcyon, it and its accompanying singles never really took off here, but Goulding has made a re-bound with Halcyon Days and "Burn," which has peaked at #21 so far on the Billboard Hot 100. The video has also peaked at almost 120,000,000 views on YouTube, which is rarely done by artists, especially indie-pop artists like Goulding. To put that number into perspective, her biggest hit thus far in the United States, "Lights," only has a total YouTube view count of nearly 60,000,000. The song holds a British synthpop vibe, while Goulding's voice is just as strong as ever. It, with the rest of her discography, has solidified Goulding's position as one of my favorite artists ever.

4. Applause | Lady Gaga
I have been anxiously awaiting the return of Lady Gaga ever since the Born This Way Ball date I was suppose to attend was cancelled back in March of this year, and she definitely delivered with "Applause." The song is an explosive piece of electropop heaven that is hard to ignore and truly celebrates her return to the stage. I don't think any other song from ARTPOP could have been more perfect for this comeback single spot. Although I do love the song, there are a few other singles that were a bit more deserving of the top spot.

3. Royals | Lorde
Lorde has been quite a fascinating artist this year. This girl came out of no where and was able to quickly ignite across radio stations with a simple drum beat and her voice. That's not something that you hear of very often. Even Lana Del Rey, who highly inspired Lorde's style, needed an electronic remix to boost her popularity among radio listeners. The song's lyrics ("And I'm not proud of my address / In a torn-up town, no postcode envy" and "And we'll never be royals / It don't run in our blood / That kind of luxe just ain't for us / We crave a different kind of buzz") are so relevant from a teenager's standpoint, which may be contribute to why the song has been so popular.

2. Wrecking Ball | Miley Cyrus
Although her album, Bangerz, was somewhat underwhelming and she has gone kind of crazy, Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" caught my ear since the first time I heard it. Take away all of the twerking, teddy bears, hammer-licking, and bleached eyebrows, and you can still find a quality pop song. It's a seemingly heartfelt ballad that hits you... well, like a wrecking ball. The song has become a giant cultural phenomenon, which usually only happens to one-hit-wonders like PSY and Baauer, but Cyrus was able to make it happen. Everybody, including myself, only seem to like Cyrus as person now only because we can make fun of her, but I can actually admit that the music isn't really that bad, though.

1. Come & Get It | Selena Gomez
The first and middle portions of this year were plagued with terrible music. Macklemore started to get big, P!nk's lackluster "Just Give Me a Reason" lyrics were plastered over every girl's Facebook page, and "Blurred Lines" existed. The struggle was real for two-thirds of this year. However, Selena Gomez's "Come & Get It" came to the rescue and hit it big across the United States. The song's experimental Indian vibes are what really interest me, plus it's just a fun song to listen to! It's definitely something completely different from every other pop song on the radio, which made me appreciate it more. The choreography used in the live performances of the song is pretty cool, as well.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Britney Jean | Britney Spears

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

This is a happy year for the Britney Army, but not such a good year for those expecting quality music from Britney Spears, because Britney Jean is here.

The album opens on a strong note with "Alien." The song carries a really relaxed sound that would be really great to listen to while driving at nightfall. "But the stars in the sky look like home / Take me home / And the light in your eyes lets me know / I'm not alone, not alone, not alone," sings a slightly-autotuned Spears. It's probably the best track off of the album, and has pushed its way onto my list of favorite Britney Spears songs.

The quality dips off with "Work Bitch," which acted as the lead single for Britney Jean. The Max Martin production series has ended its reign over Spears' career, making way for some electronic beats from different producers. I really don't have a problem with the instrumental track of "Work Bitch." I can actually say that it's pretty catchy, but Spears' vocals ruin it. This faux-British stunt she has tried to pull off with "Scream & Shout" and "Work Bitch" is not working. It's just annoying.

"Perfume" is Spears' attempt at a second single, but it has failed thus far. That could partly be to blamed on the complete lack of promotion, but could also be caused by the fact that it's just not a good song. The chorus seems off-tempo and shouted, with an annoying and repetitive cymbal crash underneath it all. It's like a middle school student just got his first pair of cymbals and wanted to try them out in Spears' recording studio before heading off to the school band try-outs.

The only song worth a listen on the album besides "Alien" is "Til It's Gone," a song that ripped a page out of the electronic dance handbook and managed to pull off the sound better than "Work Bitch." Perhaps most importantly, sleazy-sounding American Britney is back and her signature singing style (talking/moaning/singing/auto-tune) is revisited. It kicks some life and variety into the otherwise bland mix of Britney Jean, stuck between the somewhat strange "Body Ache" and the power-ballad "Passenger."

The one thing that is evident with this Britney Jean is that Britney just simply does not care about her career anymore. This album was just put out there to appease her fans. First of all, the standard version of the album clocks in at only 36 minutes... That's not an album; that's an extended play. 

To add salt to the wound, she's decided to totally ignore the album. Promotion? That must be a forgotten concept in Britney's little world, because there wasn't any outside of one appearance on Good Morning America and few Facebook posts. "Work Bitch" debuted at number twelve on the Billboard Hot 100, then sank to number forty-one before reviving to number thirteen (thanks to the streaming points from the music video). After that second peak, it fell back into oblivion. 

Meanwhile, "Perfume" has performed even worse: it's only managed to peak at number seventy-six. No, that is not a typo... A BRITNEY SPEARS SONG PEAKED AT NUMBER SEVENTY-SIX. That's pathetic for an artist of Britney's caliber. If she thinks she's going to move albums with those single sales, she's dead wrong. Furthermore, I'm not sure how she'll be able to fulfill that two-year residency deal at Planet Hollywood for Britney: Piece of Me. With her lazy, lip-synced performances and her lack of interest in her career, the show's run could end disastrously.

Britney Jean is obviously going to be seen as a misstep in Spears' career. If she's going to stick to music, she needs to stop thinking she's going to be indefinitely relevant. She's still got to go out and market, even if she is a mother (which is an excuse she's been using often lately, even though having two children never stopped her promotions and tours for Circus and Femme Fatale.) Believe it or not, Spears is still marketable, but she's going to have to put some work into it. 

Madonna and Cher are 55 and 70, respectively, and are still putting out material and selling-out tours; Britney is only 31... Her career is far from over if she wants to continue in the industry. But again, she's going to have to get off her high-horse and get her name back out there with each album cycle, and perhaps put a bit more work into her albums to have another solid piece of work like some of her previous albums. Sadly, Britney Jean just isn't going to make that cut.

Friday, November 15, 2013

ATM Jam | Azealia Banks feat. Pharrell Williams

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

In the ongoing saga of Azealia Banks and the delayed release date of her debut album, Broke With Expensive Taste, Banks has added a new hurdle. Last month, she released "ATM Jam," a single made in collababoration with Pharrell, but it's evident that she couldn't care less about the single... and the same goes for the rest of the world.

"ATM Jam" is just a flat, plain beat; there's no other way to put it. There's absolutely nothing special about it, especially when compared to Banks' outstanding 1991 and Fantasea mixtape. I feel like it was only pushed for release due to the feature of Pharrell Williams, who saw a boost of popularity in Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" and Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines." Williams takes over most of the song, with his chorus line repeating six million times throughout the song.

Dear God, if I hear "I've got racks, racks, racks 'til the ATM jam / Tell me what you wanna do" one more time, my head might explode. It's a monotonous way to go about a chorus, which is supposed to be the height of the song. Instead, Banks' verses overpower the chorus simply by her vocal power. Her verses really aren't bad, they're just stuck in between repetitions of that terrible chorus.

Sadly, even Banks knows how bad the song is; she has openly admitted that she doesn't like the song and has even decided to take it off of the album that it was supposed to be promoting. Williams also has moved away from the song, because as Banks said on Twitter, "he changed his mind about wanting to be associated with [Azealia Banks]." So, with both Banks and Williams not giving two fucks about it, "ATM Jam" was left to die... two weeks after it had been formally released.

Do I have a problem with the song's early entry to the grave? Not at all. I'm just going to sit here and listen to 1991 while I wait out the release of Broke With Expensive Taste. I can only hope that it doesn't get pushed back any farther than the scheduled January 2014 release date, but if she keeps switching the track listings for it, we may never see the album.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Avril Lavigne | Avril Lavigne

Rating: ★★★★☆

It's not often that artists release an eponymous album that also isn't their debut album, but that's what the "motherfucking princess" is doing now. Avril Lavigne recently unleashed her fifth studio album, which she decided to leave as a self-titled release because she "really couldn't find a title to sum it up."

Before talking music, let's talk about this cover. The album cover for Avril Lavigne is pretty bothersome. In a low quality format, she looks like a ghost with greasy hair, heavy make-up, and extremely noticeable nostrils. In a high quality format, it's a bit more bearable because you can actually see a tint of skin complexion and her hair looks decent, but not many people are actually going to take the time to look for it in high quality unless they're a big fan.

Now, moving onto the music. To be up front about it, "Let Me Go" is without a doubt the best song on the album, hands down. The vocals are spot on, the blend between Chad Kroeger and Lavigne is phenomenal, and best of all, it carries the mature sound that some fans have been begging to hear for a while now. I'm still shocked that the song was picked up as the first single from the album. The album cover screams "dark" and "mature"; things that "Here's To Never Growing Up" and "Rock N Roll" definitely did not radiate.

"17" may not display a massive amount of maturity like "Let Me Go" does, but with it, Lavigne finally rediscovers the sound that got her where she is now. It's got the same spunk and lyrical matter as "Sk8er Boi," which is ironic considering that "Sk8er Boi" looked at the future ("Five years from now, she sits at home feeding the baby, she's all alone.") while "17" looks back at the past ("We were on top of the world / Back when I was your girl / We were living so wild and free / Acting stupid for fun"). It's a nice little song that has a bit of nostalgia attached to it; I like it.

Another shining track is "Hello Heartache," which also works its way back to the sound of Lavigne's older material. I feel like it would do moderately well as a single if it was sent to the right contemporary stations. It's not too far into the pop spectrum, but it's not too far into the rock scene either; it's a happy medium that I like seeing Lavigne at. The lyrics aren't that childish either, which is always a plus: "Goodbye my friend / Hello heartache / It's not the end / It's not the same."

In this album full of power ballads and alternative anthems, pop bits like "Here's To Never Growing Up," "Rock N Roll," and "Hello Kitty" are just randomly shoved in there, however they serve as a wise marketing purpose: they still have to push this album to the fans that fell in love with Lavigne during those awkward days of The Best Damn Thing. The same thing happened with Goodbye Lullaby, when she used "What The Hell" and "Smile" to attract listeners.

On the version of the album I purchased from Target, the album both opens and closes with "Rock N Roll," with the first track being the original pop version of the song, and the closing song being a special acoustic version. Although I do like the original song, I think I like the acoustic version even more; it's a stripped down performance of Lavigne's lead vocal stem and a guitar. The acoustic version seems to actually fit the sound of the album better than the original.

The most experimental track, "Hello Kitty," is also the most awkward outlier on Avril Lavigne. The song opens with Lavigne yelling in Japanese ("Minna saiko, arigato, ka-ka-kawaii, ka-ka-kawaii") before spiraling into a Ke$ha-esque sing-rap of nonsense lyrics, including the intolerable lines "So we can roll around have a pillow fight / Like a major rager, OMFG / Let's all slumber party / Like a fat kid on a pack of Smarties / Someone chuck a cupcake at me." 

After those lines are finally out of the way, the song then spirals into full electronic-dance mode, complete with its own breakdown of synths and squeals of "Hello kitty, hello kitty / Hello kitty, you're so pretty." The lyrics of this song, as well as most of the songs on the album, just emphasize exactly what Lavigne plans on doing with her career: like one of the songs on this album says, she's "never growing up."

By no means am I going to judge her, because the market of tween punk rockers out there is always coming and going. She's going to make money, but like Taylor Swift, she's not going to remain near the top of the pop royalty hierarchy. Sure, there going to be a few pop music fans like myself that will pick up the album, but she's going to make all of her money with the faux punk-rockers of junior high schools around the globe.

However, I am sad to see that Lavigne is still trying to play some sort of juggling act: She has some really great contemporary songs, but she also has some okay basic pop tracks as well. She either needs to focus on one shtick or prepare her fans for more variable albums like this. Luckily, minus the three curve-balls on the album, Avril Lavigne isn't as bipolar as Goodbye Lullaby, but she still hasn't completely picked a side to stay on.

Lavigne's career is slowly but surely recuperating and Avril Lavigne is a sign of that. It took a skydiving trip with The Best Damn Thing, but she's now making up for lost time. While maturing isn't in her agenda (although she is nearing thirty years old), making some great and catchy tunes is. If she continues on this path, it's safe to say that her next album should be directly back on par with Let Go, but for the time being, this album will hold us all over while we wait for that time to come.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

ARTPOP | Lady Gaga

Rating: ★★★★★

In the past two years, Lady Gaga has been through a lot. She released Born This Way, released her first fragrance line, went on tour, and most notably, broke her hip during that tour. Now she's finally back in the public eye and ready to take over the world of pop music once again. It's been over two long and agonizing years in the making, but Lady Gaga has finally dropped her new album, ARTPOP. 

Because of my overwhelming excitement for this album, I decided it would be best if I did a track-by-track review; there's too much to talk about to not do such an extensive review. So, this is going to be a very long but a very thorough review compared to all of my other writings on this blog.

"Aura" not only opens the album, but was also the first ever song that fans got to hear from the album, as an early demo leaked in full online in early August. The song opens with a strange western spiel, sounding similar to "Americano" from Born This Way. It then runs into a massive explosion of electronic madness and lyrics like "I'm not a wandering slave, I am a woman of choice" and "Enigma popstar is fun, she wear burqa for fashion / It's not a statement as much as just a move of passion."

It was the opening number to the iTunes Festival, and was released in a lyric video format in October to promote the film that Lady Gaga starred in, Machete Kills. The original demo was nearly identical to the mastered copy, minus the remastered vocals and the altered vocal lines in the verses. For some reason, "Aura" has never clicked with completely. I like it, but I don't love it as much as I want to.

The first promotional single for ARTPOP is "Venus," which was released on October 28. It was originally supposed to be the second single from the album, but "Do What U Want" took its place instead. "Venus" was the first song Lady Gaga produced completely on her own, and considering that fact, the song turned out phenomenally. The chorus is an electronic euphoria, complete with pounding synths, drum kit, and appealing vocal harmonies. Meanwhile, the bridge mindlessly names off the planets (plus Pluto, which isn’t a planet anymore, Gaga!) and serves as a gateway to the immature yet inevitable Uranus joke.

On the October 14 edition of the fan-created webshow, Radio ARTPOP, Lady Gaga and the newest member of the Haus of Gaga, Emma, released a twelve-second snippet of "G.U.Y.," the next song on the track listing. Of course, I had one of many meltdowns on this day, as Lady Gaga had finally shown that this album was going to be full of the bumping electronic tracks I wanted from her. The snippet gave us a taste of the final moments of the pre-chorus and building, before unleashing the monstrous explosion that is the chorus. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga sings "Let me be that girl under you that makes you cry / I wanna be that G.U.Y."

Lady Gaga and Zedd did an outstanding job on this song, with the mind-boggling chorus breakdown, the dark synths, and the lyrics that really put the brain to work. Like a few other songs on this album, "G.U.Y." seems like it is about sex (or in this case, the erotic soundtrack to a video about sexual positions), but actual nods towards Lady Gaga's desire to take control of a relationship instead allowing a guy to do all the work and have all of the power. This is one of the highlights of ARTPOP; if you want to show somebody what Lady Gaga is really made of, make them listen to this song.

The lust-filled lyrics continue in the appropriately-named "Sexxx Dreams." (Yes, all three 'x's are necessary.) When I first heard this title, I abhorred it, but once I heard the song when it was premiered at the iTunes Festival, it turned out to be one of my favorites. This song takes a smooth 1980s vibe and carries dirty lyrics like "When I lay in bed I touch myself and I think of you" and "Damn you were in my sex dreams / Making love in my sex dreams." At one point, Gaga cuts to an extremely brief line of spoken text to reflect her hormonal state: "I can't believe I'm telling you this, but I've had a couple of drinks and oh my God..." The song is so seductive that there is no way to deny that I love it. I obviously can't go around telling people "Oh my gosh I love the song 'Sexxx Dreams' with three 'x's because it's so sexy sounding," but that's really my true reasoning behind loving this song.

Now, onto a song that I'm still lukewarm on, "Jewels N' Drugs" holds the key to Gaga's success with urban audiences. However, the song was poorly executed; it's got three rappers (two of which are completely irrelevant and don't even sound good), and its lyrics are just messy. "Slap honey onto your pancake / We know how to make a lot of money." Yes, you read that correctly. You don't have to re-read it. SLAP HONEY ONTO YOUR PANCAKE? Ugh, Gaga, you're killing me here. That lines beats out a verse of "Donatella" for the worst lyric line on the album.

And back to the three rappers... Really? We need three rappers here? Twista, the only one with a tolerable verse, wouldn't have been sufficient? Or even better, we could have gotten Azealia Banks back in the track listing with "Ratchet." I'm sure that would have been one-hundred times better than the travesty that is "Jewels N' Drugs," even if Banks has "a bad attitude." This whole song makes me want to bang my head against a wall. I'll listen to it if I'm listening to the album all the way through, but I would never skip right to it purposely.

Skipping over the misstep that is "Jewels N' Drugs," Gaga throws herself into a classic rock-inspired bit called "MANiCURE." She rips into each verse with a vocal tone reminiscent of the sounds of Joan Jett, while she wails "I'm gonna be manicured / You wanna be manicured / Ma-ma-ma-manicure / She wanna be manicured" in each chorus. To fit in with the flow of the rest of the album, DJ White Shadow pulls the classic rock sounds into a trippy breakdown at the very end, which worked really well. The song isn't really single-worthy, but it's a nice album track.

"Do What U Want," which features R. Kelly, makes its appearance next. With this song, I love how, once again, she is able to mask a giant meaning behind seemingly shallow lyrics about sex. While she sings "You can’t have my heart / And you won't use my mind but / Do what you want with my body" over a seductive 1980s-esque instrumental, she's actually making subtle jabs towards her critics. That obviously took a lot of thought; its not just another disposable pop song. 

Sitting directly in the middle of ARTPOP, the title track seems like the overall focus of the album, finally bringing art and pop together: "We could, we could belong together / ARTPOP." "ARTPOP" was one of the songs I was looking forward to the most on the album, and with its alien-like backing tracks and the technological beeps and noises, it turned out to be everything I wanted and more. Even the lyrics of the song are some of her best, including my favorite, "A hybrid can withstand these things / My heart can beat with bricks and strings / My ARTPOP could mean anything."

"ARTPOP" was one of the seven songs to be premiered at the iTunes Festival in September and I had a small meltdown over it when I first heard it. The strong live vocals were completely out of place on the song and it left me begging for the studio version. Finally, on the October 21, Lady Gaga and Emma released a minute and half long snippet of the song on Radio ARTPOP. Upon hearing it, I had another meltdown, but a joyful one at that time. The studio version meets every one of my expectations, and I'm glad to finally have it to listen on repeat for hours on end.

"Swine," the next track on the album, was also premiered at the iTunes Festival performance and was the reasoning behind Gaga renaming her portion of the show to Swinefest. The song is DJ White Shadow's first big attempt at a hardcore electronic sound and I can honestly say that he did the job justice. The build-up is bit extended out and the breakdown could have been a bit more explosive, but for being his first go at a job that is usually left up to David Guetta and Zedd, he did well. He did add some personal touches to it, though, including editing Gaga's voice to sound like that of Porky Pig towards the end of the song.

Oh, and then there's "Donatella." To be honest, I'm still not completely sure how to feel about this song. The chorus is another killer Zedd fist-bumper, while the verses should have been aborted before the release of the song. Those verses are absolutely dreadful; the second verse includes the lyrics "Walk down the runway, but don't puke / It's okay / You just had a salad today." The words "puke" and "salad" are almost as awkward as Azealia Banks dropping "chocolate croissants" in "1991." A large portion of the song is composed of a talk-singing method that Britney Spears made famous, which turns into this fit of screams in the chorus: "Donatella [...] I'm a rich bitch, I'm the upper-class."

"Fashion!" introduces will.i.am and David Guetta on writing credits, which many people say was a mistake. Normally, I would be saying the same, but Lady Gaga is always in complete control of her work and she would know what sounds good and what does not; I doubt she'd let will.i.am ruin her album with his vile works. (Yes, I went there.) The song is fine from my standpoint, minus the point when will.i.am's voice makes an appearance and the ending notes when Lady Gaga slides in and out of tune.

The second of three drug-related songs, "Mary Jane Holland," acts as Lady Gaga's weed confessional. To be blunt (no pun intended), she's freely telling people she likes marijuana. I can't find any other way of viewing the lyrics of the song, and although I don't agree with the message at all, the overall sound of the song is nice. Madeon did a nice job on the song; it's like a chilled-out combination of heavy rock and electronic dance music. I do like the lyrics "Cause I love, love, cause I love, love / You better than, you better than / My darkest sin," but I'm obviously not the biggest fan of "When I ignite the flames and put you in my mouth / The grass heats up my insides and my brunette starts to sprout."

After "Mary Jane Holland" comes "Dope," the rewritten version of the song "I Wanna Be With You" that was performed at the iTunes Festival in September. However, the song has now transformed into a emotional ballad that acts as a confessional to her fans. Lady Gaga has noted that this is her most heartfelt song on the album because she's using to it finally admit that she is a drug addict and to apologize to everyone for that fact. “My heart would break without you / Might not awake without you,” she sings, with a half-drunken but heartfelt slur. “I’m sorry and I love you […] I need you more than dope.”

Even with all of the fist-bumpers out there, "Gypsy," a strong and emotional power ballad, has turned out to be my favorite from the album. It starts with some simple piano chords and Lady Gaga singing "Sometimes a story has no end / Sometimes I think that we can just be friends," and it eventually builds into this vocal explosion of "Pack up your bags and we can chase the sunset / Bust the rear-view and fire up the jets 'cause it's you and me / Baby, for life" and "I'm, I'm, I'm / I'm, I'm, I'm / A gypsy, gypsy, gypsy, I'm." However, my favorite lyrics come from the pre-chorus: "I don't want to be alone for ever, but I can be tonight." The song throws me into this giant range of emotions that I can't seem to control, and yet I truly love it.

And finally, closing out the album is "Applause," the lead single released from ARTPOP. I've loved it since the beginning and it still hasn't gotten old. That overwhelming electropop sound and the exciting and loud chorus make the song so infectious, while the Koons reference ("One second, I'm a Koons / Then, suddenly the Koons is me") finally makes sense now that we've gotten the cover for album featuring the giant blue Gazing Ball created by Jeff Koons.

Speaking of the cover, I had some very mixed feelings about it for a while but I eventually fell in love with it, especially the beautifully-crafted sculpture created by Koons. When I first saw the cover, I couldn't get over how busy it was; the cut up images, the bright pink font, a reflective blue ball, the amazing sculpture in the middle of it all; I just couldn't process it all. After four or five looks at the cover, I began to take a liking to it.

The contorted font that can hardly be rendered as "Lady Gaga" and "ARTPOP" shows that Lady Gaga is an icon... a global icon. If one were to see just see the sculpture, almost immediately someone would be able to identify Lady Gaga; titles or textual indications are no longer needed to properly recognize that her. That's something that not many people can say about themselves.

As a whole, ARTPOP shines above the rest of Gaga's discography in almost every department... except those lyrics. No longer is Gaga playing Mother Monster with this album; The "You're beautiful in your way" train has left the station and the "Touch me, touch me, don't be sweet" bandwagon has just arrived. ARTPOP focuses primarily on sex, but what kind of pop music isn't about sex today?

"G.U.Y.," "MANiCURE," and "Sexxx Dreams" are just a few of the songs that just ooze those lusty lyrics: "Touch me, touch me, don't be shy / I'm in charge like a G.U.Y. / I'll lay down, face up this time," "Touch me, in the dark / Put your hands all over my body parts / Throw me, on the bed / Squeeze, tease, and please do what I said," "Last night, damn you were in my sex dreams / Doing really nasty things." Must I say more?

Personally, I'm not bothered by the lyrics, but many people have noticed and disliked the change in Gaga's writing style. I mean, if you plan on letting your child listen to the album, I would highly consider the edited version if I was in your shoes, but teenagers and young adults should be fine with the album and its explicit lyrics. The elderly? Well, probably not. (Or, at least it would be awkward for their grandchildren. Sorry, grandma, but this album just isn't for you.)

Now, if you'd like a comparison of ARTPOP to the rest of Lady Gaga's discography, I can give you a really quick description: Take the complexity of Born This Way and magnify the electronic undertones of The Fame, combine them together, and you've got yourself ARTPOP. 

With every album, Lady Gaga has evolved and improved. I always wondered how she would be able to top The Fame Monster... Then Born This Way came out, and I started to wonder how she was going find room for improvement... And now I'm completely unsure how she's ever going to out-do ARTPOP. Sure, some of the songs are pretty explicit and full of sex and drug references, but that's the name of the game in the pop music industry anymore. However, Lady Gaga is able to mask some meanings underneath all of that; something Katy Perry and Rihanna have yet to master.

Regardless of what anybody else says, ARTPOP is undeniably an improvement from her past works. There was only one dud out of the fifteen new songs but it isn't bad enough to drag down the entire album; she has released worse tracks in her career (*cough*"Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)"*cough*). In fact, despite any problems I may have found in the album, this is my favorite release from Lady Gaga to date, so she obviously must be doing something right.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Venus | Lady Gaga

Rating: ★★★★★

Lady Gaga's new album is only two weeks away, yet the ARTPOP hype machine is just warming up. Last week, "Do What U Want" was unleashed as a promotional single and quickly was promoted to the second official single for the album, while the official release of "Venus" is just a few hours away.

"Venus," which was supposed to take the spot as the second single, was released for streaming on YouTube early this morning after multiple tweets from Gaga that spilled lines of lyrics and the three alternative covers to the single (two of which are most definitely NSFW). In all of the tweets promoting "Venus," Gaga repeated the name of the song's producer: Lady Gaga.

It's not often that you hear of a pop artist that writes his or her own music, let alone taking the time and energy to produce it by themselves. And for this being Gaga's first time riding solo behind the soundboard (She was, however, a co-producer of every track on Born This Way,) the song turned out extraordinarily well. 

The chorus of "Venus" is like no other, especially when it is expanded in the second and third repetitions. Gaga sings, "When you touch me, I die / Just a little inside" and "Cause you're out of this world / Galaxy, space, and time" before sprawling into a vocal run of "I wonder if this could be love / This could be love / Goddess of love." Meanwhile, a heavy electronic track bumps underneath her vocals that is nearly indescribable.

The bridge of the song mindlessly names off the planets of the solar system (plus Pluto, which isn't a planet anymore, Gaga!), but does serve up an immature yet inevitable Uranus joke: "Uranus / Don't you know my ass is famous?" Personally, I like the addition, but that may due to my slight affinity for vulgar humor.

I know I keep saying this with every ARTPOP song, but this is my new favorite song from the album thus far. From "Aura" to "Applause" to "Do What U Want" to "Venus," the songs just keep getting better and better, and if this pattern happens to continue, ARTPOP may just live up to that "Album of the Millennium" statement that Gaga made on Twitter a week or so ago.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Do What U Want | Lady Gaga featuring R. Kelly

Rating: ★★★★★

Lady Gaga has been in constant promotional locomotion for the past few weeks: she released a schedule, revealing that there are plans to release a new song from her upcoming album ARTPOP every week until the album's release on November 11. However, that schedule may be slightly changed after the release of the first of the three songs, "Do What U Want," which features R. Kelly.

The song was originally released early yesterday morning to accompany ARTPOP as a promotional single, but it was now announced that it would be bumped up to a real single after it peaked at number one in multiple countries on iTunes and was met with critical acclaim, while "Venus" will be released next week as a promotional single.

When I first heard the song's title, I was quick to assume that it was entirely about sex and desire. That thought was proved to be somewhat incorrect when Lady Gaga took to Twitter a few hours before the song's iTunes release, posting tweets like "LADY GAGA IS A REDUCTIVE MADONNA COPY! SHE'S OVER NOW! #WriteWhatUWant #SayWhatUWantBoutMe #ImNotSorry" and "APPLAUSE didn't DEBUT AT #1! KATY IS BETTER THAN HER! #UWontUseMyMind I write for the music not the charts." 

It became evident that although "Do What U Want" does contain sexual metaphors, the song was meant as a subtle dig towards her critics. This is what makes Gaga so amazing, because she can take a song and derive so many meanings out of it. The lyrics to "Do What U Want" appeal to the masses, yet the meaning behind them all is something on the opposite end of the spectrum; I would like to see Katy Perry do that a song from Prism...

The cover art features a picture of Gaga's long blonde locks and her voluminous backside which many people may deem inappropriate, but it does ride along the theme of the song. And just as the cover to "Applause" was, there is a giant white border placed around the picture, making it seem like a piece of art from a museum. It is even hand-signed at the bottom by the photographer (whose name has yet to be disclosed, although it has been rumored to be the handwriting of Terry Richardson, a photographer Lady Gaga has worked extensively with in the past.)

From afar, "Do What U Wants" holds up a massive façade that it is just another sexual pop song, but when you dig deep into the lyrics, there's so much more that opens up from it. The chilled-out 1980s vibe carries off of a theme started by Daft Punk with "Get Lucky," but obviously Gaga has done it better. I can't wait to see where this song goes on the charts, because it has the potential to be one of her most popular yet, especially now that she has a song that appeals to an R&B audience as well as her typical pop fans.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Prism | Katy Perry

Rating: ★★★☆☆

After almost two years of milking out the Teenage Dream and one year of a musical hiatus, Katy Perry is back with Prism, and album meant "to beam [...] light out through [the] songs to all [Katy Perry's] fans," retracting her previous statement that the album was going to be "real fucking dark."

The "fucking dark" statement was completely thrown out the window with the release of the lead single, "Roar," yet another cheap self-empowerment anthem that covers itself with a metaphor comparing people to tigers. The song's beat was a carbon copy of Sara Bareilles' "Brave" and left a sour taste in my mouth for the remainder of Prism.

However, the follow-up single to "Roar" puts the album in a better light; "Unconditionally" is a power ballad that actually shines in the track-listing. The chorus is sure to be a killer on the radio, with Perry belting out "Unconditional, unconditionally / I will love you unconditionally / There is no fear now / Let go and just be free." The lyrics aren't anything to spectacular; they're on par with any other pop ballad out there, but the song is nice sounding. I love the studio track and those belts in the chorus, however, given Perry's track record in live performances, "Unconditionally" will be completely be butchered live.

Fans and casual listeners alike have all been buzzing over "Legendary Lovers" ever since it appeared on Perry's SoundCloud account with the rest of the Prism tracks; it has the most listens of all of the tracks from the album on the streaming site. Being the most diverse of the tracks, "Legendary Lovers" carries the spiritual sound that critics have been noting, going as far as breaking down into a tribal drum solo during the bridge.

Sitting at tracks number three and four, respectively, "Birthday" and "Walking On Air" draw influences from previous decades; "Birthday" is infused with sounds of 1990s bubblegum-pop, while "Walking On Air" goes for vibes of 1980s pop tracks. I feel like these two tracks in particular are the most exciting of the track listing, because they have the biggest choruses of them all and have the most prominent throwback sounds of them all.

The glazing problem I found with the entirety of Prism is that it is extremely evident that she didn't work very far outside of her small group of producers on the album; a lot of the sounds and concepts are used over and over again. The dream team of disposable pop music, Dr. Luke and Max Martin, touched nearly 75% of the songs on Prism, either through production or song-writing credits. Many talented producers can get away with producing an entire album without making it too repetitive, but we're talking about Dr. Luke and Max Martin here...

The other big issue I have with the album doesn't pertain to the music, but rather than album cover... Katy, what were you thinking? Leading up to the release of the album, Perry was using this fancy triangle emblem to promote Prism, which looks awesome. Then, she decided to put that on the back-burner to release the messy album cover, which I can't even completely describe. Her face isn't even completely visible thanks to the terrible white-balance from the sun, the flower-filled frame around her portrait looks cheap, and, worst of all, the interesting triangle logo makes no appearance. 

Taking all of the advantages and disadvantages into play, Prism relies on being a simple pop album; no more and no less. People have be begging to compare it to Perry's previous release, but it is not a step forward or a step backward from Teenage Dream. They are equals in the aspect that they're fun to listen to, but there's no real substance to back anything up. Many of the songs are all about love, but I don't feel like she even had a specific subject to sing about, just love in general.

But of course, people are going to love the album either way because it sounds nice, not because it has a giant hidden message behind it all. In short, is it worth a trip to Target and $11.99? Probably. Is it worth a Grammy nomination? Probably not.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Let Me Go | Avril Lavigne featuring Chad Kroeger

Rating: ★★★★☆

After releasing "Rock N Roll" at the end August, Avril Lavigne has been quite the hot topic. Although the single flopped on the charts, the music video was able to generate a buzz on social media sites, and now Lavigne is coming back... in a much more mature and dark manner with "Let Me Go."

This song is a big change of pace from the last two singles lifted from Lavigne's upcoming album. "Here's To Never Growing Up" and "Rock N Roll" both took a pop direction, with only former being the only one to chart within the scope of the upper half of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number twenty and certifying Platinum. 

Meanwhile, "Let Me Go" takes a harder approach, targeting  the jugular of contemporary radio stations. It builds up from a basic piano line to a forest of drum and string lines, then back down to end on a few notes of the piano, giving me some vibes of some select Evanescence pieces with a production style similar to Nickelback.

The song also features Lavigne's new husband, Chad Kroeger, whose voice is extremely annoying; I can't think of him outside of his awful work with Nickelback. As expected, his solo verse is no different and is just as annoying as ever, but when Lavigne sang the lead with Kroeger singing the harmonies underneath, the sound was immaculate. The blend between the two of them is amazing; I would have never expected the two to sound so well together.

At first, I thought Avril Lavigne was going to be filled with catchy pop tunes, but now I have different views; I feel like this could be quite similar to Goodbye Lullaby, but better. With all three singles being amazing at this point, I'm gladly going to pick the new album when it's released on November 5.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Bangerz | Miley Cyrus

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Miley Cyrus has had a long year so far: she's been sticking her tongue in all the wrong places, twerking her booty on everything known to man, and swinging naked on construction equipment, but now Smilers will have something else to be happy about when Bangerz drops October 8.

Bangerz opens on a strong but slow start. "Adore You" is a ballad track highlighting Cyrus' voice. The lyrics aren't exactly exemplary, with Cyrus excessively overusing the words "baby" and "love," but the song as a whole is a soothing listen.

"Adore You" ends and the infectious "We Can't Stop" picks up where it left off, finally kick-starting the sound that Bangerz was named for. I have already reviewed the song, and I'm sure everyone has already heard the song before, so I'm not going to ramble on about it here.

Britney Spears is one of the many artists to make a cameo appearance on Bangerz, singing a verse in the track that the album's title was derived from: "SMS (Bangerz)." In all reality, the song is actually really stupid, but then again it is too infectious to ignore. It's like a Nicki Minaj song: you don't want to like it, but the chorus is irresistible and you have to like it anyway.

The song implements a sing-rap style that is often used by Ke$ha, and most recently by Spears in her latest single, "Work Bitch." A lot of the vocal lines in the chorus have been edited and layered, but the lyrics I've been able to get out of it were "I'll be strutting my stuff / Bangerz, bangerz." I didn't say it was the most complex song, I said it was catchy. (Shut up, I know you're judging me right now but I'm going to be strutting my stuff and jamming out to this song for a while.)

Even after listening to the entire album thanks to the free iTunes stream, I can confirm that "Wrecking Ball," the second single from the album, is the best song from the album, hands down. The production, the vocals, the lyrics... They're the best that Bangerz can offer. Some of the songs come really close to matching the quality of "Wrecking Ball," but each one of them fell flat in one category or another.

The video isn't that bad, either. The most people can ever comment on about it is how she's naked... Personally, I don't think this is a trashy way of conveying herself. The MTV Video Music Awards performance? Most definitely trashy, but the way she maintained herself in the "Wrecking Ball" video was not nearly as bad. The only thing that threw me off was the licking of the hammer... which I didn't really understand... at all.

Now, a problem I've noticed... What in the hell is "4x4" supposed to be? It carries a foot-stamping, knee-slapping beat with lyrics that would be appropriate for a bitchy bluegrass singer, not the new gangster Miley Cyrus. It completely switches gears, forcing Cyrus back into that country-girl image that she had tried to stray away from with a lot of the other songs on Bangerz. What are you trying to convey to us, Miley? That you're still a country girl but you like to do drugs and twerk in the inner city now, too? Because that's what I'm getting out of it.

One thing that stuck through the entire album that irritated me immensely, you may ask? Well, every single song produced by Mike WiLL Made It had to be orally watermarked by Cyrus with the uttering of his name somewhere in the song. Listen, it's cute in a song or two, but not all of them. There comes a point when it just becomes irritating, and Mike WiLL Made It reached that threshold quickly. We get it; you produced a lot of the songs. Having your names credited in the album booklet should be good enough to you, buddy.

When looking over our three grown-up Disney girls in a musical aspect, Cyrus is stuck in the middle of her peers. Bangerz may not have lived up to Selena Gomez's Stars Dance, but at least it was a bit more creative than DEMI. I've got to give Cyrus credit; she did try to go a bit outside of her previous safety zones. Some of the songs fell flat on their faces, but other ones actually came out as average pop anthems.