Tag Archives: pop

The Simpsons make it pop with Ke$ha

The Simpsons has been a worldwide pop culture juggernaut for over twenty years. It holds most “long-running” TV records, it launched Fox into territory formerly occupied only by the Big Three, and its catchphrases end up in the OED. Emerging from a few less than memorable years, the show has become even more satirical and surreal as of late, albeit by sacrificing the sentimentality of its golden years.

Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK” is a pop sensation in its own right, a #1 song that holds the record for most digital downloads by a female artist ever – the true mark of music business dominance in 2010. So, when last night’s episode of The Simpsons bypassed its usual couch gag for a parody music video for the song, the move was totally unexpected but a natural fit.

Taking the ridiculous, self-indulgent lyrics at face value, the crew went for literal sight gags that involved big swaths of the Springfield universe. The minute long clip also shows off the ever-improving animation skills that remind us that The Simpsons is still the standard bearer of animated television.

Pop culture has always been at the heart of The Simpsons, so so-called purists who wince at what seems like an ephemeral tribute are not being intellectually honest. Ke$ha is not Poochie – it’s a one-off gag that re-inserted The Simpsons into Monday morning water cooler discussion. That’s something we still need. And it’s not even the most obnoxious Simpsons musical crossover.

Introducing Fugative (or, Bieber: watch your back)

The UK music scene has been busy of late, exporting more than its fair share of indie pop-rock and electronic music. The next British Invader may be a kid with his eye on a piece of that Justin Bieber money.

Fugative, aka Harry James Byart, is a pop rapper from Essex. Just sixteen years old (and exactly ten days younger than Mr. Bieber), he writes and produces his music with Richard “YoungLord” Frierson. The pairing is a natural fit, as the Top 40 hip-hop producer was also a sixteen year old prodigy, working with Puff Daddy’s Hitmen Production Team in the mid-90s. The Bad Boy connection goes deeper, as Fugative is signed by Bad Boy co-founder / ex-Mary J. Blige manager Kirk Burrowes.

Fugative’s hip-hop is the sonic and lyrical counterpoint to Bieber’s R&B: age-appropriate, de-sexualized, “schools and girls are confusing” territory. The beats range from 90s dance throwbacks (“It’s Summertime,” which reached #4 on the UK R&B charts) to re-hashed club beats (“Supafly” apes the fills from “Drop it like it’s hot”). Still – a hit is a hit, and Fugative’s audience probably doesn’t care about originality.

Between shuttling him between Atlanta and the UK and building his social media presence, the team behind Fugative are also trying something novel to boost their young performer. Remixes of his tracks are not coming from Timbaland or Young Money – but from top EDM producers like A1 Bassline, Roska, and Moto Blanco.

In fact, I first found Fugative while searching for a song with an infectious “I think I’ve got a crush” hook. Turns out the song was Fugative’s “Crush” (single release on May 10th), remixed by none other than TGRI-favorites Nadastrom. Keeping the pop melody and sugary hook, the guys dropped most of Fugative’s rapping in lieu of some serious wobble:

By brandishing his blog credentials before he even gets a stateside release, Fugative will already be on the minds of taste makers and culture fiends when he gets a US push. Probably just in time for the summertime.

Time to party with Menya

Meet Menya – a brash, electroclash-meets-party rap group out of New York. Out of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, to be specific: the twentysomething trio of Good Goose, Coco Dame, and Angie Ripe (names changed to protect the not-so-innocent) are getting their musical education both in the classroom and in the club.

Angie Ripe and Coco Dame are Menya’s sugar and spice, with Angie’s sultry singing and Coco’s fearless rapping over beats and keys by Goose. The no-frills set-up allows the band to oscillate between grimey, sex-fueled bangers (“Ripe” and “D.T.F.”) and summery, synth-poppers (“Bushwick Baby” and “Sleepover”). They do each equally well, which makes the Menya experience fun and playful – but decidedly naughty.<

Check out this TGRIOnline exclusive remix of “Loose” by STAMPED DJ James Nasty. He gives a Bmore feel to a song that demands the listener “twist my arms / bend my legs / pull my hair / I like it that ooh I like it that.” James Nasty and Menya – a perfect fit.

And while the band covers Top 40 pop songs by Justin Bieber and 3Oh!3, they have a knack for flipping the lyrical message into something a little more Menya-like: Kelly Clarkson’s “I Do Not Hookup” becomes “(So what) I hook up,” for example:

I’ve seen Menya rock a capacity-crowd show at NYC’s Bowery Poetry Club and a cramped basement show at the 3rd Street Co-op here in DC; both were shows for the ages that left the crowd sweaty, breathless, and ready to party. Menya is returning to the DMV the weekend, playing two shows that promise more of the same. On Friday, Menya will be at the University of Maryland for The Get Down, with Bullfight Academy and Leftist. On Saturday, the band headlines the Faze Electro Dance Party at Jammin Java with DJs Ypset and Santi.

I had a chance to speak with Goose and Coco about the past, present, and future of Menya.

Where’d you guys grow up, and how long have you been performing as a group?

Goose: I grew up in northern Virginia and got out as soon as I could. As a group, we’ve been performing together about two years. Our first show was April of 2008. We were quite a sight then. I was dressed in really casual clothes- a hoodie and jeans. Angie and Coco were dressed almost entirely in sparkles and gold lame. There are pictures somewhere.
Coco: I was born in Manila, Philippines and grew up in Maryland, near DC.

What musical influences have resulted in the sound of Menya?

Goose: I’m obsessed with the production on late 90s and early 2000s hip-hop: Timbaland and the Neptunes, mainly. I’d like to think my contributions are a combination of that and my lifelong love of Stephen Merritt’s projects.
Coco: Spank Rock, M.I.A., The Cure, Lil Kim, T. Rex, Prince, KRS-One. Artists who are lyrically clever or thoughtful, and are not afraid to expose themselves and put themselves on the line to speak their mind.

Your re-fix/re-mixes have put a fun twist on hit songs. How’d you come up with that approach to covering songs?

Goose: We’re big youtube fans. We were seeing a lot of DIY parody-type videos and wanted to give it a shot with our own brand of silly potty humor. Plus it allows us to cover our favorite guilty pleasure pop songs. I love Justin Bieber’s music a lot, actually. How lame am I?
Coco: I barely listen to the top 40, mostly because I only really listen to the radio waiting in line in a store, or when I am in the car with the band. Covering popular songs, even ones I didn’t necessarily like at the beginning, has kept me interested in the mainstream for a new reason- to pull a song apart and create something fun!

You guys recently did a spring break tour which I believe is your most extensive touring yet. How did that go?

Goose: I loved the tour. I ate so many burgers and we got to have biscuits at a Cracker Barrel in South Carolina. Best moment that wasn’t music related was swimming in Miami. Worst moment was the rain. There was so much rain on that tour.
Coco: Worst moment by far was getting a stomach virus. Luckily it struck the only day we did not have a show. My friend’s mom was a sweetheart and helped me get better. I was upset because I couldn’t join the St. Patty’s festivities. Florida was my favorite state overall, and Charlotte has really wonderful drag queens! Met a lot of great people.

After seeing this video, I had to ask – how was meeting and playing with Andrew WK?

Goose: I’ve been a big AWK fan since I was in middle school when “Party Hard” came out. I gushed a little to him about how much I love his music at the show, which made me feel silly.
Coco: I really appreciate him opening up his venue Santo’s Party House for us to throw a big show. The rumor that he is awesome is true- W.K. is a nice dude.

Any hints to what’s next for Menya?

Goose: We’re writing new songs in May, then touring for most of the summer and fall, mostly to places we’ve never been before like the midwest and hopefully up to Canada. The plan is to do about 50 dates before mid-August, which I’m booking now. After that, we plan on making our own organic fruit smoothies and outselling Lady Gaga.
Coco: I will probably grow my hair out from my mohawk until I can’t stand it no more.

The Verge – British Invasion

Welcome to The Verge: a column dedicated to music on the edge of a breakthrough. Last week’s column profiled a few forward-thinking, left-field beat makers, but now it’s time for a quick look across the pond.

Are we in the midst of another British invasion? If musical trends are cyclical, then we’re due for the onslaught of UK acts that descends on our shores every twenty years or so. Last year, Little Boots and La Roux lit up dance floors and the bloghaus (if not sales charts). Last night’s Florence and the Machine show sold-out the 9:30 Club, and acts like the XX, Marina and the Diamonds, and VV Brown continued to build buzz at SXSW.

Here at TGRI, we’ve been championing these acts for a while now. So what’s next?

Ellie Goulding, the BBC Sound of 2010 winner, is at the top of the list. The 23-year old singer-songwriter released her album Lights on March 1st, and debuted at #1 on the UK Albums Chart. No word on a US release yet, but she continues to amass critical kudos while touring the crap out of Europe.

She’s also shaping up to be the next La Roux. While her poppy brand of electronic-tinged folk is strong on its own, remixes by other artists elevate the songs to the next level. London DJs Jakwob and Russ Chimes have put Goulding’s lilting vocals and melancholic melodies over beats that take the songs from the coffeehouse to the dancefloor. Jakwob reaches for the love-step wobble, while Russ Chimes brings in the backbeat/piano loop to craft a real house banger.

Everything Everything is an indie band from Manchester that also appeared on the BBC Sound of 2010 poll. Do they have what it takes to shake up a stagnant indie rock scene, and join Vampire Weekend, Passion Pit, and Phoenix as legitimate cross-over acts? Only time will tell, but on the strength of six songs, they were signed to Geffen in advance of a full length due some time this year. While indie-dance-synth-pop is not novel territory, Everything Everything does it with a dedication to robust riffs and distinct vocal harmonies. Frontman Jonathan Everything (the entire band does the Ramones thing) utilizes a few different styles, from a syncopated sing-speak to an impressive falsetto, that is stronger and less piercing than that of Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos.

The band’s breakout single, “MY KZ UR BF” (or “My Keys, Your Boyfriend”) has the potential to be the next “Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance.” With a sing-along chorus and a new wave-meets-math rock construction, the song is catchy and danceable enough to get beyond its too-cute-by-half abbreviated name. The band’s creative videos show a sense of humor lacking from some of their peers, and will only help them breakthrough, especially when a middling band like OK Go has turned the viral video into an art form.

These are just two of the sounds coming out of the UK. If you don’t want to be an Anglophile like me, just keep an eye on The Verge – I have a feeling we’re only at the beginning of this invasion.

VV Brown @ DC9, 2/19/10

Do you guys like rock ‘n’ roll music?” For the crowd at British songstress VV Brown’s sold-out Friday show at DC9, the answer was a resounding “yes.”

The music world is constantly faced with revivals of past styles; everything old is eventually shined into something new. Most of Brown’s debut Travelling Like the Light takes the form of a rock n’ roll & doo wop pastiche that recalls the pioneers of 50s and 60s pop music. It’s not necessarily novel territory (Brian Setzer revived similar sounds in both the 80s and 90s), but Brown does put her own spin on the ball. Her bouncy vocals are strong enough to carry the hook heavy songs, and she cuts an imposing figure on stage: a 5’11” Lady Gaga-meets-Janelle Monae hybrid.

Taking the stage in a Gaga-ish masquerade get-up, Brown and her backing band launched into “Everybody,” a toe-tapper that sounds like “Black Betty” with a disco chorus. Next up was “Game Over,” aided by backing tracks – a disappointing conceit for someone so dedicated to recreating the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll. The songs are strong enough to stand on their own without the note-for-note production found on the album.

The crowd thoroughly enjoyed the set, dancing and singing along at the sock hop throwback. A cover of Drake’s hit “Best I Ever Had” was a crowd-pleaser, as was the swinging surf rocker “Crying Blood,” augmented by a reggae remix that let Brown take the crowd “back to the islands.” Closing the set was one of the strongest singles from her album, “Shark in the Water,” a strummer reminiscent of KT Tunstall’s “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.”

Another artist on the BBC Sound of 2009 list, VV Brown offers a fresh take on classic sounds – and a fun experience for those who were too young to jump, jive, and wail during the late 90s.

Album Review: Marina and the Diamonds – The Family Jewels

The BBC “Sound of…” poll is an annual attempt by leading UK tastemakers to find the pulse of the upcoming year in music. Chart toppers have included everyone from Adele to 50 Cent, with artists like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vampire Weekend, and Santigold rounding out the top ten lists. However, the list may be a self-fulfilling prophesy, and the individual rankiangs leave a bit to be desired; 2009 clearly belongs to Lady Gaga (#6), while Little Boots (#1) didn’t even release her album stateside.

Even with those caveats, the poll is generally a good tool for discovering artists on the edge of a breakthrough, like Sound of 2010 runner-up Marina and the Diamonds, who is set to release her debut record The Family Jewels on February 22.

Marina and the Diamonds is the stage name of Marina Diamandis, a half-Greek, half-Welsh chanteuse with a deep, rich voice and a unique take on pop songwriting (unlike Florence and the Machine, the Diamonds are not her backing band, but her fans). After bouncing around universities and teaching herself piano, she ended up in London to pursue a musical career. In 2007, she released her self-recorded demos, Mermaid vs. Sailor, and was eventually signed to 679 Records, home to electropop stars Little Boots and Annie.

The Family Jewels is a stunning debut, with thirteen shining examples of piano-driven songwriting. Marina is quirky and theatrical, bringing a mature, cerebral edge to what is basically a pop record (only one song clocks in over the four minute mark). Stylistically, she’s equally adept with singer-songwriter ballads (“Numb”) and new-wave throwbacks (“Shampain”). Her compositions are aided by dense production that begs for live performance without trampling over catchy melodies and hooks.

After releasing brooding, down-tempo songs like “Obsessions” and “I Am Not a Robot” as singles, Marina got the message about what works in 2010 pop music. “Hollywood,” the first proper single off the record, balances both of her sensibilities, building from dark synths and strings to a shimmering chorus that belies the tone of the lyrics: “Hollywood infected your brain / You wanted kissing in the rain / Oh oh, I’ve been living in a movie scene / Puking American dreams / Oh oh, I’m obsessed with the mess that’s America.” The cynicism doesn’t stop there: “you look just like Shakira, no no, you’re Catherine Zeta, actually, my name is Marina,” nails the industry need to classify and pigeonhole.

Marina’s ability to juxtapose musical and lyrical content is also apparent on “Oh No,” a danceable jaunt with lyrics that paint the picture of a reluctant pop star: “Don’t want cash / don’t want card / want it fast want it hard / don’t need money / don’t need fame / I just want to make a change.” Propelled by an insistent kick drum and bassline combo, the song bounces along as Marina tears down what we expect from a 23-year old pop starlet.

Every year brings another crop of female singer-songwriters; the road to Fame is paved with would-be Next Big Things. So what makes Marina and the Diamonds any different? With dance pop dominated by Gaga (and flavor of the week Ke$ha), pop music as a whole is in dire need of a songstress who can pull together the disparate strands of piano-based music to craft something new, like a quilt made of Regina Spektor, Amanda Palmer, and Siouxie Sioux. With Marina and the Diamonds, those Brits may be on to something.