The first thing you need to know about Frank Ocean is that he’s a singer-songwriter, not an “R&B singer.” Seriously: he may be African-American, but please don’t genre-pigeonhole him; not only does he hate it, but his skills at penning intricate, category-less songs are far more expansive than what parameters of contemporary Urban radio will allow. That’s not a shot at R&B, though; we’re just stating a fact.
Raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, the 23-year-old music aficionado began writing for artists like Justin Bieber, Beyonc?, and John Legend when he moved to Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina in 2009. Linking up with hip hop houligan collective OFWGKTA (aka Odd Future) around that time, Ocean (who was born Christopher, and formerly performed as Lonny Breaux) then secured a deal with Def Jam, but like many artists in the early phase of their careers, was put on the waiting shelf. Luckily for us, the talented songwriter turned insubordinate and rogue, releasing his now critically-acclaimed mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra via his Tumblr.
The mixtape may have been an unconventional move for most up-and-coming singers, but for Ocean, it created a compelling word of mouth domino effect. Taking songs like The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” and Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing” and making them very uniquely his own, Ocean was able to showcase his songwriting abilities and allow the audience that was hanging on his every word to get to know him, well. Back in May, when we were fearing for our lives during the Rapture, we suggested the MGMT re-worked cover “Nature Feels” as being a delightfully sexy Garden of Eden tune to “go out with a bang” to. But the tape possesses plenty more gems where that came from: a romance with a porn star dental student is illustrated beautifully on “Novacane,” an exorcism and disposal of broken hearts turns into an enchanting car ride to the ocean on “Swim Good,” and a snippet from Nicole Kidman’s character in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut anchors the end of fan favorite track, “Love Crimes.”
This morning saw the launch of the Popdust 40, the pop site’s “exhaustive pseudo-scientific survey” of today’s pop landscape, which ranks artists in eleven categories: Nowness (worth up to 20 points); Drama (15 points); R?sum?, Third-Best Song, Music Videos, Hotness (all 10 points each); Live Show, Non-Musical Ventures, Fashion/Hair, Who They’ve Dated, and Fan Craziness (all 5 points each). (The maximum possible score of 100 was based on Thriller-era Michael Jackson.) The full list (with scores) is here, but Rolling Stone Queen of Pop Lady Gaga ranked highest, with 93 points. (It’s all about the points.) Gaga outscored her nearest competitor, Justin Bieber, by five points. His 88 puts him ahead of Kanye West (87) and Taylor Swift (86), with Katy Perry (85) rounding out the top 5.
When Popdust caught up with Gaga during her press push for “Yo? and I” to congratulate her, she was probably all too happy to talk about her theories of pop music instead of reiterating the particulars of her new single. Key tidbits: she refers to “underground dance music” as “the voice of my generation” and claims Amy Winehouse “was the only contemporary artist I looked up to.” She also gleefully takes the bait of a leading question to reaffirm something we and Popdust agree on: art and artifice are not some sort of Cartesian duality, as purveyors of “authenticity” would have it. Or, in Gaga’s terms, “Show business has always been about the act.”
Lady Gaga: The Popdust Interview [Popdust]
Over 270,000 fans (!) braved the elements and attended this year’s Lollapalooza festival in downtown Chicago, which was held this past weekend. Attendees got to enjoy a wide variety of musical performances from the 100+ acts that were on the bill, but as anyone who has ever attended a musical festival will attest, that’s only one of the many benefits of ponying up the 200 or so American dollars it costs to gain entrance. Of course, there’s the whole bonding with your friends thing, there’s the life experience of sharing a collective moment with tens of thousands of strangers, and then there’s the people watching.
Each music festival we’ve attended has had its own signature sense of style. At Bonnaroo, scantily-clad hippies freely roam the grounds in Manchester, Tennessee, and at SXSW, ticketholders and performers alike opted for more “of the moment” fashions. This weekend’s Lollapalooza ticketholders, however, tended to lean more towards a casual hipster aesthetic, which made plenty of functional sense considering the variety of weather conditions (heat, dust, rain) concertgoers had to deal with. Take a spin through our photo gallery for a sample of what people wore knowing that they were going to see and be seen!
Guitarist Jay Gore, who played with Lauryn Hill on her 2007 European tour has stepped up his legal claims against the singer. After initially seeking $3590 in back pay in small claims court two weeks ago (as reported by TMZ), Gore has now claimed that the tour was a hostile work environment and is asking for more than $20,000.
According to a follow-up TMZ report, the new documents claim that “after shows, Hill would demand that the musicians and road support personnel attend meetings where she would engage in a person-by-person critique and berating.” Sounds a lot like the touring prime of James Brown (not that the resemblance excuses Hill or Brown).
American Idol Season 10 winner Scotty McCreery and runner-up Lauren Alaina must not be in direct competition for fans or attention. How else to explain that the two new artists, who share not only a label, but also a manager (Idol guru Simon Fuller, natch), released videos within 24 hours of one another? That said, there’s no reason we can’t put them head-to-head:
LAUREN ALAINA “LIKE MY MOTHER DOES”
Where has My Chemical Romance been? (On tour, but we were being rhetorical, so play along.) After appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live! last November, premiering their entire album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys live in LA for MTV a week later, the band has shied away from the promotional circuit (save for a Conan appearance back in January). You’d even be forgiven for thinking that their appearance yesterday on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon was in support of a new album, especially if you gave Danger Days too little attention when it came out (as we confess we did).
Maybe the fact that the band wasn’t trying to push their album to anyone who wasn’t already interested was why the performance was so compelling. Maybe it was their choice of deep cut “The Kids From Yesterday” instead of any of the singles. Or maybe it was frontman Gerard Way‘s constantly shifting focus, often turning his back on the cameras to face the cluster of fans of the band, singing along on the balconies over the stage. (This performance had more cuts from camera to camera, and worm’s-eye-view shots, than any we can remember seeing on late night television?even more frantic and frenetic even than when singers have departed the stage.) In any case, the rockers convinced us, with this ballad, to revisit their album. Which we guess was sort of the point.
Elsewhere on late night…
We’d like to pass along our sincere wishes for a speedy recovery to Gavin DeGraw this morning, who is currently recovering in Bellevue Hospital after a night in which he was beaten up by thugs and then hit by a taxi. Both the New York Post and New York Daily News are reporting that popular singer, who is in stable condition, was out drinking with a group of friends in New York’s East Village late Sunday night when he was attacked by a group of men sometime around 4 a.m. He suffered a broken nose and other facial lacerations, but somehow managed to escape. Then, in an unfortunate twist, he got hit by a taxi cab, at which point he was transported by ambulance to the hospital.
His reps released the following statement:
“Gavin DeGraw is currently recovering and in stable condition at Bellevue Hospital where he was taken late Sunday night by ambulance after he was attacked by a group of assailants. He suffers from a concussion, broken nose, black eyes, cuts and bruises. The police are conducting an investigation of the attack.
Gavin and his family appreciate everyone’s concern at this time. We have no information yet regarding his upcoming concert dates and promotion for his new album.”
If you’d like to leave your well wishes with Gavin, our August Posted artist, please do so in the comments below and we’ll make sure to send them along to him as he recuperates. Again, everyone here at VH1 wishes Gavin a speedy and full recovery, and we’ll be sure to share more information on this incident with you as it emerges.
East Village thugs beat pop star [NYP]
Singer Gavin DeGraw brutally beaten then hit by cab after night out drinking in East Village [NYDN]
Non-Elvis Participant In The Kiss Identified
After 55 years and “at least a half a dozen” impostors, Barbara Gray (with the help of Vanity Fair in getting Alfred Wertheimer to overcome his pre-ordained skepticism) has identified herself as “Elvis‘s blonde” in the iconic tongue-touching photo The Kiss. The backstory is pretty interesting, too. [Vanity Fair]
Kelly Rowland Has The Worst Luck When It Comes To Timing
It’s bad enough that Kelly Rowland is constantly characterized as losing a (nonexistent) battle with Beyonc?. Last night, she suffered a wardrobe malfunction…at a club show in New Jersey, two days after Nicki Minaj did the same on national television. After the show, she tweeted, “New Jersey crowd was amazing!! hope you enjoyed the show and didnt mind the peekaboo LOL!!! #kanyeshrug #stuffhappens” At least she didn’t compare herself to Hitler. #kanyeshrug [EW Music Mix]
Finally liberated at midnight on iTunes last night, I didn’t even bother to give the album that’s projected to sell 400-500K copies a listen. Like any “grower” project, Watch The Throne deserves more attention than a few hours on a Sunday night before bed, and is one whose layers need to be peeled away over time. Unfortunately, the worldwide web and the social media news cycle don’t really allow for that kind of preciousness, so whether anyone is taking an interest in the sea of quick-trigger opinions or not, we’re all lured into engaging in text message/blog post/140-character word-vomit assessments.
All for starting a dialogue on the topic of music, sitting here trying to write a comprehensive critique for this still-warm and super-dense album is challenging, especially since there has been so much hype swirling around it for months. “H.A.M.” dropped too early, release dates got pushed back, exclusive listening sessions were embargoed (but still tweeted about and sprung audio leaks), and Hov learned from his wife’s troubles, never allowing his baby with Kanye to be born premature. Digital files now in hand before friday’s physical release date, is the album all that we wanted it to be?
Any way you slice it, Beyoncé‘s camp has been plagued with turmoil in the months leading up to and following the release of her fourth LP, 4. Before the record even dropped, rumors about the label’s unhappiness with the finished product swirled, Queen B was accused of plagiarising her widely-lauded Billboard Music Awards performance, and she endured a messy split with her manager (and father), Matthew Knowles. Then 4 came out and sold only moderately well when compared to the past performance of her other blockbuster albums, something that it has never really recovered from. Neither of the album’s first two singles, “Run The World (Girls)” or “Best Thing I Never Had,” have been able to grab the cultural zeitgeist, and while the album has been certified platinum by the RIAA for shipping over one million units to retail stores, the album’s actual Stateside sales have yet to approach that magical million mark. So, the question remains: What other levels do Beyoncé and her team have left to pull to make this album a quote-unquote “success”?
Well, it seems that their answer is to build the buzz around the strength of the entire album, not just the singles. Beyoncé just announced that she’ll be doing a four-night residency at New York City’s Roseland Ballroom next week, a run in which she’ll be performing her latest album in its entirety. 4 Intimate Nights With Beyoncé will be just that; while Bey usually performs in arenas that hold 20,000 or more people, Roseland’s maximum capacity is just 3,200 peeps, which will make the show the hottest ticket in this town since Kanye West performed My Dark Twisted Fantasy to an audience of just 1,100 at the Bowery Ballroom back in November.
So, will it work? Tough to say! To her credit, Beyoncé is widely regarded for her electrifying live performances; just two months ago, we named her Glastonbury set as that festival’s best. And by gathering the East Coast media world’s biggest tastemakers all in one room over a series of four nights, you can be assured that her album will get a fresh look from critics and a lot of ink devoted to it. As for whether or not that will translate into sales, though, only time will tell!
Beyonc? to Perform Four Intimate Shows in NYC [BET]