Inside Music with Melinda Newman

Live blogging the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards

Join us in the fun with Lady Gaga, Adele, Katy Perry, Chris Brown

HitFix
B-
Readers
B-
<p>Lady Gaga and Brian May of Queen perform &quot;You and I&quot; at the beginning of the 2011 MTV&nbsp;Video Music Awards.</p>

Lady Gaga and Brian May of Queen perform "You and I" at the beginning of the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards.

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Sayles

8:50: As MTV’s Video Music Awards get ready to launch in a moments, we already know two things: Lady Gaga’s “Born “This Way” snagged the Moonman for the newly minted Best Video with a Message and that Maroon5’s Adam Levine will not be watching. He tweeted earlier today, “The VMAs. One day a year when MTV pretends to still care about music. I’m drawing a line in the sand. F*** You VMAs.”  It’s a safer move than you’d think since Maroon5 falls squarely in VH1’s demo, not MTV’s. Given how he also just took on “American Idol,”  “The Voice” mentor is veering seriously into “Get off my lawn” territory.

 There have already been some WTF moments during the pre-show, such as Justin Bieber telling girlfriend (and black carpet host) Selena Gomez that he has a snake named Johnson. We are so hoping that none of his tween fans got that joke, but our little boy is growing up. Plus, Nicki Minaj’s incredible odd--even for her-- black carpet outfit included a decorated surgical mask and James Montgomery interviewed her as if there was nothing odd at all. Who dresses her? And, of course, Beyonce stole the show already by announcing that she's pregnant. It's a Bey Baby!

Not that the actual awards matter tonight—they’re just something to hand out between the performances— but if you’re keeping count, Katy Perry leads all nominees with nine, followed by Adele and Kanye West with seven.

Join me for the fun.  I’d love to know what you’re thinking as we go through the next few hours together.

9 p.m.: Lady Gaga opens the show as her alter ego, Jo Calderone, who looks like a reject from the Dylan pic, "I'm Not There."  Flash to former MTV VMA host Russell Brand in the audience, who is not amused, and seems to be thinking, "They decided to go without a host for this?" This is a little scary and brilliant all at the same time in that Jo is channeling everything the rest of us say about Lady Gaga: is it real or theatrical? Another audience flash to Justin Bieber. What does it say that Lady Gaga makes a much more convincing man than the Biebs? 

9:10: I loved  LG's performance of "You & I," which featured her flanked by male dancers dressed in the same white t-shirt and black pants as she/he is and sporting ducktails. I'm not sure how many people, other than Dave Grohl, realize who Brian May is or that a lot of the man moves, including the final gaze off into space, were copped directly from Springsteen.

9:11: Kevin Hart is giving us all the reasons why he should be hosting. I'm trying to listen, but I can't get past the YSL belt buckle. Well, all that routine is doing is proving us to why he should not be hosting.

9:14: Nicki Minaj, sans surgical mask, and Jonah Hill are presenting best pop video. Hill tries to convince us that he's still funny despite the weight loss in a sketch that is meant to be unfunny--and is. The show already had a weird meta feel with a lot of folks working out their inner issues. They present best pop video, which goes, surprisingly to Britney Spears for "Till The World Ends." And she's getting a Lifetime Achievement Awards tonight. Coincidence? You decide. Will Katy Perry continue her losing streak? So far, yes.

9:23: Kayne West and Jay Z, a.k.a. The Throne,  perform "Otis." The rumor that they were performing leaked out today, though was never announced officially. Both are dressed very casually. I'm digging that the first two performances are relatively low key and are focused on the song and not special effect (although there is a bit of a steam geyser going off right now). So here's a taste of what their tour will be like. More importantly, will tonight's performance be enough to keep "Watch The Throne" at No. 1 for one week longer?

9:27: Miley Cyrus, dressed like a speckled Morticia Addams in a dress appropriate for Angela Lansbury, and Shaun White present best rock video to Foo Fighters for "Walk."  Dave Grohl remembers to thank Joel Schumaker, who directed "Falling Down," the movie on which the video was based.    "Never lose faith in real rock and roll music," Grohl says. "You may have to look a little harder." Grohl also dedicated the award to Judy McGrath, who was the longtime president of MTV (and had been at the network for three decades) until she stepped down earlier this year. Very nice touch.

9:34: The first Rebecca Black sighting: in an interstitial piece with Joe Jonas, Cali Swag District and Ke$ha. People, please, she will never go away if we keep leaving food out for her at the back door.

9:36: Will Ferrell, Jack Black, and Seth Rogan come out as Beastie Boys (ala the video for  "Make Some Noise). Out comes Odd Future and they do a dance off. That could have really developed into something so much better.   The present best Hip Hop video to Nicki Minaj for "Super Bass."  This has to be the first time a woman has ever won this award, unless Missy Elliott managed to sneak one in more than a decade ago.  Kanye West was robbed, but our projections are looking pretty good right now: three for four. We're only pointing that out since it may be our best percentage of the evening.

9:41: The  dancing mice and robots in the Kia commercial are so far the most entertaining part of the evening.

9:45: Demi Lovato and Chord Overstreet awkwardly present best collaboration to Katy Perry for "E.T." featuring Kanye West, her first VMA ever. Despite even a little baiting from Perry that "now is a time to interrupt," West is on his absolute best behavior. Maybe he really has changed. 

9:48: Paul Rudd and Rick Ross awkwardly  introduce Pitbull. We're watching on a Slingbox without the best clarity and we honestly can't tell if they just showed Kim Karsashian or Nicole Scherzinger. It doesn't matter because all eyes are on  the least clothed woman in the room, Nayer. Katie Holmes just politely clapped and wondered if she could get Tom Cruise to wear that outfit.

9:58: Adele is classing up the joint with a subdued, beautiful performance of her searing, wrenching new single, "Someone Like You." Look ma, no backup dancers, no fireworks, no auto-tuning, all X-rated body parts covered up. Listen up kids, that's what singing actually sounds like.

10:05: We're halfway through, or thereabouts. Jessie J did a great version of "Firework," complete with a broken foot. It's been a fast and uneventful first hour. No outrageous performances at all, but all have been solid.

10:10: Mystery solved. It was Kim Kardashian, who's now presenting best male video and manages to do a sweet intro about love, given that she's a newlywed. Will that marriage last until the end of the VMAs? Best male video goes to Justin Bieber for "U Smile," who kisses Selena Gomez on the lips. Oh, shout out for Christianity. It's not enough to thank God anymore, as Bieb shows, you have to thank Jesus. Good God, even the uber-right country music artists don't go that far. The Holy Ghost cries a little at the omission.

10:16: Uh, every bit of restraint expressed in the first hour just went to hell as Chris Brown delivered a performance of "Beautiful People" that included lots of flying, dancing, a nod to Nirvana, and Kanye West standing up in solidarity with the felon. It's MTV meets Cirque du Soleil. There wasn't a note of real singing in it and it is far and away the most captivating performance of the evening. Discuss.

10:25: Jo Calderone is back to introduce that Britney Spears' lifetime achievement segment and to tell us that he used to have a poster of Britney over his bed that he pleasured himself to.  Britney's life flashes before her eyes in a very short dance homage. Quite frankly, even though we think its ridiculous that she's getting the award at 29, it was way too short a tribute. And the even weirder thing is that Britney's thank you speech, which she's so clearly reading off the teleprompter seemingly for the very first time, was basically an introduction for Beyonce.If I were a hardcore Britney fan, I'd be pissed.

10:31: Beyonce's spoken song intro about "the love that's crawling inside of me" takes on new meaning given the good news she announced earlier tonight. She's performing our favorite tune from "4," soulful retro "Love On Top" in a glittery  tux jacket. Jo Calderone is drinking whiskey and getting a hug from Kanye West, Katy Perry has a wedge of cheese on her head (the state of Wisconsin thanks her). Beyonce sounds like she's singing live and, if she is, has never sounded better. At the end, she rips open her jacket to rub her tummy. Okay, we've only known she's pregnant for less than 2 hours, and we're already tired of baby bump watch. Plus, unless you actually give birth during the show, no pregnancy performance will ever top M.I.A.'s appearance at the 2009 Grammys.  The shot of Beyonce's baby daddy Jay-Z glowing in pride and getting hugged by West is a true "Awwww" moment. Our favorite shot, though, was Tony Bennett looking over at Jo Calderone with complete befuddlement.

10:41: Selena Gomez and Taylor Lautner present best new artist video to Tyler, The Creator. Bugs everywhere are running for their lives.He's bringing the rest of Odd Future up with him. Tyler says he's wanted the award since he was nine. We're hoping that's his mother  that the camera that just flashed to. OK, the only part of this acceptance speech that wasn't bleeped out was "To all the kids that's watching." There's something very, very hilarious about that to us.

10:45: Young the Giant is performing (in what looks to be a taped piece). Why?  Seriously, if someone knows why, please answer below. This is the only rock performance of the night and it goes to a new band that isn't up for anything.

10:53: Cloris Leachman just came out to present with girls from The Jersey Shore. I don't know what it says about the fate of Western Civilization when Snooki is the most charismatic person up on stage. Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" wins best female video. Katy Perry and Adele have to politely clap on camera. Of course, since Lady Gaga is pretending to be Jo Calderone all night (including even accepting the award and referring to LG in the third person... oops, she just broke form and said "they told me I got best video with a message") we have a dude accepting best female video. What will Beavis and Butthead have to say about that? 

11:03: Russell Brand is introducing the Amy Winehouse segment. As you may recall, he wrote a very touching tribute to her (and the reality of addiction) on his website following her death. He's basically recapping that here. Did he just say his wife was influenced by Winehouse? Uh, that must on some hidden Katy Perry tracks we've never heard. Tony Bennett is now talking about recording with Winehouse on "Body & Soul" for his "Duets II" album. They recorded at Abbey Road, not The Abbey, but that's okay Tony. Both Brand and Bennett have given out plugs to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Wouldn't it be incredible if this turned some new folks on to them?

11:11: Bruno Mars is performing "Valerie," the Zutons tune that Winehouse and Mark Ronson recorded for Ronson's album a few years ago. We're sure it's going to get pilloried, but we like the performance despite the fact that Mars and Winehouse shared absolutely nothing in common other than their retro sensibility. He's a star.

11:18 Squeee! It's the first look at "The Hunger Games." And in the time it took me to type that, it's over. If I had tuned in just for that, I'd be pissed. And if I'd tuned in for that and the Britney Spears tribute, I'd be so hating on MTV right now. Looks like a cross between "Twilight" and "Robin Hood" based on that preview.

11:20: Katy Perry wins video of the year for "Firework," presented by Katie Holmes.  This means that Adele, whose "Rolling In The Deep" was nominated for seven, goes home empty handed (although the clip wins best direction, best art direction and best cinematography). Kanye, who was also nominated for seven, wins only as a featured artist on Perry's "E.T."

11:23: Lil Wayne is closing the evening with "How To Love" approximately 35 minutes before "Carter IV" goes on sale via iTunes. It's all too sedate. Oh... there we go. Off go the shade, the shirt, and almost the pants. He's now blazing through "John," most of which is bleeped out.

11:27: No credits, no sign off, no passing go because MTV has to use the time to show a clip of new scripted program "I Just Want My Pants Back," which looks beyond awful. Well, for better or worse, we just saw the most music that MTV has shown in the past year.  All the MTV promos during the show were for scripted series. Is there even a reason for MTV to have music video awards anymore? Most folks see videos on Vevo or YouTube anyway. Why don't they take it over.

11:34: So the 28th Video Music Awards are over. It was a watercooler-moment-free show, which is the exact opposite of what MTV was going for. Other than Chris Brown, most of the performances were fairly low key, but all were solid. There were no trainwrecks or OMG moments.

What are your thoughts? 

For a complete list of winners, including the non-televised awards, go here

 

 

Will Game push Kanye West and Jay-Z off their throne on the Billboard 200?

Divas Adele and Barbra Streisand duel for No. 3, plus the Muppets return to top 10

<p>The cover of Game's 'The R.E.D. Album'</p>
<div id="myEventWatcherDiv" style="display:none;">&nbsp;</div>

The cover of Game's 'The R.E.D. Album'

Can Game knock Jay-Z and Kanye West off their throne? It’s looking good for the rapper as “The R.E.D. Album,” his first set since 2008’s “LAX,” will likely enter the Billboard 200 at No. 1.

However,  West and Jay-Z’s “Watch The Throne” isn’t ceding power without a fight. After two weeks atop the Billboard 200,  the title will likely slip to No. 2 next week, but a last-minute surge could change the scoreboard. Going into the weekend, Hits Daily Double predicted that “R.E.D.” would sell between 90,000-95,000, with “Watch The Throne” moving between 85,000-90,000.

This marks the second album in a row that has been a close call for Game. “LAX” was crowned the winner three years ago over Slipknot’s “All Hope Is Gone,” but then, in the first time in the Nielsen SoundScan era, the hard rockers demanded a recount and “All Hope Is Gone” triumphed over “LAX” by slightly more than 1,000 copies.

Back to next week, “The R.E.D. Album” will be one of four debuts in the Top 10:  Also set to bow high up are Barbra Streisand’s “What Matters Most,” which is neck and neck with label mate Adele for the No. 3 spot.  Miranda Lambert’s side project, Pistol Annies, will likely see their first album, “Hell On Hells,” teeter in at No. 6 and  The Muppets’ The Green Album”  at No. 9.

Filling out the Top 10, “Now 39” will likely fall 3-5. The rest of the Top 10 belongs to male country singers: Luke Bryan’s former No. 2 title, “Tailgates and Tanlines,” moves 4-7,  Jason Aldean’s “My Kinda Party”  shifts 5-8 and Eric Church’s former No. 1, “Chief,”  drops 7-10.

Music Power Rankings: Taylor Swift sells out, Lil Wayne surges

Plus, RIP Jerry Leiber, Nick Ashford and Frank Dileo

<p>Taylor Swift can't believe her Music Power Rankings position</p>
<div id="myEventWatcherDiv" style="display:none;">&nbsp;</div>

Taylor Swift can't believe her Music Power Rankings position

Credit: Chris Pizzello/AP

1) Steve Jobs: “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come. I hereby resign as CEO of Apple.”

2) Lil Wayne:
“She Will,” the second single from “Tha Carter IV,” bows at No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100, Weezy’s best opening frame ever.  Estimates for first week sales of “IV,” which drops at midnight on Aug. 29, are running in the staggering 800,000 range. He may be small, but he’s mighty.

3) Taylor Swift
The country pop princess starts her four sold-out shows at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. How many 21-year olds can put that on their resume?

4) Amy Winehouse:
Her “Back To Black” has now become the top-selling album in the U.K. of the 21st Century. We know we’re only 11 years in, but still...  Total British sales of the set now tally 3.26 million, which moves it past the 3.25 million reached by James Blunt’s “Back To Bedlam.” Coming soon, my new Flintstones’ tribute album, “Back To Bedrock.”

5) Game:
The rapper is poised to knock Jay-Z and Kanye West off their throne as The “R.E.D. Album,” his first set since 2008’s “LAX,” will likely enter the Billboard 200 at No. 1. “LAX” prompted the first ever recount on the Billboard 200, with its No. 1 debut revoked after it turned out the Slipknot’s “All Hope Is Gone” had sold a tad more.

6) Jerry Leiber: Paul Shaffer said it best: “Lieber and Stoller? There would be no rock and rock without them.”  R.I.P.

7) Nick Ashford: If he’d only co-written “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” we’d owe him a debt of thanks, but he and wife/songwriting partner Valerie Simpson also gave us “I’m Every Woman,” “Solid As A Rock” and so many more. R.I.P.

8) Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine:
The pair could ultimately pocket $200 million each for the sale of their Beats headphones. We’re happy for them because, you know, both of them really need the money. 

9) Frank Dileo: Michael Jackson’s manager during the era that earned him The King of Pop moniker dies at 63. He was Colonel Parker to Jackson’s Elvis and seldom seen without a cigar.

10)  BlackBerry: Parent company Research in Motion unveils its BBM Music service on Thursday, the day after Jobs resigned. Good timing, dudes. Read more about the cloud-based service here. http://www.berryreview.com/2011/08/25/interview-with-bbm-music-senior-project-manager-nick-patsiopoulos/
 

Watch: Beyonce gets sexy in video for '1 + 1'

Jay-Z is a lucky man

<p>Beyonce&nbsp;</p>
<div id="myEventWatcherDiv" style="display:none;">&nbsp;</div>

Beyonce 

Credit: Charles Sykes/AP

Beyonce is smoking hot, so much so, that at one point in the new video for “1 + 1” she’s actually smoking, literally. The clip for the tune from current album, “4,” is a visual, sensual feast that makes the most of Beyonce’s radiant beauty.

While there are a few body shots of Bey in animal print and garters, the majority of the focus is on her face, and what a face it is. Computer graphics project rain running down her face, interspersed with close-ups of her succulent lips.Without ever crossing into crassness, she goes through the throes of passion so we’re left with no doubt that she’s a very happy woman. Jay -Z is a lucky man.

[More after the jump...]

Watch: Pitbull responds to Lindsay Lohan's lawsuit; asks her to VMAs

What was his initial reaction?

<p>Pitbull</p>

Pitbull

Credit: AP Photo

Here’s an interesting response to a lawsuit. Nearly a week after after Lindsay Lohan filed a lawsuit alleging that Pitbull’s use of her name in his mega-hit “Give Me Everything” has caused her great damage, the Cuban rapper has issued an invitation to the troubled actress to be his date to this Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards where he’ll perform the song.

“I’d like to send out an invitation to Lindsay Lohan. Hopefully she can come with me to the VMAs and we can figure this out,” he says in a interview posted on PlanetPit.com today.

In her lawsuit, Lohan alleges that by name dropping her in the song, Pitbull and the No. 1 song’s “wide appeal” has caused her “Irreparable harm.”  More so than jail? Does she really need help in doing that? 

[More after the jump...]

Katy Perry stays at No. 1 on Hot 100, Lil Wayne soars onto Billboard chart

Lady Gaga and Adele make huge strides

<p>Katy Perry</p>

Katy Perry


Katy Perry makes it two Fridays at No. 1 as “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” spends a second week atop Billboard’s Hot 100. Unless you’ve been under a rock, you know that the song’s ascension to No. 1 gave the California Gurl five chart toppers from “Teenage Dream,” tying it with Michael Jackson’s “Bad” as the only album to spawn a quintet of No. 1s.

She’s not the only one with good news. Lil Wayne has a very big debut as “She Will” featuring Drake zooms onto the Hot 100 at No. 3. The second single from “Tha Carter IV” charts the rapper’s highest ever debut on the Hot 100, and is his fifth title to debut in the top10 of the Hot 100. That puts him ahead of Eminem and Kanye West for the most top 10 debuts by a male artist, according to Billboard.  “Tha Carter IV” will be available at midnight on Aug. 29.

Sandwiched between Perry and Lil Wayne is LMFAO’s former No. 1, “Party Rock Anthem,” which logs another week at No. 2.  Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera’s “Moves Like Jagger” falls 3-4, while Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” also dips one spot to No. 5.

The bottom half of the Top 10 starts with Bad Meets Everything’s “Lighters” featuring Bruno Mars,” which falls 5-6, Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” which rises 8-7;  Lil Wayne’s “How To Love,” which drops 6-8;  OneRepublic’s “Good Life,” which scoots up one place to No. 9, swapping places with Britney Spears’ “I Wanna Go.”

Outside of the Top 10, there are a few other notable moves on the chart. Adele’s follow-up to the massive “Rolling in the Deep,”  “Someone Like You” soars 51-34 on the Hot 100. As Billboard notes, the leap is especially noteworthy because it’s rare for a ballad to breakthrough on the mainly uptempo chart these days, however Adele has seemingly rewritten the rulebook, at least as far as her songs are concerned.

Additionally, Lady Gaga’s “You And I” zooms up the charts 96-35 following last week’s bow of the video for the track.

The latest on the 28th annual MTV VMAs: no Katy, no Kanye, no host

Plus: check out our predictions

<p>Katy Perry in her MTV&nbsp;Video Awards nominated video for &quot;E.T.&quot;</p>

Katy Perry in her MTV Video Awards nominated video for "E.T."

Though MTV launched 30 years ago in 1981, the music video channel didn’t hold its first Video Music Awards until 1984. Ever since then, the show’s producers have consistently tried to shock and awe the audience. Sometimes it has worked, but more often has not, but regardless, the VMAs have always provided excellent water cooler fodder for the next morning.

Concert Review: Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber rock Staples Center

Baby, Baby, what a show

<p>Taylor Swift</p>
<div id="myEventWatcherDiv" style="display:none;">&nbsp;</div>

Taylor Swift

Credit: Dan Steinberg/AP

Here’s how intense the audience for a Taylor Swift concert is: at Tuesday night’s show, her first of four sold-out nights at Los Angeles’ Staples Arena, the mere sighting of Swift’s mom, Andrea, prior to the concert’s start provoked the level of high-pitched screams usually reserved for the headliner.

In other words, even before Swift took the stage, the overwhelmingly female tween and teen audience was primed and at its ear-splitting decibel best. And Swift did little to dissuade them from screaming their sweet little hearts out throughout the nearly two-and-a-half hour show.

With the strains of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” playing (a thematically obvious, but somewhat strange, choice given its popularity was long before most of the audience was born), Swift burst up through the floor in a frenzy of gold, shimmery fringe and long, flowing locks before launching into the upbeat “Sparks Fly,” from current album “Speak Now.”

It was only a minute or so in before she did her trademark glance to the left, hold and pause, glance to the right, hold and pause,  wait for the screams to begin, and then act shocked that there are more than 20 people in the room. It’s a move she should have long abandoned given how many gazillions of albums and tickets she’s sold, but Swift still plays her “aw shucks, you’re really here to see me?” kewpie doll routine to the hilt in  a way that appears disingenuous, especially from an artist who is otherwise so believable in the image she’s projecting.

On a well-designed set that featured smartly-utilized moveable staircases, Swift focused largely on material from “Speak Now,” with a generous smattering of tunes from sophomore album “Fearless,” and as least one track, “Our Song,” from her 2006 self-titled debut.  Each song was often its own mini-play, which meant there was a lot of filler to accommodate Swift’s multiple costume changes. When the visuals worked, they were a nice touch, such as rolling out a white grand piano for Swift to play “Back To December” on, while her string section, elegantly decked out in tuxes with tails, lined up behind her on one of the staircases.  Other times, they dragged, such as a long bride-groom sequence acting out  “Speak Now,” or, at the worst,  seemed like a Spinal Tap spoof on the weird, Evanescence-like rock number “Haunted,” with Swift dramatically pounding a huge bell that raised to unleash a Cirque du Soleil-like acrobat suspended from the bell’s inside. It was almost as if Swift is so determined to make sure that she gives her fans their money’s worth that she’ll spare no excess in trying to do so. It’s a noble, and truly admirable notion, but one that fell flat a few times.

Part of what makes Swift so popular is thet endless desire to connect. She is a master at understanding the value of making fans feel special, whether it be commenting from the stage on the girls in the nosebleeds and their lighted-up number 13 (Tay Tay’s fave number, as I’m sure you know) or running through the audience and hugging and high-fiving fans on her way to a make-shift stage at the opposite end of the arena for an unplugged set. 

Back on her little island, she talked about how she started writing songs when she was 12. First they were for fun, but “over time, it progressed to something I need to do to stay sane,” she said. As she acknowledged, most of her songs are about falling in love and losing love. While it’s a limited palette to be sure— and one that I hope she’ll break out of for her fourth album— it’s one that her audience fully appreciates, as many of them go through the first flushes of puppy love themselves. Plus, she is such an accomplished songwriter for someone still so young that she has very artfully and richly tapped into a vein that rings true, even when the song is as moribund as “Last Kiss.”  Happily, she transitioned from that downer tune to a segment highlighting Southern California artists. As she’s done on nearly every stop of the tour, she broke out a few cover tunes from local artists. Tuesday night the audience  got a well-intentioned cover of the Beach Boys’ gorgeous “God Only Knows” (A+ on song choice there, B- on delivery) and a plucky version of Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape” that worked far better than one would have expected with Swift artfully rushing through the tumble of lyrics.

She started her biggest hit, “You Belong With Me” on acoustic guitar before rushing back to the main stage to give the song the bouncy, upbeat treatment it deserves with the full band. A word about that band:  though clearly chosen for their looks rather than their chops, they frequently drowned her out. Plus, in a trend that female pop/country singers with young female audiences tend to indulge in,  most of the dudes had horrific haircuts straight out of Billy Idol-era Steve Stevens crossed with Kate Gosselin’s god-awful razor cut. Hairstyles best left in 1989 do not equal edgy.

Swift had just finished “You Belong To Me” when she coyly burst into the “Oh-oh-wa-oh” opening of Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” and then, suddenly, there he was joining her in the flesh.  It was almost more than the girls in the audience could bear as the Bieb ran down the extended stage slapping hands. Their duet was a fun, sweet moment, if not a particularly well-sung one,  with Bieber delivering Ludacris’s rap. He then picked up Swift and gave her a little twirl (not so easy when Swift is a head taller than he is) before disappearing as quickly as he appeared.

Much has been made of Swift’s sometime off-key vocals—she even addresses the criticism in her hit tune “Mean” —but on Tuesday night her voice seemed more powerful than it has been in the past. She still hit a fair number of clams and her voice lacks any true nuance or dimension, but she gave it all she got so it may be time for that tired theme to die. The only time she seemed truly out of her vocal depth was on  “Better Than Revenge,” where she was practically screeching. Plus, the play acting of bitch slapping her rival is simply out of character for someone who seems as sweet as Swift.

While some of the antics seemed coldly calculated to this adult, many of the young kids ate it up. At one point, as Swift was running around the arena floor, I spotted a cherubic girl, who looked to be about 9 years old. She had on her Taylor Swift t-shirt that her parents has purchased for her earlier in the evening and she was bouncing up and down, grinning ear to ear, in excited anticipation of Swift coming close enough for her to touch the singer.   The little girl got her Swift moment and as soon as the singer had passed, she gave her mom a huge hug before collapsing in her seat as if she was now totally spent. Every costume change; overwrought, dramatic eye glance, and aggressive hair toss that Swift makes is for that girl and the thousands like her at Staples last night. And god bless Taylor Swift for knowing that. 

Watch: The Muppets and OK Go make bright, beautiful music together

The animated group joins the puppets for 'The Muppet Show Theme'

Watch: The Muppets and OK Go make bright, beautiful music together

It took the Muppets to get the boys in OK Go back on the treadmill. In the adorable clip for the “Muppet Show Theme,” OK Go and almost all your favorite Muppets unite to pay homage not only to great Muppet Moments, but great OK Go video moments as well.

The irrepressibly colorful clip features little inside jokes to past OK Go videos including “Here It Goes Again,” “White Knuckles” and “All Is Not Lost.” Plus it features a great cameo from our favorite peanut gallery balcony dwellers, Statler and Waldorf, who decide they’d rather go watch cat videos than sit through an OK Go/Muppets clip. Meow. I am a little creeped out by the OK Go guys as bottomless puppets though...

[More after the jump...]

Appreciation: My Eight Essential Tracks from Jerry Leiber and Nick Ashford

Which are your faves from the legendary songwriters?

<p>Elvis Presley, who had a hit with Leiber and Stoller's 'Jailhouse Rock,' from the film of the same title.</p>

Elvis Presley, who had a hit with Leiber and Stoller's 'Jailhouse Rock,' from the film of the same title.

Credit: MGM

On Monday, we lost two titans of songwriting: Jerry Leiber, best known for writing with his longtime collaborator, Mike Stoller; and Nick Ashford, who co-wrote with his wife Valerie Simpson. Paul Shaffer once said, “Leiber and Stoller? There would be no rock and rock without them.” That’s a bit hyperbolic, but only a little.

The music of Leiber and Ashford broke down color barriers during the ‘50s and the ‘60s. Their music united people at a time when so many other things divided us.

Below are my essential eight songs that either Leiber or Ashford co-wrote. These aren’t all necessarily their best works (for example, I left off “Spanish Harlem” and “Kansas City”), but they are the ones that I go back to time and time again. Many of the songs were hits before I and many of you were born, but they are now simply part of our collective DNA. I provided links to versions of the songs as well in case you're not familiar with some of them.

There’s a theme here in that these songs have all been covered time and time again because  that’s what happens with a great tune. There may be versions that are superior to others or better known, but they reach out and grab you by the throat no matter who records them because the song is greater than any one particular singer.


“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (Ashford & Simpson): 
Simply one of the best songs ever written about unconditional love, whether it's romantic or platonic.  Nothing can keep me from you. The Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell version is the definitive one given the way their voices wrap around each other, but I also love the production on the Diana Ross solo cover, cheesy as the talking is, and Michael McDonald’s more recent rendition. Ross’s version features Ashford & Simpson on backing vocals. There is never a wrong time to hear this song, no matter who’s performing it. Even Amy Winehouse knew that:  her  “Tears Dry On Their Own” draws upon the song, so much so that Ashford & Simpson got a songwriting credit. 

“Hound Dog” (Leiber & Stoller) Elvis Presley’s version is fine, but the King has nothing on Big Mama Thornton, who recorded it first.  She dresses this man down one side and up the other until his tail disappears  between his legs. Her voice takes every word that Lieber & Stoller wrote and breathes life into it.  Thornton’s version is said to be Leiber’s favorite rendition of any song he wrote.

“I’m Every Woman” (Ashford & Simpson): More than dated,  ‘70s anthem, “I Am Woman”  (and a far superior song), “I’m Every Woman,” first delivered fiercely by Chaka Khan and then Whitney Houston, encompasses all that is feminine. The “oh, oh, ohs” and the confident lyrics (Anything you want done baby, I can do it naturally”...), plus the promise (threat?) of being able to read your thoughts “every one from A-Z.”  Khan’s bouncy, yet muscular, version embodied the end of the feminist movement and the disco era in a way that makes you want to twirl and twirl with your best gal pals.

“Jackson” (Leiber and Billy Edd Wheeler): 
I’ve been fixated anew on this song about the fire going out of a marriage since hearing it in “The Help” a few weeks ago.There are several great versions, particularly the Johnny and June Carter Cash one. I have a soft spot for the Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazelwood rendition simply because of my dad’s crush on Nancy Sinatra. “We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout.” I don’t really know what a pepper sprout is, but I know EXACTLY what they mean in that line. 

“Jailhouse Rock” (Leiber & Stoller):
The title track from the best Elvis Presley movie ever made. Plus, the performance segment in the movie remains one of the first, and greatest, music videos. This is everything a great pop song sound be: recognizable from the opening notes, memorable chorus, great verses,  a sweet bridge, and under three minutes. The musicianship is awesome too; that’s Stoller pounding away on the piano like he’s Jerry Lee Lewis. Rock, Rock, Rock. 

“Stand By Me” (Leiber & Stoller, Ben E. King): Produced, as well as written, by Leiber & Stoller, the ode to loyalty based on the 46th Psalm,  set the standard for a sound that came to symbolize much of the music of the era with its low-key, yet lush production and great bass line.  The song has reportedly been recorded by more than 400 artists. Though John Lennon’s version is beloved as well, this one is still my favorite. According to BMI, it is the fourth most-performed song of the 20th century. Best use of a shaker in a song, ever.

"There Goes My Baby" (Leiber, Stoller, Ben E. King, Lover Patterson, George Treadwell):
  The Drifters’ version was recorded long before I was a glint in my mama and daddy’s eyes, but this is THE version. Growing up in the South, this classic became part of the Beach Music canon. Just listen to those strings, backing vocals, and drum. Perfection. We'll never know why she left him "so all alone, all alone," but can't help but be glad she did if this doo-wop heartbreak on a platter was the result.

“Your Precious Love” (Ashford & Simpson): An unabashed, uncynical look at lasting love with a breezy, swaying beat. Marvin & Tammi’s version is the finger-snapping best, but there’s something very cool and sweet about D’Angelo and Erykah Badu’s faithful re-make.

Get Instant Alerts on Music News

Around the Web