Monday, December 2, 2013
Much has been written about Miley Cyrus in the news this year - and that's an understatement. But somewhere buried underneath all the spectacle, she is an actual recording artist who may have just sneakily released the best album of 2013.
1. Adore You
A slow song with a ton of production going on underneath the drawn-out vocals. An interesting choice to begin the album as it runs counter to the media image of Miley and it plays with a running theme throughout the album which is loving someone in a way that never aligns with the way they love you. A very relaxing song with strings and synth.
2. We Can't Stop
I absolutely hated this song the first time I heard it, and the twentieth, and then eventually it grew on me like a fungus. Miley slurs the words like she's living the song lyrics in real time. This sounds like nothing else on the radio right now, for better or worse. Miley took a clear risk with this one which paid off into being one of the biggest songs of 2013.
3. SMS (Bangerz) featuring Britney Spears
A total mindfuck of a song with nonsensical lyrics and so much production it all clashes sonically into a giant amalgam of music. And that's a compliment. The kind of song that if you broke it down to its barest elements, would be absolutely horrible, but all together, somehow works against all reason. A little bit "Crazy Train", a little bit Nicki Minaj.
4. 4 x 4 featuring Nelly
The sequel to "Hoedown Throwdown" from the Hannah Montana movie, or at least a sly wink towards it. Nelly's inclusion seems to be random at first, but he's been making a bid for the country music scene since 2005 with hit song "Over and Over" with Tim McGraw and most recently with Florida Georgia Line on the massively successful "Cruise (Remix)". A nice marriage of country and hip hop.
5. My Darlin' featuring Future
The best song on the album hands down. Miley laments the failure of a relationship that should have been destined for so much more over a persistent hip hop/pop beat and a Ben E. King sample. The emotion from her is palpable on this one and you can't help but fill in the dots to her broken engagement to Liam Hemsworth. There is a sad, persistent yearning in her voice you can't fake. As the song goes on, she grows more and more pleading yet defiant - her best vocal performance on the album and one of the best songs of 2013. Hands down.
6. Wrecking Ball
Divorcing this song from its controversial video, I don't think this song stands up to the previous album track in power or memorability. However it serves as a continuation of the album's unifying theme: love can be powerful and wonderful but it will ultimately devastate you.
7. Love Money Party featuring Big Sean
Miley puts aside the theme of lost love for this tongue twister half-sung, half-rapped song. I have no idea how she would perform this song live but it fufills its birthright as a party song with a spooky Halloween beat. As usual, Big Sean contributes nothing of value to his token guest performance spot and it's the low point of the song.
Another half-country, half-hip hop song over a whistle beat that flows nicely as a party/hookup song. Not memorable but fun.
Sonically experimental in a way that sounds 1980's new wave and 2010's EDM at the same time. She folds beats over synths over an anger at lost promises in a failed relationship. Her voice wavers between frailty and undisguised anger in a way that evokes the word 'performance' in a song - when many singers just sing the words as they're written on the page. "If our love is at the end, then why do I still want you/But I guess I got no Valentine/Send me roses, I'll just let 'em die/I was crazy thinking you were mine/It was all just a lie". The listener can hear each note of indignation, frustration, despair, and crazy love in her voice. The song's breakdown seconds into an Axl Rose style mashup of her high and low voice singing over each other. One of the best songs on the album.
10. FU featuring French Montana
The song starts out, high on slow melodrama and pleading, and twists unexpectedly to a kiss-off song with a pounding beat. French Montana's verse flows much better than Big Sean's and Miley even briefly duets with him. Miley releases her anger unabated here and throws in a ton of acronyms for good measure.
11. Do My Thang
The most-dated sounding song on the album (thanks to the circa-2005 intro and 1999 style verses). Miley playfully tries on a rapper persona a la Lil Kim and sounds damn good doing it.
12. Maybe You're Right
This song serves as a summation for the theme of the record "Chapter 1 we started happy/The second that you said you loved me/I started questioning us/Are we really in love." On another level, it serves as a response to her critics in the wake of her "VMA Scandal": "You might think I'm crazy/Lost and foolish, leaving you behind/Maybe you're right". Either way, this mid-tempo song answers back with a weary strength and a depth of emotion.
13. Someone Else
Familiar lyrical tread and a companion song to "Maybe You're Right". Another tongue twister over a J Lo style beat. By the end of the album else, Miley acknowledges her transformation into a new person, the "someone else" changed irrevocably by her breakup and recent "scandal". Her vocals descend into rapid craziness as she sings antithetical statements about love being "patient" and also "selfish". And besides that, it's just a really good song.
Miley's created something that many of her pop contemporaries have failed to do in the era of the digital single - to create an honest-to-god record, an album with thematic elements. She's made a record that doesn't sound like anything else on the radio right now that sparkles with her personality throughout. It's hard to imagine anyone else but the Miley Cyrus of this very moment singing these songs and in creating these songs, she's cemented her place in pop music history - she's of this very moment, this era, 2013. Pop culture and her own personal experiences aligned to produce this, she's both speaking from her own viewpoint and the viewpoint of the cultures that she's been exposed to. I wouldn't be able to pick the singles from this one if I was her A&R rep, they're not alongside album cannon fodder, but instead part of a larger musical journey (if you will) into the future.
There is no record I've ever heard that will represent 2013 more than this one.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Finale Show - May 16, 2013
Top 10 Idol Contestants - "Glad You Came" B
This was supremely cheesy, of course it was, but somehow it was cheesy in a good way. I loved their coordinated white outfits and it actually looked like the Idol contestants were having a good time (not always the case with these choreographed, often lipsynced group numbers).
The Band Perry & Janelle Arthur - "Done" A+
UNBELIEVABLY fun to watch. This was a country music tribute to hair metal and I loved every minute of it. The choreographed kicks, headbanging, fire, and those haircuts. Wow, this was just amazing. THIS was the perfect example of a duet/group performance where the band actually looks like they are interacting with the Idol contestant. It even seemed like Janelle was in their band which is the highest possible compliment I could give. It's a shame the producers didn't really let any of the contestants do uptempo songs this year, as its evident they could have kicked ass at them.
Top 5 Guys & Frankie Valli - Four Seasons Medley/"Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You"/"Grease" A
This had me up off my seat rocking out, no surprise! I love Motown and the music of the 60's. This was cheesy, safe fun.
Mariah Carey - "Vision Of Love"/"Make It Happen"/"My All"/"Hero"/"We Belong Together"/"#Beautiful" B
As you can see, Mariah performed no less than 6 songs in this performance. While I LOVE Mariah's music and a greatest hits medley sounds amazing, the short clips didn't give any song any time to build and reach its full peak or potential. It would have been awesome to start with We Belong Together and segue into her new hit #Beautiful. I love Mariah but there was just way too much going on here.
Amber Holcomb & Emilie Sande - "Next To Me" B-
The vibe between Amber and Emilie was a bit awkward, as if they hadn't rehearsed or didn't really know how to react to each other. Especially compared to Janelle singing with The Band Perry which was loads of fun and very organic and natural. I liked Candice's version of this song much better, and it seemed a bit unnecessary having Amber sing a song that Candice had sung just last week.
PSY - "Gentleman" C-/D+
This was sort of awful, but it got me dancing. I am STUNNED he didn't throw in a snippet of Gangnam Style in here, but PSY is probably trying to prove he is more than just a one hit wonder. Since this song is (somehow) on the charts, he is definitely on his way to proving that.
Keith Urban - "Little Bit Of Everything" A+
I think this was the moment where I fell in love with Keith Urban. He is just the kind of guy you want to grab a beer with, under the summer sun, flip flops and a t-shirt. I know it's not just me! I realized with this performance that he is the antithesis of Mariah - all laid-back cool and low-key energy - where you know Mariah spent hours micromanaging every aspect of her performance (which ended up being sub-par compared to Keith's). I think we could all learn a lesson or two about life from Keith!
Candice Glover & Jennifer Hudson - "Inseparable" A+
This was JAWDROPPING. Amazing. What can I even say? These two powerhouse vocalists brought the house down. We can end the show right there. Unbelievable! These two girls should record this song together.
Angie Miller & Adam Lambert - "Titanium" / Angie Miller & Jessie J - "Domino" A+
You may argue that I am getting a bit liberal with the A+s here, but come on. I loved seeing Glambert back on the Idol stage. Angie began the song at the piano, duetting with Adam across the piano - it worked amazingly. Very emotional and dramatic, which I loved. The ache in Angie's voice was beautiful. I will buy this right now. Where is the link? Jessie J came out to sing her hit "Domino" with Angie and you could tell she was thrilled to sing with her favorite singer, Jessie J as well. A great performance and extremely fun!
Keith Urban, Kree Harrison, & Randy Jackson - "Where The Blacktop Ends" A
Another awesome performance by Keith. This is the most relaxed and joyful I have ever seen Kree look on this stage. I think she should have performed with Keith every week! Clearly his chill attitude is rubbing off on her.
Aretha Franklin & Top 5 Girls - "Natural Woman"/"Never Loved A Man"/"Respect"/"Think" B/B-
Sort of an odd concept - Aretha is singing on a TV screen via satellite while the Top 5 girls sing backup vocals on the stage. It's kind of strange, but it (kind of) works. The choreography and red and black outfits are awesome though!
Jennifer Lopez & Pitbull - "Live It Up" B
This is AT LEAST the 3rd song J. Lo & Pitbull have done together ("On The Floor", "Dance Again") and it's the worst of the three. That said, I LOVED the dancing and costumes (even those wild gladiator sandals J. Lo and the dancers had on). It was a pretty entertaining performance although I could have done without Pitbull entirely. Also what on earth does "let's hook tonight" mean? Hook up? Hookers? Whatever, #YOLO.
Kree Harrison & Candice Glover - "One Less Bell To Answer"/"A House Is Not A Home" A
Have we ever heard the two Idol finalists sing together before? If not, I don't know why not! They sound wonderful together, even though they are tackling two very old songs I wouldn't know if not for their inclusion on Glee. I only wish the producers could have given them a more fun song, but it doesn't matter at this point because they sound great.
AND THE WINNER IS.....CANDICE GLOVER!
Candice Glover - "I Am Beautiful" A+
Of course, Candice was crying so hard her voice ended up a little muffled and strained. It was so emotional and wonderful - of course I cried, was there a doubt? It's been a long season and from her very audition, Candice is the one I was hoping would make it to the end. Her unjust cut in Vegas week last year was a CRIME against singing and I am glad that she came back this year and took the crown. I am so happy for Candice - she truly deserved this win and it's been a long road for her (auditioning 3 times).
Check out the Vegas week performance I'm talking about from Season 11 (with eventual Top 10 Season 11 contestants DeAndre Brackensick and Jessica Sanchez):
And on that amazing note, I sign off for American Idol Season 12. It's been real! Until Season 13...
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Top 2 - Finale Performance Night - May 15, 2013
The anticipation is high for this finale. And didn't it seem like a short show, only 1 hour, when we're used to the 2 hour episodes dragging out? It wouldn't hurt them to go back to this format every once in a while! Candice and Kree represent the best finale since 2009's Adam Lambert vs. Kris Allen Season 8 finale. Both girls have demonstrated unique song choices, beautiful voices, and some truly buzzworthy performances.
For tonight's episode, Round 1 is producer Simon Fuller's Choice, Round 2 is the Winner's Coronation Single, and Round 3 is a Reprise Performance from this season. Shaking things up a bit this year, as usually they end the night with the Coronation Single.
1. Kree - "Angel" (by Sarah McLachlan) A
I was astonished by how much I loved this performance, and how I never envisioned it as a country song before, but it all somehow worked perfectly. It was a very straightforward performance in the sense that she did not change the arrangement or delivery very much, but I loved the subtle country twist she gave the song - both in her tone of voice and the mournful country guitar sound. I cried during this performance because I really felt her delivery of the song and the true emotion embedded in every note of it. (Side note - finally they dressed Kree in something besides a Dress Barn leggings and maternity top combo and she looked gorgeous.)
2. Candice - "Chasing Pavements" (by Adele) A-
While Kree took a pop song and made it country, Candice took a pop song and made it jazzy. I love how she began this song in her deep, low register, really demonstrating the true range of her voice. She proved with this song that she does not need to do a million runs and belt out every song, but instead with her deliberate and delicate phrasing, really interpret a song. In other words, she doesn't fall back on vocal gymnastics to hide her lack of connection to the song or emotional interpretation.
3. Kree - "All Cried Out" B
In the context of the competition, I liked the song, but I did not love it - just not dynamic enough for me. I wish the song told more of a story in the traditional country style. I wonder how it will fare on the country charts. In parts of the song, it sounded like she was straining a bit. Although I've been waiting all season to purchase the winner's single, I'm not sure this is what I was looking for.
4. Candice - "I Am Beautiful" B
Unfortunately, this song didn't live up to what I was hoping for either. OF COURSE the Idol producers would saddle these two extremely talented contestants with sub-par, mediocre songs. I would just expect nothing less at this point. I gave both of these songs the benefit of the doubt, but if they're going to be this sub-par, I wish they would stop trying to make the songs "current" and failing and just go back to the "This Is My Now" / "Do I Make You Proud" style of over-blown, melodramatic, cheesefests. At least those are good in their own right! Anyway, back to Candice's performance. It also sounded like Candice was straining a bit at parts of the performance but I will say she seemed more emotionally connected to the song than Kree had.
5. Kree - "Up To The Mountain" A+
After a very sleepy Round 2, if you did not wake up for Round 3 of this competition, as Keith would say - call your doctor, because you don't have a pulse. This is the sort of performance that gets you up off your couch, that you feel in every beat of your heart, and the core of your being. It is obvious how very connected Kree is to this song and it was reflected in her spirited and moving performance. I literally did not want this performance to end and I think that's the highest praise I can possibly give!
6. Candice - "I Who Have Nothing" A+
This was LITERALLY MINDBLOWING. When she started the song acapella and stayed there for more than just two lines, I think I got up off the couch. SHE LITERALLY BROUGHT THE HOUSE DOWN. This song was so VISCERAL, so INTENSELY powerful. That voice is once in a lifetime and even more so, she knows how to make the listener feel what she is feeling. Maybe not even relate it to their own personal life, but she offers a glimpse into her own emotions and her own story. It is rare to find a singer than can do that so fully, especially on this show. HOW she was cut last year in Vegas Week is a greater mystery!
In closing, I think it's been a great season with a few amazing contestants (Kree, Candice, Angie) who shined so brightly that they made up for all the dim stars. It's going to be a tough race and it is so obvious Candice has been my favorite all season, but if Kree runs off with the sash and crown, I won't be (too) disappointed.
Until tomorrow, Idol lovers - it's been a while since I've written a recap of the finale and I think it's time I revisit that!
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Top 3 - Jimmy's Choice, Judges' Choice, & Producers' Choice - May 8, 2013
1. Kree Harrison - "Perfect" B
The opening to this song was really gorgeous and interesting to listen to as you could really hear the country tone in Kree's song. And it's not something you'd expect to hear in a rendition of this hit song by Pink. Unfortunately Kree stumbled a bit on the chorus, where the verses were much stronger. I can imagine this was a song choice she never would have chosen on her own (and she admitted as much in the post-performance interview with Ryan), but she did a decent job with it.
2. Candice Glover - "One" A/A-
Candice's tone is so rich and lush; I absolutely love listening to her sing so I can hear what specific and intentional choices she takes with the song. She makes each song her own through her emotional interpretation of the lyrics and melody. Candice really got to soar with this song choice - Jimmy really picked a great one for her. She incorporated the emotion and power in these song lyrics and really took off.
3. Angie Miller - "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word" B/B-
This performance from start to finish was sleepy for me after the electrifying performance by Candice. While her voice sounded beautiful and pure, I didn't really like the song or her delivery of it. Angie's tone slipped into being unpleasant when she hit some of the higher notes.
4. Candice - "Next To Me" B
While "Next To Me" by Emile Sande is one of my favorite new songs on the radio right now, this song choice failed to produce a "wow" moment for Candice. While of course she sang it magnificently, it paled in comparison to the other Round 2 song choices. Keith was right that she delivered the first few lines in a conversational tone, really drawing in the listener. But I was lost a bit at the "clapping" part of the song - she really picked it up again after that inane clapping stopped!
5. Angie - "Try" A
I love this song and I LOVE that Angie finally let go with the song, embraced her rocker side, stopped making eyes at the camera, and really had fun with the performance. Finally she brought to life a "mid-uptempo" song and sold it believably. It was a fun and very sexy performance where she almost felt like the lead singer in the band. I absolutely loved this and I can't wait to post the YouTube video once the American Idol Official Channel puts it up.
6. Kree - "Here Comes Goodbye" A+
I am not ashamed to admit I cried for a solid 15 minutes watching Kree's hometown visit video as well as her beautiful performance of this Rascal Flatts song. This is so heartfelt, emotional, moving, and absolutely gorgeously sung. She really told a story with her voice, note choices, and delivery and it was amazing.
Try not to cry while watching this:
And Kree's performance:
7. Angie - "Maybe" B/B-
This was not the Idol Moment (TM) she needed for her last performance on the Idol Stage before the 2013 Finale. It distracted me that she didn't seem to be playing the piano at all for at least the first half of the song. I thought the song was sort of cloying in a way (or maybe it was Angie's delivery which seemed a bit strained at parts). Solid but not great.
8. Kree - "Better Dig Two" B+
At first I loved this song choice for Kree. I'd never heard the song before and it was catchy and uptempo. But upon further reflection, I think it soldified my thoughts that the Idol Producers want Kree to be a distinct 3rd place finisher. She is not as dynamic as Candice and not as "marketable" (whatever that means) as Angie. Idol voters don't really like things that have an edgy lyrical content like this - and sometimes they vote based on last impressions. I think Kree would have been much better off with her last impression being "Here Comes Goodbye" which was an absolutely amazing performance.
9. Candice - "Somewhere" A+
I love how she started in a subtle but gorgeous way with the song and as the emotion built, her voice built and grew as well. This was truly an Idol Moment (and the only true one of the Final 3 performances). Candice earned her place in the finale with this song (as if she hadn't all season - duh!) Unbelievable. Candice is a master class in singing perfection.
Candice's Best: "Somewhere"
Angie's Best: "Try"
Kree's Best: "Here Comes Goodbye"
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Top 4 Redux - Now & Then - May 1, 2013
1. Angie Miller - "Diamonds"A-/B+
Angie starts off the show with a beautiful and understated cover of the hit Rihanna song. It is interesting how bare-bones this song is when you strip it down. The limitation of the lyrics becomes very apparent. Angie's voice was a bit shaky in parts, but I liked her version of this song. A common theme throughout the night was the strange arrangements given to some of these songs. I would have preferred if the band had not come in on this song, and just allowed Angie's voice and her piano playing to carry the song (or not - as the case may be).
2. Amber Holcomb - "Just Give Me A Reason" B-/C+
One of the night's many breakup ballads and this one fell a bit flat in comparison. It was a bit startling to see in her pre-performance package how disconnected she was to the lyrics of her second song. And on second listen, I wonder if it affected her performance here as well. This is a devastating breakup ballad and her enunciation on some of the words was hard to make out. She also smiled at some inopportune parts of the performance. Pink's voice demonstrates all the ache and devastation of the words and Amber just could not match that.
3. Candice Glover - "When I Was Your Man" A++
It only took me until the first chorus to begin crying. Unlike Amber, I truly BELIEVE every word, every heartbreak in Candice's voice. She inhabits the lyrics in a way few singers truly do. Can I admit I have never heard the original Bruno Mars song?? Maybe that aided in my enjoyment of Candice's performance. Not only was it a powerhouse, perfect vocal, Candice succeeded in moving the audience in a way that arguably none of her fellow contestants did. This was an absolutely stunning performance and by far and away, the best of the night. I agreed with Nicki's critique that this sounded like it could actually be Candice's song and not a cover version.
4. Kree Harrison - "See You Again" A
I wish the band had not come in on this Carrie Underwood cover, and just kept the arrangement as Kree and the Hot American Idol Guitar Player (TM). The arrangements have been so hokey and uninspired, and this was no exception. What really shined in this song was Kree's passion and emotion. I believed every note, I believed every word. I saw the pain in her eyes and felt it too. There are many great singers, but not as many great storytellers with beautiful voices - and in this performance, that is what Kree was.
5. Angie Miller - "Someone To Watch Over Me" B
I think I figured it out about Angie - when she is not sitting behind the piano, she comes off as though she is starring in her very own Broadway musical. And somehow, it (mostly) works for her. Her intonation, phrasing, the way she builds from a soft whisper to belting - it's all extremely Broadway. While I am not sure she fits into the current pop landscape, I don't doubt that she'll have a very successful stage career.
6. Amber Holcomb - "My Funny Valentine" B-
I didn't like Amber's performance this time around as much as I did the first time she performed it back on the Top 20 girls round. She stood out then among more mediocre talents. But with the high level of talent amongst these 4 girls, this didn't quite compare to me. There were a few parts where she went high pitched and it went a bit unpleasant. I wished more than anything she would choose a song where she moved from behind the mike. I wonder if that it's she can't move in the heels and just chooses to stay put. Whatever the reason, I always find her performances a little sleepier than the rest as she just is not a dynamic performer.
I've embedded her original performance below:
7. Candice Glover - "You've Changed" A
Like I mentioned before, Candice is the sort of storyteller who draws you in immediately with her voice and inflections. I loved the jazzy turns and runs she did on this song - they fit in so well with the song's style and the overall vibe. The staging and atmosphere was so perfect as well. She is captivating with each performance. Although I didn't love "You've Changed" as much as "When I Was Your Man", both performances were amazing and complimented each other in an interesting way.
8. Kree Harrison - "Stormy Weather" B+
Her voice sounded great but overall something was missing from this performance for me. It was a bit sleepy. To be honest, it's hard for me to recap this song because it didn't leave much of an impression on me - and it was the last performance of the night!
In closing, I will never understand why Harry Connick Jr. has not been on EVERY episode this season. Or is not seated behind the judges table. He is amazing and made this episode for me!
Best of the night: Candice - "When I Was Your Man"
Worst of the night: Amber - "Just Give Me A Reason"