Album sales at an all-time low: 5 things that only maybe could save a dismal 2014
Credit: AP Photos

Album sales at an all-time low: 5 things that only maybe could save a dismal 2014

Adele, are you there? It's me, the consumer

As we previously reported, album sales are at a record all-time low in the U.S. Last week, album sales totaled 3.97 million for the week, marking the first time the tally has dropped below 4 million, unprecedented in the SoundScan era (which kicked off with tracking sales data in 1991).

Billboard -- who has a partnership with SoundScan -- is the first to report album and sales news, the good, the bad and the ugly. Today it was reported that sales are slightly up from that grim news last week, 5% only (to 4.2 million), due to Ariana Grande's fresh "My Everything." But still, that makes it trending low, which Ed Christman said is only to be expected.

"The weekly average number of album sales fell from 4.75 million units in the first quarter to 4.55 million units in the second quarter. In the first 8 weeks of the third quarter, the average has fallen further to 4.2 million. This decline is actually in line with historical trends."

Sales for the year are down 15% compared to totals from the same point last year so far.

Who is buying albums right now?

Let's do a spot cross-section: artists who all have earned No. 1 albums on The Billboard 200 sales chart in 2014.

It says a lot that Tom Petty earned his first No. 1 album ever just this summer. Now, I want you to try and name a Tom Petty song that's fewer that 15 years old. Bruce Springsteen nabbed one week, as did "Weird Al" Yankovic.

Young girls love "5 Seconds of Summer" and the "Frozen" soundtrack. Sweet God, do they ever love "Frozen."

Coldplay, Rick Ross, Beyonce, Eric Church, Jack White, Trey Songz and Ariana Grande had previously earned No. 1 on the chart  one or more times. They all have had hit radio singles, No. 1 for each of the genre categories.

"Now 49" and "Now 50" are bred from the same radio single compilation series, for those people who cannot be bothered to cherry-pick their favorite hits. "Guardians of the Galaxy" soundtrack is essentially, too, a hits compilation of late-1960s and '70s hits, aligning with one of the biggest blockbusters of the summer.

The newbies and anomalies are rappers Wiz Khalifa and Schoolboy Q, soft pop/rock songwriter Ed Sheeran, country artist Miranda Lambert, rockers The Black Keys and "Chandelier" singer Sia.

There, of course, are many other new and old albums that have sold and sold moderately well in 2014. But start thinking about that long tail -- those indie bands that have a lot of buzz, those 2013 albums that only got heir due (or radio single) later, the popular touring band that has no airplay. And critical acclaim doesn't guarantee that sale -- or even the full-album stream.

5 Ways To Maybe Save A Dismal Year Like This One

1. Adele: She's one of the few post-2000 artists to have passed the 10-million units mark with a single album, for "21," and the only artist to have done it post-2010. Her album spent 24 weeks in the penthouse of The Billboard 200, which also keeps it in the consciousness of the buying public. Likelihood of her sweeping in to save the day? It's September, folks; this month is the time labels start their 3-month album promotional cycle in time for holiday gift season. There has been no single farmed from her new album -- purportedly called "25." She's said over and over again that she'll take her sweet time producing her next, especially after vocal cord surgery and having a baby. Not really counting on her pulling a Beyonce and surprising us either. So, low chance but weirdly possible, with many limitations.

2. Taylor Swift: "Shake It Off" is definitely a song you'll hear for a year straight. She's got her next album "1989" set for October and the Swift brand is still on the rise: Swift is squarely out of the "country" category now and into the A-list celebrity and artistry world, here to stay for young buyers as well as those who "grew up" with her handful of hits from each album. Released in October 2012, her previous "Red" sold a brain-blowing 1.21 million copies in its first week, and while this new one may not fare nearly as well this fall, "1989" will be far-and-away one of the best-selling albums this year. But save the year? She'll have to sing at every ballgame, awards show, late-night TV show and morning show on top of making the purchase of her album more appealing (or the only option -- she didn't let Spotify stream "Shake It Off," users could only YouTube, buy or find their way around).

3. An Eminem album plus a Drake or a Kanye or Jay Z album: Best-seller Eminem's "Recovery" fared well two years ago, but not Adele-well. Sometimes, rap artists help amplify the sales of other rap artists, or come seemingly in a package (Young Money acts, Watch the Throne, etc.). While Kanye West and Nicki Minaj are guaranteed to sell well on their own, they couldn't do enough to dent this stinker of a sales run this year. Eminem is helping release the Shady Records "ShadyXV" compilation this fall, but not a new studio album. So no go on this front -- if Minaj wants to put an onsale date on her "Pinkprint," though, we're all for it. Just need to rock the Top 5 in airplay with "Anaconda" or otherwise first if she wants to make a big move on album sales. Notice I did not bring up Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter V." Because I dunno, man.

4. A gangbusters Christmas album: These new titles will hit starting in October, and tend to make up some sleeper sales late in the year, on top of albums purchased as stocking stuffers for family. But, I mean, it'd have to be a Michael Buble duets album with Mariah Carey and special guest Susan Boyle, or Bing Crosby returning from the dead to personally ring your doorbell and hand you a copy of whatever's there to shill. Or, hey, we hear "Frozen's" still popular, how 'bout Josh Gad singing "Silent Night."

5. Sale! Sale! Sale! And not just on Black Friday. Billboard requires a minimum $3.49 price tag in the first four weeks of release for an album to count toward their chart, and charting is important to many labels. Though, can you imagine, if CDs were $5, and all the digital sales of albums were $3.50 for a day, and it all was promoted across the board in a disgusting display of the reduced value of art (or "art")? Gnashing of teeth, counting of dollars, uptick in "sales." Also: never gonna happen.

What won't work to help this poor sales year?

That Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett standards album: Promotion on "Cheek to Cheek" is warm right now, and Bennett is catnip to older buyers, especially those who helped shoot "Duets II" up to the summit in 2012 (179,000 first week). Gaga's "Artpop" also made No. 1, with 258,000 first-week. But don't go thinking combining the two will make Taylor Swift numbers, maybe more like 300,000. The two could be doing more together than archival studio videos, and the ought to do that soon, since it's due in less than three weeks.

These best-sellers combined: Chris Brown, Jennifer Hudson, Lady Antebellum, Weezer and Foo Fighters all have confirmed albums due this fall. The latter actually stands a chance of taking a big bite into sales, due to a bump of exposure from the series of the same name (created by Dave Grohl) on HBO. Maroon 5 (out this week with "V") is going to do well. But not Adele well.

Rumored albums: Rihanna, U2 and One Direction have sent out whiffs of fall/holiday releases. Has the hype cooled on all them, however?

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1" soundtrack: It's being curated by Lorde, so who the heck knows what all she'll slap on there. That movie, though? Will take all the money that's left over the holidays.

These potentially awesome albums: Run the Jewels, "RTJ2"; Charli XCX "Sucker"; Scott Walker + Sunn O))), "Soused"; Jessie Ware, "Tough Love"; Death From Above 1979, "The Physical World"; Aphex Twin, "SYRO." These won't move many copies. You should give them a spin anyway.

Oh, so there still might be good music out there. Why are sales still falling so badly?

This is a gimme. CD and digital album sales are both falling. There's been a decreasing number of brick-and-mortar stores (ones you actually, physically, walk into) because specialty shops closed and the big boxes like Best Buy and Wal-mart aren't gonna keep sinking money into stock they can't move (including smaller, harder-to-find releases).

There are some young people who will never buy a CD in their life. Some haven't ever even bought an album, whether on Amazon or iTunes, Best Buy or Amoeba or Barnes & Noble. Single sales in 2013, though, were also down...

But streaming is up. Before, it was just piracy and illegal downloading eating away at sales, starting in 2000. Now it's Spotify and Pandora on top of that.

How do you best support the music and musicians you love?

TV On The Radio has that teenaged feeling on new song 'Happy Idiot'

TV On The Radio has that teenaged feeling on new song 'Happy Idiot'

To keep my mind off you

TV On The Radio is feeling a little moody. A little distraught, a little post-grunge sad. "Happy Idiot," the rock band's first single off their new album "Seeds" is super-pop, and yet bumming out in the corner of the party.

Tunde Adebimpe sings about becoming that happy idiot in a blaze of teenaged feelings -- banging his head against the wall to feel nothing at all, et cetera -- as the band bounds underneath him at a health BPM. I'm particularly keen on those drums and the tamborine, and the tight adherence to the melody.

But it's simple. There's a restraint like a Nirvana verse that never quite pays off. Will the rest of "Seeds" be equally resistant to The Big Chorus?

"Seeds" is due Nov. 18 via Harvest. Fans may want to pre-order the album, giving them pre-sale access to the few fall tour dates the Brooklyn crew's announced so far. The "Happy Idiot" lyric video precedes the dates.

Here are TV On The Radio's tour dates:

Oct 17: Santa Barbara, CA @ The Santa Barbara Bowl*
Oct 18: Big Sur, CA @ The Henry Miller Library*
Oct 19: San Francisco, CA @ Treasure Island Music Festival*
Oct 22: Los Angeles, CA @ The Regent
Oct 24: Pioneertown, CA @ Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace
Oct 25: Las Vegas, NV @ Life Is Beautiful Festival*
Nov 12: Toronto, ON @ Phoenix
Nov 13: Montreal, QC @ Corona
Nov 14: Boston, MA @ Paradise
Nov 16: Washington DC @ 9:30 Club
Nov 17: Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
Nov 18: New York, NY @ Apollo
Nov 21: Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Nov 22: Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

* indicates no presale tickets available

Summer Music's Winners & Losers: Mariah, Iggy, Ariana, Charli, J-Lo and... Bieber

Summer Music's Winners & Losers: Mariah, Iggy, Ariana, Charli, J-Lo and... Bieber

Who really lost out on the charts and in our hearts?

At the beginning of the summer, Melinda Newman and I tried to deduce who would be winners -- on tour, at festivals, in sales and on the charts.

Many panned out: Iggy Azalea had a literally historic summer. Ariana Grande scored three big singles. Charli XCX became a household name. 5 Seconds of Summer helped buttress One Direction's highly successful ticket-selling stronghold.

There are also some artists we could have looked at and gone, "ehhh..." Mariah Carey has had a rough go for the last three years. Robin Thicke wrote his destiny when he named his album "Paula." Justin Bieber didn't kick off his 20th year on this earth with great acclaim.

In the slides below, we point out some of what worked and what didn't some we couldn't tell was coming. Who'd heard of a little band called Magic!, for instance? How about that first No. 1 album from Tom Petty? And, whoa, how 'bout that Weird Al?

New music from The Weeknd: Still high and getting laid and sad and weird about it

New music from The Weeknd: Still high and getting laid and sad and weird about it

'Often' and 'King of the Fall' are similarly molded to the R&B singer's previous output

The Weeknd has a brand to maintain. I get it.

For all the sex he's getting on the road, for all the drugs he's taking, and for all the times he sings about all of it, no wonder his video are always gray-hued, with washed out specters of women floating about him like he's the center of the saddest little universe.

But, damn Weeknd, can't it be any fun at all? Because lines like "She gon' give it up 'cause she know she might like it" (ugh) and "All my hoes are trained, I make all of them swallow" (TRIPLE UGH) are depressing as hell for your females, what are you dragging your sad-ass feet for?

I'm referring to "King of the Fall," a title so morose Drake's kicking himself for not thinking of it first. And the Toronto connect is a propos, as The Weeknd (aka Abel Tesfaye) takes a stroll through his hometown, with cameos from locals like Jazz Cartier. While the slow-motions between beddings and parties and the street keep the singer and producer looking cool, check out the Confederate flag up at the world's most melancholy dance fiesta. How about the rain and the pace and the longing glances when Adderall is his atmosphere? Someone should call his mom, because I'm freaked out.

All this: a shame, because "King of Pain," er, "King of the Fall" is one of the better engineered and mixed songs we've heard from The Weeknd ever. It's a slow creep (heh), with a crescendo that will have you thinking you've got a midget on your chest too.

It arrives on the heels of another new single from Weeknd, "Often," out last week, which has a similarly looping, repeating, sweet-dripping chorus that belies an equally messed up premise of one of his one-night-stands: he does it how he wants it, and is happy to hand off that pussy to one of his crew when he's done.

Hey, he's talking about groupies: we could talk about power, fame, empowerment, gender and commodification for days. There, again, though is that deficit, a melancholy that creeps into seemingly all of The Weeknds endeavors, making these ballads and especially the music videos hurt for the audience like a VD flare-up. He's not extolling his life as healthy, he hints at the "temporary-ness" of it, but then again here are a series of women as props, clothed and unclothed, "performing" for the Dr. Frownpants who need do little else in his videos except float through them, like it's all "happening" to him, almost like a victim and not a participant. (Robin Thicke has a penchant for that too.)

If only he didn't sing so beautifully? If only some of those choices on synths and beats didn't hurt so hard with him? Wishing this was in gibberish.

"Often" and "King of the Fall" arrive ahead of The Weeknd's outing with Jhene Aiko for the King Of The Fall Tour, four dates below.

09/19 – Brooklyn, NY @ Barclays Center
09/21 – Toronto, Canada @ Molson Ampitheatre
10/09 – Hollywood, CA @ Hollywood Bowl
10/10 – San Francisco, CA @ Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
 

Exclusive: My Brightest Diamond song premiere 'This Is My Hand'
Credit: Bernd Preimi

Exclusive: My Brightest Diamond song premiere 'This Is My Hand'

Fans invited to submit photos for use in the music video: Read our interview with Shara Worden

Shara Worden, aka My Brightest Diamond, wants you to put your hands up -- on social media.

The artist is preparing a Sept. 16 release of her next album, "This Is My Hand," and today HitFix exclusively premieres the title track from the set.

Like the full-length, "This Is My Hand" is lush and intense, sensual but confrontational, arranged with detail and imploringly original. All songs feed into an effort that Worden says "tortured" her, at least when it came to crafting lyrics.

But it's exactly those hard-fought lyrics that My Brightest Diamond wants fans to riff on: launching today, the songwriter invites listeners to ThisIsMyHand.com, to take a picture that matches the lyrics and use Instagram tags to send her way, to help compile a crowdsourced music video entirely from those images.

Head to the website to read all the lyrics and get started.

Below, I interview Worden on "This Is My Hand" and her recent EP "None More Than You" and writing about her whole self. Tracklists, tour dates and more are beyond that.

"This Is My Hand" arrives next month via Asthmatic Kitty, and was recorded in Berlin, New York, Los Angeles and Detroit with producer Zac Rae. It is her fourth album, coming on the heels of 2011's "All Things Will Unwind." You can pre-order "This Is My Hand" here.

(Listen to previously released My Brightest song "Pressure" here.)

HitFix: You're releasing your album only a couple of months after you dropped your EP. How has your opinion changed over they years on the value of an "album" -- versus the compiling and releasing of EPs, singles, music videos, et cetera?

Shara Worden: I love making records. I love the history of the form. This is our fourth record since 2006, so we have seen a lot of changes in the industry to be sure. When I first started thinking about making another album, I did feel pretty bleak about the value of recorded music, but then I did a lot of reading and thinking and inputting, and then became really excited about the process again. I made a big pile of recordings this time around, writing at least 20 songs and then we chose the material that made the most sense as a unit, and the other songs we are releasing as EPs.  

"This Is My Hand," lyrically, is already so illustrative -- and very inspirational. What do you hope to achieve by opening up the music video to fan submissions of visuals?

I was writing this album thinking about an imaginary tribe of people, gathering around a fire, making music together, telling stories, hearing from the shaman, and so of course I also imagined everyone dancing, but then when I went to make "dance music" I realized how I have spent so much of my life disassociating from the body. I was brought up in a conservative Christian culture that in essence said the body was "evil" and then also as a female musician, from early on I felt that I wasn't going to be taken seriously as a musician if I was also dancing, so I just shut off my connection and focused on my mind. 

This song is really about self acceptance and re-integrating the WHOLE self and there is so much happening right now across the globe, with body image, our sexuality, slavery, racism, that I just feel like this song belongs to "the larger tribe" and I want to open up this video format so that more people can have a "ritual" of sorts, accepting themselves and the tribe shows itself to be beautiful and varied as possible.

There are lines in this song and others on the album that reference female-ness, and play with sex and gender. Can you talk about any evolution or approach you've had to incorporating these themes in your compositions?

As I began making this music, uncharacteristically starting from the beats first, I was really forced to deal with my questions about my body, my sensuality, my sexuality, and even the violence and love that I am capable of, and embracing all aspects of who I am as a human being.  It still feels like I'm in a process on the subject that is going to continue for a long time.  

Describe the most challenging day, instrumentally, you had in the studio for this album.

All of the instrumental aspects of this record felt super easy, actually. All the musicians are such incredible artists, but strangely enough it was the lyrics for this album that really tortured me. Normally lyrics have been my foundation, but this time around I ended up changing almost half the songs, some of which had existed for at least two years at the last minute. I knew that I had to be more vulnerable and more honest, so there were a lot of desperate moments where it felt like I was pushing on this wall that I had to crumble and it was really quite scary and then on the other side, it feels quite liberating.

 

Here is the "This Is My Hand" tracklist:

1. Pressure
2. Before The Words
3. This Is My Hand
4. Lover Killer
5. I am Not the Bad Guy
6. Looking At The Sun
7. Shape
8. So Easy
9. Resonance
10. Apparition

Here is the "None More Than You" EP tracklist:

1. Dreaming Awake
2. Whoever You Are
3. Dreams Don't Look Like
4. Dreaming Awake
5. That Point When

Here are My Brightest Diamond's tour dates:

September 19 /// Detroit, MI /// Music Box
September 20 /// Toronto, ON /// Drake
September 22 /// Boston, MA /// The Sinclair
September 23 /// Philadelphia, PA /// World Café Live
September 25 /// New York, NY /// Bowery Ballroom
September 27 /// Washington, DC /// Rock & Roll Hotel
September 28 /// Pittsburgh, PA /// Altar Bar
September 30 /// Charlotte, NC /// Visulite Theater
October 1 /// Atlanta, GA /// The Earl
October 3 /// Austin, TX /// Austin City Limits Music Festival
October 12 /// Dallas, TX /// The Kessler
October 10 /// Austin, TX /// Austin City Limits Music Festival
October 17 /// Stockholm, Sweden /// Scandic Grand Central
October 18 /// Gothenburg, Sweden /// Folkteatern Foajebaren
October 19 /// Copenhagen, Denmark /// Loppen
October 21 /// Hamburg, Germany /// Knust
October 22 /// Berlin, Germany /// Postbahnhof
October 24 /// Brussels, Belgium /// Botanique Rotonde
October 25 /// Amsterdam, Netherlands /// Paradiso Noord-Tolhuistuin
October 26 /// Paris, France /// Bababoum
October 28 /// London, UK /// Village Underground
October 29 /// Leeds, UK /// Brundenell Social Club
October 30 /// Glasgow, UK /// Oran Mor
October 31 /// Dublin, Ireland /// Workman’s Club
November 12 /// Grand Rapids, MI /// Wealthy Theater
November 13 /// Chicago, IL /// Lincoln Hall
November 14 /// Madison, WI /// High Noon
November 15 /// Milwaukee, WI /// Vogel Hall
November 16 /// Iowa City, IA /// The Mill
November 17 /// Minneapolis, MN /// Cedar Cultural Center
November 19 /// St. Louis, MO /// Old Rock House
November 20 /// Indianapolis, IN /// White Rabbit Cabaret
December 2 /// Denver, CO /// Larimer Lounge
December 3 /// Salt Lake City, UT /// Urban Lounge
December 5 /// Portland, OR /// Doug Fir Lounge
December 6 /// Seattle, WA /// The Crocodile Café
December 7 /// Vancouver, BC /// Electric Owl
December 10 /// San Francisco, CA /// Great American Music Hall
December 12 /// Los Angeles, CA /// The Roxy
December 13 /// San Diego, CA /// The Casbah

Miley Cyrus slams media for 'going after' her homeless friend Jesse

Miley Cyrus slams media for 'going after' her homeless friend Jesse

Pop star 'disappointed' for the attention turned on spokesperson's 'legal issue'

During the MTV VMAs on Sunday, Miley Cyrus used her platform to raise awareness of homeless youth, but attentions also turned in on her awards show guest this week.

The pop star, in lieu of delivering an acceptance speech for her Video Of The Year win for "Wrecking Ball," sent up her new friend Jesse to speak about his experience of living homeless. Cyrus directed fans to her website to learn more about Los Angeles non-profit My Friend's Place and to learn more about the plight of poverty and homelessness in America.

But Jesse -- identified Jesse Helt, 22, this week -- actually has a warrant out for his arrest in his homestate Oregon, for violating probation. According to the Associated Press, he'd previously been arrested (as a juvenile) for criminal mischief, criminal trespass and burglary in 2010. Court documents said he'd broken into an apartment of a man "who had been selling what Helt believed to be bad marijuana."

His mother, Linda, said that Cyrus had given Helt money to fly home to visit her; she said that Helt was welcome home at any time, and that he'd moved to L.A. to "make it on his own." He intended to pursue a career in modeling.

This has immediately led to concerns that Miley Cyrus' homeless date wasn't homeless enough. Or was selected because he was good for cameras. Or wasn't vetted to be "representative" of homelessness.

Rewinding a little, Cyrus' move to hand over precious media time on Sunday is what audiences were calling her' "Sacheen Littlefeather moment," mirroring what Marlon Brando did for his Best Actor acceptance speech in 1973. He sent Sacheen Littlefeather -- a spokesperson chosen by Native Americans involved in the American Indian Movement -- to deliver a long speech he had written about the poor and underrepresented culture of Native Americans in Hollywood. (It was a move that then caused the Academy to ban proxies from accepting awards on people's behalf at the Academy Awards, which is why now presenters accept for non-present winners.)

Miley Cyrus made waves at the VMAs last year for her twerking with Robin Thicke; she's spent the year trolling awards and entertaining at concerts, the nature of which you could file under "rebellious" since establishing her post-Hannah Montana persona.

This current move in the great Miley Cyrus re-branding is the most illustrative and widely covered example of Cyrus' charitable works. She has been an activist and donated time and effort to other causes, from Haiti relief to HIV/AIDS research to Rock the Vote to PETA support.

Which would explain, in part, why Cyrus' camp reacted with vitriol toward those who would call her VMAs move a "stunt." Representatives told Mashable that MTV didn't even know what Cyrus had planned.

That could also be why homelessness' moment in the sun turned into another moment in the sun for her, as she stood awkwardly and stagey in-frame of the honorees platform. Cuts to Cyrus crying profusely certainly added drama to Jesse's statements, but also fed skepticism. This, from the young woman whose orbit is around her own image, to the degree that merchandise is manufactured to match that long, unruly tongue.

Of course people would side-eye that moment. It's a damned shame it diminishes her motive: to make good come out of her fame, for a cause that affects more that a million and a half young people in America. Perhaps of the millions of people who watched the VMAs, many hadn't given a second thought to those who suffer unwantedly from homelessness.

(And guess what? Some homeless are criminals. Some are recovered criminals. Or mentally ill. Or abused. Or addicts. Or recovering addicts. Or victims of poor Child Protective Services or broken homes. Some are down on their luck. And many want and need help. Understand those needs more at My Friend's Place.)

Miley Cyrus spent the last year trying to convince people to lighten up, to have fun with her brand of pop, to expect wild things to come from her mouth/Twitter/Instagram/concert. The careful Miley Cyrus business is a multi-million dollar business -- maybe the backlash came from the notion that the brand hadn't vetted and prepared for the moment when Cyrus actually tried stepping back from the mic?

Taylor Swift's new video 'Shake It Off' features twerking, for you haters

Taylor Swift's new video 'Shake It Off' features twerking, for you haters

Timing '1989' and the unrest in Ferguson: You can't please everyone, you should please a few

There are people who hate hate hate hate hate Taylor Swift, and they will hate her more for this video and this song precisely because of the phrase "haters gonna hate."  It is class-A trolling, trolling the trollers. It's colorful, featuring people of color, using styles and tropes we've grown to hyperbolically love or hate, on a white background of shake-shake-shake. It's its own meme.

It also borders on dangerously upbeat and ill-timed. This month we're glued to our media, watching the ongoing hostilities in Ferguson, Mo., and bombarded with a much-needed conversation about race relations. There are costs to ignoring the scourge of racism, some of which play out in 140-characters, relatives' poorly worded Facebook posts, half-formed editorials and half-informed talking heads...

"Shake It Off" isn't about Ferguson, it just fell on the calendar where the context renders it seemingly tone-deaf.

Now, hang tight.

Swift is featured as the "lead" dancer in a series of skill-specific dances -- hip-hop, ballet, cheerleading, modern, etc. The comedy here is -- as if you didn't already know it, gosh dernit -- Swift's skill set doesn't include the coordination to hold a candle to these athletes. She merely fumbles her way through choreography, but damn if she isn't having fun: here's Swift bunny hopping in a tutu. Here's Swift adorkably faking a break dance. Here she is, crawling under a bridge of twerking asses.

There are parts of pop star shelf life that require its participants -- particularly women -- to diverge into territory that isn't "them." Pantomime romances; dress for the job they want and not the one they have; smile when they're frowning inside. Stars like Britney Spears take flack for faking dance skills when they've long gone. Christina Aguilera eats sh*t for "forsaking" her 20-something, pre-baby body. Madonna has tried and often failed for her varied stylistic appropriations.

The point is, in "Shake It Off's" video, that Swift can approximate a thing she is not, but she will never succeed in being what she isn't. Just as Miley Cyrus was not that thing, smacking the butts of black backup dancers as they turn around and praise her dance. Just as Katy Perry is not this thing (Japanese) or this thing (Egyptian) or this thing (a Marine).

Swift is trying on the visages of other pop stars all at the same time, and similarly calling it: "it" isn't working. Do the ballerinas not remind you of Kanye's "Runaway" short film and performances? How about the futuristic goggles and platinum blonde, of Lady Gaga's "The Fame?" Or the cheerleader chant of the (admittedly poor and weak and awful) bridge from Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" and her own taunting "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together?" Swift literally takes a line from Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" as she's Great Escaping the sexualized, bobbing butts of the dancers above.

So, yeah, in earnest, she's reinforcing her own precociousness, her ineptitude and yes, dammit, the joy she feels in performance. She comes into her own as a singer, leading a big band. She considers herself one of the Normies, just like the rest of us schlubs, when it comes to dancing, and specific adoptive styles. "Shake It Off" is cleansing, yet snarky, incurring haters' wrath and uncaring -- because dammit, you can't please everybody.

It just may not be what people want right at this second. Check out the elemental presentation of what is "hip-hop," with the oversized boombox and doofy color coordination, and of the bodies of the women of color during the twerk-off. Swift here isn't calling these "lesser" artforms, they're merely whittled down to a 2-D essence of Things I Can't Do And Things That I'm Not. Which doesn't add much to that race conversation above. African-American-founded art-forms (now co-own by the masses) and brown bodies (frequently co-opted by the masses) are deservedly under an analytical microscope now, and making caricature/commentary of them ought to do something earnest, or hopeful, or intellectual. In short, invulnerable, bulletproof. That's not the video she made. "Shake It Off" is a troll.

And one I happen to like, like, like, like, like. Like her video's characters, she's not gonna nail the landing, particularly in the current socio-political context. By it nature, this will be a tune impossible to avoid, just as it will be hard to avoid an analysis. Swift has made a certifiable hit that complicates and compliments her brand, her girl-next-door brand. I think it's a contagious melody, easy to listen to, fun, broad enough to apply to many but specific enough to reveal her as an artist. "Shake it off" is really credible advice and a decent message.

But was the video myopic in execution? Would the twerking or "this sick beat" or boom-box-on-a-shoulder read differently were it a black performer? Is that reading too sensitive -- or isn't it time we be more sensitive?

"Shake It Off" is the first single from Taylor Swift's newly announced album "1989," due Oct. 27. Check out the video and the album cover below.

Macklemore and Fences get shot in in 'Arrows' video

Macklemore and Fences get shot in in 'Arrows' video

What kind of zoo animal are you?

Fences and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have released the very colorful video for the collaborative song "Arrows," featuring the popular Grammy Award-winning MC getting shot.

As I mentioned in the writeup for the new single, Seattle-based Macklemore is obviously wrestling with the aftermath of his rapid rise in fame, following the runaway hits off of his and Lewis' album "The Heist."

In the clip, he's seen making a plunge off of a high dive into a swimming pool, its surface brandishing the covers of Rolling Stone magazine which pimp his very visage. He's also presented as an animal in a roving zoo, with reporters clicking his photo and then leaving after he gets shot.

It's true, we kill the ones we love. Fame is fleeting. Be careful out there. Also, it's really rude to spy on undressed ladies in their apartment with binoculars, don't do it.

"Arrows" is off of Fences new album "Lesser Oceans," out Oct. 14.

The Black Keys 'Weight of Love' video: Sexiest cult ever

The Black Keys 'Weight of Love' video: Sexiest cult ever

Hair braiding, jumping jacks and more sleepover camp rules

The Black Keys' new music video for "Weight of Love" features not just a cult, but the most beautiful cult in the land.

It's a all-female cult led by supermodel Lara Stone, featuring subdued activities that keeps the white-clad model cult members active without delving into the realm of actual "fun," like braiding hair, topless laundry, jumping jacks, bowing down and shucking corn. Mother Stone gets all aggro in a girl's face and is, like, thisclose to kissing her, too. It's basically a teen boy's half-formed wet dream set to an extended Nautica commercial, with Black Keys' Dan Auerbach's visage from their "Fever" video on the endcaps.

So maybe it Auerbach's dream? Hm. Theo Wenner, who directed the clip, also helmed "Fever," so maybe they're branding a new religion. Auerbach recently produced Lana Del Rey's new album, so I half expected her to be in this somber, sunlit mix.

"Weight of Love" has a nasty guitar solo and a long instrumental intro, one of the stronger tunes off of The Black Keys' latest album "Turn Blue."

Weight of Love from Theo Wenner on Vimeo.

Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora battle James Marsden in 'Black Widow' music video

Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora battle James Marsden in 'Black Widow' music video

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'Telephone' and... eep, 'Your Love?'

Iggy Azalea played up your "Clueless" nostalgia with her "Fancy" video earlier this year, and now she's stabbing you in the gut with "Black Widow" feat. Rita Ora, channeling "Kill Bill."

Yup, she and Ora grab katanas, with James Marsden topping both of their Kill lists, as they ride cycles, wield badassery and play poker in zip-up catsuits. Close... but not enough to warrant a Tarantino lawsuit. It was co-directed by Azalea and Director X -- the latter of whom may help explain that T.I. cameo.

The dual nature of wreaking havoc after a diner encounter may ring the Beyonce and Lady Gaga "Telephone" line, but another rival may also be paying attention to that samurai swagger. Nicki Minaj wagged her own weapons in her "Your Love" (remember that one?) video in 2010. I think Nicki did it better. Though none can compare to Big Wanda.

"Black Widow" is off of Azalea's "The New Classic." She and Ora will perform the song during the MTV VMAs on Aug. 24.