<p>Bruno Mars</p>

Bruno Mars

Credit: Atlantic

What are the top contenders for Grammy's song of the year?

Will tunes by Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars and Jason Mraz make the cut?

Which five tunes will receive coveted song of the year nods when the Grammy nominations are announced Dec. 5?

Song of the year, along with best new artist, record of the year, and album of the year, compose The Big Four. The entire Grammy voting body can vote on these awards and that can tend to skew the results in favor of the most mainstream entries.

The winner for song of the year and all the other awards will be announced at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards, airing Feb. 10 on CBS.

To be eligible a song must have been released between Oct. 1, 2011 and Sept. 30, 2012. People often, understandably, confuse record of the year with song of the year. Record of the year goes to the artist, producer, recording engineer and/or mixer, whereas song of the year’s sole recipient is the songwriter. Therefore, when thinking about the song of the year contenders, I usually think about how the song would sound if it were performed only on a piano or an acoustic guitar with no other embellishment.

In recent years, there’s been great overlap between the song of the year and record of the year nominees. For example, this February, four of the five nominees were the same in both categories. In 2011, three out of the five were the same.

My predictions, listed in alphabetical order, have some duplication, but I also included songs that I thought met my sniff test above but wouldn't necessarily be record of the year contenders.


“Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen:
This piece of pop culture led to so many imitators and most of them held up. That’s a sign of s strong, well constructed song. Yes, it’s simple, but it’s not simplistic.

“Gold On the Ceiling,”  The Black Keys:
  It may not be quite as catchy as “Tighten Up” but it’s still a retro, blues stomp that stands out from everything else on the radio.

“I Will Wait,” Mumford & Sons: Grammy favorites M & S craft songs that sound so good live, whether they are fully embellished or stripped down and “I Will Wait” is no exception. The banjo-led melody and the “I Will Wait” refrain create an instantly-memorable tune.

“I Won’t Give Up,” Jason Mraz: No, it’s not as jaunty as former nominee “I’m Yours,” but this plaintive love song has staying power at radio. It also one of those tunes that doesn’t seem to have that much going for it at first, but repeated listenings reveal a hidden depth.

“Locked Out Of Heaven,” Bruno Mars: The Grammys love him and this song, without the stuttering, high-gloss production, would work as a stirring ballad.

“Payphone,” Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifa:  Sure, it may be a little lightweight as a song, but it is so catchy that it could make it as a song of the year contender. Plus, the chorus was one of this year’s mightiest earworms.

“Spectrum,” Florence & The Machine: The song, co-written by Florence Welch and Adele’s producer/co-writer Paul Epworth, is grand and sweeping, growing from a shudder to a howl. Nothing else sounded like it this year.

“Thinkin’ Bout You,” Frank Ocean:
  Beautiful, provocative and sexy. Never a bad combination.

“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Taylor Swift:  Not only did Swift try something new with the alternative pop melody, but the lyrics are some of her cleverest, even if she does seem like she’s 15.

“We Take Care Of Our Own,” Bruce Springsteen: In this election year, this song stood out as a statement about our country. We may feel divided, but when the chips are down, such as with Super Storm Sandy, we’ve proved over and over again that we do, indeed, take care of our own. And Springsteen’s song, which is an appeal to our higher selves says it beautifully.

Which songs do you think will be nominated on Dec. 5? 

 

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<p>Michael Jackson</p>

Michael Jackson

Happy Birthday 'Thriller!': 5 Ways Michael Jackson's set changed everything

His masterpiece turns 30 on Nov. 30

Nov. 30th marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” the best selling studio album in the United States.

Not only was the album a blockbuster that forever sealed Jackson’s fate as one of the most legendary pop artists of all time, it changed the music industry in ways that are still being felt today, three decades later.

Here’s five ways that “Thriller” forever altered the pop landscape:

1. “Thriller” was the first blockbuster title to release seven songs as singles to radio. Until “Thriller,” labels usually put out three or four singles and then the artist went back into the studio to work on the next album. While seven singles is still a stretch for most artists, many superstars routinely go five or six singles deep on an album.

2. “Thriller” was the first major release to come out around the world simultaneously. Previously, release dates were often staggered to accommodate an act’s ability to be in the marketplace for promotional activities when the album came out.  Now, it’s the industry standard for a star with any kind of global reach to have his or her album out worldwide at the same time. In fact, now it’s common for the U.S. release date to move from its usual Tuesday standard release date to Monday to match the release date used by much of the rest of the world. Rihanna and Taylor Swift just did it with their chart toppers.

3. “Thriller” was one of the first albums to release simultaneous singles to different radio formats. After  “The Girl Is Mine” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, Epic put out “Billie Jean” to the pop stations and while it was still climbing the charts, pushed “Beat It” to rock radio.

4. “Billie Jean” became the first video by a black superstar artist to be played on MTV (the channel had minimally played videos from a handful of black artists, such as Joan Armatrading). Epic’s parent, CBS, claims they had to threaten to yank all its artists off a then-18 month-old MTV if the channel didn’t play Jackson’s video. MTV says they were always going to play “Billie Jean.” Regardless of which side you believe, Jackson busted through any color barrier at MTV, altering the cable outlet’s programming for good.

5. After breaking down walls with the “Billie Jean” video, MTV and Jackson were close allies. When it came time to debut the 14-minute video for “Thriller,” which MTV paid $1 million for exclusive airing rights, the music channel aired the clip at five designated times per day. It thereby created the first “destination viewing” for a video clip.

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<p>Britney Spears vamps in the official music video for &quot;Scream and Shout.&quot;</p>

Britney Spears vamps in the official music video for "Scream and Shout."

Credit: Interscope Records

Watch: Will.I.Am and Britney Spears video for 'Scream & Shout'

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Let it all out to a fab looking Spears

There’s no there there, but that doesn’t mean everyone won’t be talking about the new video by Will.I.Am and Britney Spears for “Scream & Shout.”

The futuristic, minimalistic clip is a cheap-looking affair that displays no chemistry between the two (they only appear together in what looks like a photoshopped scene). This is less of a collaboration than some not-so-clever cut-and-paste job.

[More after the jump...]

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Rihanna's 'Diamonds' shine atop the Billboard Hot 100 again
Credit: Def Jam Recordings

Rihanna's 'Diamonds' shine atop the Billboard Hot 100 again

She rules over the Billboard 200 as well

Rihanna is the queen of the charts as she becomes only the second artist this year to simultaneously rank No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the Billboard 200.

Diamonds” sparkles for a second week as the leader on the singles chart, while “Unapologetic” bowed at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 this week.

Not surprisingly, Adele is the only artist to achieve that feat in 2012 in February, when “21” led the album chart and “Set Fire To the Rain” was No. 1 on the Hot 100, according to Billboard.

Rihanna fends off a challenge from Ke$ha, whose “Die Young”  climbs 3-2. Ke$ha’s track trades places with Maroon 5’s  former No. 1 smash, “One More Night, “ which drops to No. 3.

Bruno Mars snags another Top5 hit as “Locked Out Of Heaven,” the first single from “Unorthodox Jukebox,” rises 7-4. Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” which was locked out of the No. 1 spot by Maroon 5, rises 7-5.

Rounding out the bottom half of the Top 10, fun.s’ “Some Nights” slides 5-6, while the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” creeps up a spot to No. 7.  No new songs enter the top 10, but “American Idol” champ Phillip Phillips’s “Home” makes a welcome return as the song bounces 12-8 on the strength of the release of his debut album, “The World From The Side of the Moon.”  The song had previously peaked at No. 9.

Flo Rida’s “I Cry” inches  10-9, while Ne-Yo’s “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself” falls 6-10.

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<p>Rihanna on her Germany stop during the 777 Tour</p>

Rihanna on her Germany stop during the 777 Tour

Credit: AP Photo

Rihanna Recovery: Seven Things I Learned on the 777 Tour

A look back at a whirlwind week with the pop superstar

It’s been a week since Rihanna’s 777 Tour ended and it looks like everyone got what they wanted:  Rihanna’s seventh studio album, “Unapologetic,” entered the U.S. charts at No. 1 this week, giving the pop superstar her first chart topper.  The 150 journalists/bloggers embedded on the plane with her got a lifetime of bragging rights that they survived a chaotic week with the disappearing diva.

I covered the tour for MSN.com and I am a 777 survivor. By now, anyone who had any interest in Rihanna has already heard the tales of her relentless tardiness, as well as the streaker and the revolt on the flight from Berlin to London after we had no Rihanna sighting for five days. We also rebelled because we were exhausted: every flight was delayed anywhere from four to six hours. Rihanna must be the only artist in the world that can turn a 7-hour flight from London to New Rok into a 16-hour door-to-door ordeal Perhaps united by our trauma, one of the journalists on the trip started a Facebook page for all of us that has now been joined by members of her team, some of the fans who were on the plane with us, and even some of the amazing Delta flight crew who manned the charter for the week.

With a little hindsight and a lot of sleep, here are my final observations about Rihanna gleaned from the experience.

1. Rihanna has that undefinable quality that makes her a star. After spending a week with her, I still can’t put my finger on it, it’s just there. She doesn’t write her own songs, she isn’t a particularly scintillating performer, but there is something compelling about her that draws people into her orbit. They are obsessed not just with her music, but her attitude, fashion choices and lifestyle. I’m not sure she has staying power like Madonna and some of her antics don’t wear well, but for the moment, Rihanna’s star continues to ascend. What that says about the current state of pop music is a topic for another post.

2. Rihanna is constitutionally incapable of going on stage, or seeming anywhere, on time. Even when she had several hundred people waiting, Rihanna went on between 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours after the doors opened for each concert. Yes, only amateurs believe an act is going on around the time the doors open, but these were all private shows for concert winners, so going on an hour after doors opened seemed enough of a wait. As I can attest, crowds start to get a little surly after the four-hour mark has passed. Even when she had a inviolable curfew, she couldn’t do it: In Paris, she had to cut 20 minutes out of her hour-long show because she couldn’t get her ass on stage in time to do the full hour before the curfew. She was an hour late for a tree-lighting ceremony in London.

3. She is very good with her fans: As contradictory to No. 2 as that may seem, she has a connection with the Rihanna Navy that feels real and genuine. After we took off from Los Angeles on Nov. 14 and headed to the first show in Mexico City, she passed through the plane twice to say hi and she personally invited a number of the 30 or so contest winners on the plane. Plus, as we waited for our bags in Toronto --Rihanna included-- she was unfailingly polite to folks who wanted a photo--until her security crew put a halt to that.

4. Nothing good can come of seeing an act seven times in seven days:
  With the exception of one or two songs, Rihanna’s set was the same every night, including most of the “ad libs.” This next part is a little bit cruel, I admit. Before performing “What’s My Name,” she’d say, “What did you say? Did somebody call my name?” I swear to you that neither I, nor any of my colleagues, ever heard anyone call out her name. We started asking each other, “What did you say? Did somebody call my name?” as a joke and the night of the revolt, some folks said it very loudly, certainly loudly enough for Rihanna to hear way up in her first class cabin.  She dropped the song from the set list for the rest of the promo tour. Coincidence?

5. She wears well: “Unapologetic” is her seventh album in seven years and in that time, she has pumped out an unending stream of well-crafted singles, more than 20 of which have gone into the top 10. There seems to be absolutely no burn-out at radio on Rihanna, which is remarkable. There is no other artist active today who can churn out singles at such a rate and have the same level of success. Each song does its thing and then gets out of the way for the next.  Radio fatigue is bound to set in at some point, but there’s no sign of that.

6. Touring is hard: Yes, the scrubs were back in coach and that meant that for the four red-eye flights we were vertical, while Rihanna was horizontal. And, yes, this kind of touring is extreme, but the truth is even when you’re on a charter flight and you’re staying at five-star hotels, there’s a certain amount of wear and tear that starts almost immediately, as well as a bunker mentality. Nuno Bettencourt, Rihanna’s guitarist, said that touring by bus was much easier than what we were doing and I’m sure it is given that there is less schlepping, but it’s still exhausting.

7. Rihanna may be headed for trouble: This is solely subjective and I’m not basing this on anything other than my own observations. The label tried to get her to hold press conferences (as the journalists had been promised) on the plane, the manager supposedly tried to cajole her and we got nothing but two quick ones at the beginning and end. The journalists were bussed to the club early every night and just parked there, often waiting for hours, because the label admitted they had no idea what time she’d actually go on... When you have that much power and that much seemingly disregard for everyone else around you and you are only 24, that is a bad combo platter. Since the tour ended, Rihanna has given interviews saying she couldn’t party on the plane with us because she needed sleep. She didn’t need sleep when she was hitting parties at 3:30 a.m. Plus, and I cannot stress this enough, we did not need to “party” with Rihanna, we needed access and quotes. She could have accomplished that with a five-minute press conference each flight. She can blame her lack of time spent with the press on whatever she wants, but it was a bit like inviting guests over for dinner and then other than saying hi, ignoring them the rest of the evening. She may be “Unapologetic,” but much of the press is still waiting for an apology.

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<p>Taylor Swift</p>

Taylor Swift

Credit: AP Photo

Taylor Swift, Rihanna and Springsteen: Grammy predictions for record of the year

Who will get a coveted nomination on Dec. 5?

The Grammy for record of the year is among the most coveted trophies handed out at the annual music glad-handing awards. On Dec. 5, the five contenders for that category will be announced along with the nominees for the other 2,385 awards handed out on Feb. 10 at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards.

Over the years, the nominations have often reflected what were the biggest pop hits of the year with seemingly no separation between commercial and artistic values.

 However, there’s often an oddball, tastemakers' choice thrown in that no one can predict, such as Bon Iver’s “Holocene” this past year. The voters can also feel motivated by much more than the music. For example, in 1986, “We Are The World” won record of the year as a way for the industry to pat itself on the back for doing something good. In 2007, the Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready To Make Nice” snagged the golden gramophone because the voters wanted to show their support for the trio after country radio had tossed them aside for lead singer Natalie Maines’ negative comment about then-President Bush.

To be eligible a song must have been released between Oct. 1, 2011 and Sept. 30, 2012. That means that Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” an otherwise sure bet, should not be eligible since it was released in July 2011. Similarly, fun.’s “We Are Young” went to radio in September 2011, as did Rihanna’s “We Found Love.”  We’ll see how closely these rules are observed.

People often, understandably, confuse record of the year with song of the year. Record of the year goes to the artist, producer, recording engineer and/or mixer, whereas song of the year's sole recipient is the songwriter. Therefore, when thinking about record of the year contenders, it helps to think about the totality of the song’s sound, the production elements, the performance, etc., more than just the lyrics and melody.

Here are 11 songs that are contenders for the five slots, listed in alphabetical order by song title. These are not what I necessarily consider the best tunes, but they are what I think the voters will put forth.


“Burn It Down,” Linkin Park”:
Is it time to recognize Linkin Park in this category or will their start as a nu-metal band always haunt them? This track fused everything the band does: rock, hip-hop, electronica. It’s probably the least likely on the list, but it’s worth considering.

“Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen: This song was so much more than a hit single, it was a pop culture touchstone that spawned a life of its own through the dozens of remakes. While some folks never warmed to it, it’s punchy, sweet appeal is undeniable.

“Gold On the Ceiling,”  The Black Keys:
There aren’t a lot of clear-cut alternative contenders this year, but this retro, thumping track was a stand-out that was inescapable, not only from radio play, but from usage  for televised sporting events ranging from the NCAA basketball tournament to the 2012 Olympics.

“I Will Wait,” Mumford & Sons:
It’s certainly not the best track on “Babel,” but the rambunctious, albeit somewhat plodding, first single feels authentically rootsy and even though they’re only on their second album, Mumford & Sons feel like Grammy favorites.

“Mercy,” Kanye West Big Sean, Pusha T, 2 Chainz:
It may be hindered by its use of a sample, Super Beagle’s “Dust A Sound Boy,” but this in-your-face rap tune insinuated its way to the top of the hip-hop charts this year. Still, not so sure the Grammys are ready to reward a song that references “ass steak”...or Sarah Palin.

“Payphone,” Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifa:
It was locked out of the top spot on the Billboard 200 and voters may go for follow-up “One More Night,” which did reach the summit, but for my money, this is the far better record of the two with a much catchier melody and stronger performance by Adam Levine.

“Some Nights,” fun.: Fun.’s second biggest single, following “We Are Young,” is a smorgasbord of a song with lots going on and yet the gorgeous pop production never feels cluttered and none of the elements ever clash with each other. It’s a very well made record, as well as being tremendously catchy.

“Thinkin’ Bout You,” Frank Ocean: He’s more likely to win best new artist or album of the year for the stunning “Channel Orange,” but this swirling, sexy slow jam definitely deserves recognition.

“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Taylor Swift:
She’s been nominated once before here for “You Belong With Me.” “Red,” the album on which “Never, Ever” is featured, will be eligible for album of the year next year, but the Grammys want to pay attention to Swift this year, especially given that she is one of the few artists who still sells boatloads of records. Plus, this stompy pop song ushered in a new, rockier era in Swift’s sound.

“We Take Care Of Our Own,” Bruce Springsteen: He’s won 15 Grammys, and been nominated in this category three times before, but he has never taken home a statue for record of the year. He’s not this year either, but he may make it into the elite five with this impassioned, political rocker that details how we’d like to believe we act as a country.

“Where Have You Been,” Rihanna: Her monster hit, “We Found Love,” shouldn’t be eligible, so this stands in as a worthy candidate.  She reunites with “Love’s” Calvin Harris on this electro-pop, dance banger that lifts off like a rocket. 

What are your picks? See my predictions for best new artist here.

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<p>Rihanna's &quot;Unapologetic&quot;</p>

Rihanna's "Unapologetic"

Credit: Def Jam Recordings

Rihanna scores her first No. 1 album with 'Unapologetic' on the Billboard 200

Feat comes one week after first single, 'Diamonds' tops Billboard Hot 100

Seven would seem to be Rihanna’s lucky number.  “Unapologetic,” her seventh studio album in as many years, has become her first effort to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

She scores the feat one week after the album’s first single, “Diamonds,” became her 12th chart topper on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Unapologetic” dropped on Monday, Nov. 19, instead of the usual Tuesday release date, so the title benefitted from an extra day of sales in this week’s Nielsen SoundScan tally (SoundScan measures says from Monday through Sunday). The album sold 238,000 copies, a personal best for the singer, whose previous best week had been with 2010’s “Load,” which sold 207,000 copies in its opening frame to start at No. 3.

All seven of her studio albums had opened on the top 10, including 2007’s “Good Girl Gone Bad,” which peaked at No. 2, according to Billboard.
 
As Billboard notes, her arrival at No. 1 ends a rather dubious record she’s certainly happy to see end: until today, she was the artist who had scored the most No. 1 songs without having ever achieved a No. 1 album.


 

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<p>Chris Brown</p>

Chris Brown

Credit: AP Photo

If We Managed Chris Brown...

Why does he bring a gun to every knife fight?

How many more chances does Chris Brown get and why do his fans continue to condone whatever he does?

If we managed Chris Brown, we would keep him off of Twitter for good, take away his Instagram account, and make him take a complete break from any public appearances for at least six months.

As you know, the boy who can’t keep his mouth shut was at it again on Sunday when he got in a Twitter fight with writer/comic Jenny Johnson. To be fair, Johnson, who we had never heard of before Sunday, provoked Brown when she responded to an innocuous tweet by Brown with an insulting reply.

instead of not taking the bait, Brown then immediately escalated the online feud by, as abusive men do, turning the fight into one suggesting sexual acts and calling Johnson a gardening tool (though we’re quite sure he meant “ho,” instead of “hoe”).  It went downhill from there and ended with Brown deleting his Twitter account. (We’ll see how long that lasts. For now, he’s taking his rants to Instagram. Same persecution complex, different venue).

Brown has gotten predictably boring in that if he is treated badly-- or perceives that he is-- he fires back with a response that is wildly inappropriate. He brings a gun to a knife fight every single time, such as  throwing a chair at a window at “Good Morning America” after he didn’t like being asking about beating up Rihanna.  He also has to keep apologizing for making gay slurs.

What Brown has never seemed to grasp is that as a public figure, he is going to be a lightning rod for criticism. That just comes with the territory. And yet he has never developed the ability to walk away.

This is where management comes in. Before Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and any other social media where artists can communicate directly with fans, managers and publicists could serve as a buffer between an act and his or her fans. Now, however, there is no filter. Most acts don’t need one, but Brown is desperately and pathetically in need of someone who will sit him down and tell him to stop it.  That person’s next step will probably be packing up his or her things and finding a new job, but if Brown hears it enough, maybe it will sink in.

Additionally, and this is the part that really seems beyond the pale, is that it’s clear that Brown sees himself as a victim. If people would just, as his latest single addressed, not judge him,  everything would be just fine. It’s our fault that he keeps getting into rumbles.

We live in a time when bad behavior very rarely generates consequences.   For a short black-out period after he beat up Rihanna in 2009 where he was treated like a pariah in some quarters, virtually everyone was willing to forgive him, whether it was radio or the Grammys or even the Grammy voters, who awarded him with a Grammy this year.

Yet after a carefully-managed apology about Rihanna, all he has done the past three years is show that he does not have a handle on his anger issues and that he has zero impulse control...whether it’s on during a live interview or on Twitter. 

Brown needs a time-out, but given that his fans are willing to forgive him anything and, other than people in Guyana protesting his now-cancelled gig, there seems to be no downside to being an abusive, hot-tempered, threatening, ill-behaved star. So expect more of the same.

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Album Review: Alicia Keys hits the right notes on 'Girl On Fire'
Credit: RCA

Album Review: Alicia Keys hits the right notes on 'Girl On Fire'

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Bruno Mars, Maxwell, Nicki Minaj pitch in on Grammy winner's fifth album

There’s a new girl in town and her name is Alicia Keys.  Sure, she arrived on the scene as a fully-formed artist with 2001‘s “Songs In A Minor,”  but it’s clear on “Girl On Fire,” her first album in three years, that reinvention and rediscovery are the main courses on the Grammy winner’s menu.

“I found a brand new kind of free,” she sings on “Brand New Me,” her current single co-written with Emeli Sande.  “It took a long, long road to get here. It took a brave, brave girl to try,” Keys states on the piano ballad.

[More after the jump...]

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Grammy predictions for best new artist

Grammy predictions for best new artist

Will Carly Rae Jepsen face fun., Frank Ocean or One Direction?

The Grammy nominations will be announced on Dec. 5. One of the most hotly contested races is always for best new artist.  Some years, the Grammys have gotten it right and picked acts who went on to have long careers. Other years, they’ve made regrettable choices: Starland Vocal Band or A Taste Of Honey anyone? To be eligible, an artist must have released at least one album, but cannot have released more than three. The eligibility period runs Oct. 1-Sept. 30, which means such hot artists as Meek Mill are not eligible since debut album came out after Sept. 30. Artists cannot have previously won a Grammy.  

See if we included your favorite new act:

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