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.