<p>Skylar Grey</p>

Skylar Grey

Credit: Skylargreymusic.com

Exclusive: Go behind the scenes on Skylar Grey's debut album

How did Eminem's 'Love The Way You Lie' come about?

Skylar Grey’s solo album has been a long time in coming. In this exclusive behind-the-scenes clip, the singer/songwriter takes you to her Oregon cabin where she wrote  “Love the Way You Lie,” her massive hit for Eminem and Rihanna, as well as talks about the making of her new album, “Don’t Look Down,” out July 9.

[More after the jump...]

 “The beginning half of the album-writing process, I was really focused on my journey, when I was living in Oregon in that cabin and really coming into this new version of me,” she reveals. “It was there that I experimented with my sound and figured out who I wanted to be as an artist."

It’s easy to see why she found inspiration in Oregon: the scenery is breathtaking.  While living there, she sent producer Alex Da Kid the hook for “Love The Way You Lie,” and “my whole life changed,” she says. That led to her own album, executive produced by Eminem and Alex Da Kid.

Even though this is her debut album, Grey has already amassed five Grammy nominations and, in addition to co-writing “Love The Way You Lie,” co-wrote Dr. Dre’s  “I Need A Doctor,” and wrote Cee-Lo’s single, “Only You.”  “Don’t Look Down’s” cheeky first single, “C’mon Let Me Ride,”  came out last December.  “Wear Me Out” is the current track.

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<p>James Gandolfini</p>

James Gandolfini

Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

My brief encounter with James Gandolfini

Sometimes meeting your heroes works out great

“I’m Jim.”

That’s how James Gandolfini introduced himself to me and a friend when we approached— okay pounced— on him at a intimate party  in October.

We were at a private screening in a Hollywood Hills residence for “Not Fade Away,” David Chase’s valentine to rock and roll about a group of suburban New Jersey kids in the 1960s, who form a rock band and then fall into every trap possible.

It was one of those crazy times where you’re not even sure how you scored an invitation, but you’re just glad you did. There were about 60 of us, including Chase, music supervisor Steven Van Zandt, assorted actors in the movie, and other celebrities like Joe Perry and former “The Sopranos” writer/ “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner.

After we watched the movie in the screening room, there was a buffet  and that’s when I saw him.  He was standing alone in the kitchen, eating.

I have had a lot of crushes in my life, but James Gandolfini was a big one for me. I hated that I found a character as reprehensible as Tony Soprano attractive, but credit solely went to the way Gandolfini found his soul, an inner sadness and all his broken places, and gave this inhumane character humanity (Clearly, I wasn’t alone: TV Guide placed him 28 on its “50 Sexiest Stars of All Time” list).

As the gruff father in “Not Fade Away,” Gandolfini brought the same hurt. He took a man, so shattered by his own disappointments that he poured them all over his son. He was unwilling to let his boy fly because he was so bitter that he had remained tethered to the ground and given up his dreams. In a movie that had more than its share of cliches, Gandolfini’s portrayal stood out as authentic and heartfelt (He brought that same tough exterior/marshmallow interior to Carol, whom he voiced in “Where The Wild Things Are”).

I stared at him for a bit, trying to summon up my courage, and then I decided that I may never have a chance to talk to him again. So my friend and I  walked up to him, apologized for interrupting while he was eating, and introduced ourselves. He said his name was Jim and he was happy to meet us.

We talked about the movie and his portrayal and even specific scenes, including one where he says nothing but telegraphs every bit of desperation and fleeting hope he feels simply with a look.  If you’ve seen it, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

He told us the character came easily to him because he was playing his dad: all the frustration, hurt, anger, and disillusionment came from his father.  It’s one of those times when someone reveals something private to you and you don’t know whether to delve deeper or let it go. He made it clear that, as an adult, he'd made peace with his dad and understood him in a way that he didn't when he was growing up. He even asked us when we realized that our parents had to let go of some of their dreams, as if he really wanted to hear the answer. We switched to talking about his relationship with David Chase. He said it was a wonderful working one.  “David puts it all there on the page,” he said. He just had to bring it to life....as if that were the easy part.

He then asked us what we did and what brought us to the party. I told him I was a reporter, but not to worry, anything he said was off the record (well, until this point). I remember he laughed a kind of big bear laugh, and said, “I don’t give a shit,” in the sweetest possible way, like a man completely comfortable with himself. He might have said “I don’t give a f**k.” He used that word very liberally throughout our chat.

We talked about music and his upcoming roles and were in the middle of a very nice, easygoing conversation, the kind you rarely have at these types of events, when a publicist came up and stopped us so he could introduce Gandolfini to Dyan Cannon. What a true Hollywood moment.

We ceded our spot and while I was disappointed at first, I later realized it ended perfectly. There was no way I could have extricated myself because I didn’t want to, and I was probably only one moment away from breathlessly gushing a la Chris Farley’s “Saturday Night Live” character who asks if his guest remembers a certain performance and then can only muster up “That was so cool” instead of a question.

He was so nice and relaxed, generously speaking to anyone who approached, and, otherwise, hanging with his buddies. He eventually left and I was shocked to see that his wife had given birth to a baby girl the next day. He would have surely rather been home with his expectant wife that night, but instead he hung out with all of us, eager to do whatever he could to glad hand and talk about Chase’s labor of love.

I’ve met some of my musical heroes and been sorely disappointed and left wishing I’d let their music speak for them. My experience with Gandolfini couldn’t have been more the opposite. I’m so glad that I got the chance to tell him how much I appreciated his work.

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<p>Robin Thicke</p>

Robin Thicke

Credit: AP Photo

Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines' remains atop the Billboard Hot 100

Imagine Dragons sets a record with 'Radioactive'

Blurred Lines” from Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell remains at No. 1 for a second week on Billboard’s Hot 100. It is also the No. 1 song on Billboard’s Digital Songs chart, with 371,000 downloads sold, as well as on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and the R&B Songs charts.

Pharrell is also featured on Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” which rises 3-2, making Pharrell the first artist in four years to have songs at No. 1 and No. 1.  Black Eyed Peas achieved the feat as the main artists in 2009 with “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling,” according to Billboard.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s “Can’t Hold Us” featuring Ray Dalton falls 2-3, while Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” moves 6-4, finally hitting the top 5 42 weeks after it first appeared on the chart and setting a new mark for the longest climb into the Top 5.  “Radioactive” drops Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors” down one spot to No. 5.

Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” also slides down one place to No. 6 (while staying atop Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart for a 16th week). The remainder of the Top 10 stays the same: Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason” featuring Nate Ruess is at No. 7, Selena Gomez’s “Come & Get It” at No. 8; Ariana Grande’s “The Way” featuring Mac Miller at No. 9 and Icona Pop’s “I Love It” featuring Charli XCX at No. 10.
 

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<p>Kelly Rowland's&nbsp;&quot;Talk a Good Game&quot;</p>

Kelly Rowland's "Talk a Good Game"

Credit: Republic Records

Kelly Rowland's 'Talk A Good Game': A track-by-track review

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How does the Destiny Child's member's latest hold up?

On “Talk A Good Game,”  Kelly Rowland has a lot more than talking on her mind. The ex-Destiny’s Child member focuses on her R&B side on the new set, her first since 2011’s “Here I Am.”  The songs range from salutes to sex to her admission that she is jealous of her buddy/ Destiny’s Child mate Beyonce in a strikingly confessional tune. Though a few of the songs sound too similar, overall, it’s a striking showcase for Rowland’s voice.

We take you track-by-track through “Talk,” which is out today.

1. “Freak”: Rowland gets her freak on with this hand-clapping, synthetic track celebrating the fact that “everybody’s somebody’s freak.” She wants to be yours. Is someone seriously going to say no?  The song, produced by Nate “Danja” Hills, is as sexy as a robotic track can be.

2. “Kisses Down Low”: The seksi time continues with this ode to oral sex. It’s graphic enough that she’s giving instruction (“a little more to the left”). Produced by Mike Will Make It, the song is bolstered by a very deep-voiced man echoing some of the lyrics.  The sexually explicit will either turn you on or be just too much.

3. “Gone” featuring Wiz Khalifa: 
Built around Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi,” this sassy, break-up song is Rowland’s version of “Irreplaceable.” She gave him her heart, but he let it slip through his fingers and he’s going to be sorry in this mid-tempo, Harmony Samuels-produced track that has attitude to spare. Wiz Khalifa plays the boy who thinks she only wants to break up to make up. It’s a nice counterpoint and his giggle is infectious.

4. “Talk A Good Game” featuring Kevin Cossom:
The title track is a mid-tempo shuffler, produced by T-Minus, lamenting why love has to be so hard. A gun-shy Rowland doesn’t think she can “take another broken promise,” so before she gives her heart away again (remember, she’s getting over the heartbreak from the dude in “Gone”), she needs to know her next boy can be honest.

5. “Down On Love”:  She’s working a theme here as “Gone,” “Talk” and “Down” all deal with men who had disappointed her. The sleek, well-produced tune set to a military beat  show’s off Rowland’s vulnerable vocals as she professes she’s been down on love lately after another 5 a.m. call from her loser boyfriend has left her brokenhearted. The song subtly samples The Whispers’ “Rock Steady.”

6. “Dirty Laudry”: The track that everyone is talking about from “Talk.” In The-Dream-produced slow dirge-like jam, Rowland confesses to her jealousy of Beyonce post- Destiny’s Child, but that’s not the only revelation. She tells of an abusive relationship in a world-weary tone. And it sounds like Beyonce came to the rescue.  “When my sister was on stage killing it like a mother/I was enraged.... Bitter/Sweet, I was up/she was down....Meanwhile this snake putting his hands on me...”  It’s compelling and exhausting to listen to at the same time. There’s nothing else on the album that matches the vulnerable admissions here.

7. “You Changed” 
“Ladies, y’all want to do it again?” Beyonce asks in a sultry tone on this track that reunites Bey, Rowland and Michel’le Williams. The layered, mid-tempo groove is another “I’ve left you behind” tune, telling a guy to scram. It’s Beyonce’s song and the two others merely provide adornment, but’s nice to hear the three of them together again.

8. “I Remember”: This mid-tempo shuffler, propelled by a thumping beat, cries out for a dance remix, by her buddy David Guetta if not someone else.  In the track that showcases her voice to the best effect, she looks back at a relationship gone bad. With its layered vocals and sly, relentless beat, it’s one of the album’s strongest tunes.

9. “Red Wine”:  Another groove-driven track that relies more on atmospheric production and feel than a strong song. Rowland’s vocals float above the ethereal beats.

10. “This Is Love”: A slow-downed gauzy dance track, prefaced by an organ, finds Rowland finally giving in to love again “Don’t wake me/I must be dreaming,” she sings in the stutter beat song.  The album’s most unreservedly romantic tune.

11. “Street Life” featuring Pusha T:  Pharrell-produced tune, reminiscent of “In da Club” and Destiny Child’s “ Jumpin’, Jumpin”,” the track has an urban, swaying feel and an edge provided by Pusha T’s rap about a dope dealer. Sounds unlike anything else on the album.

12. “Stand In Front Of Me”:
Another slow jam about keeping your man satisfied. This one’s sweeter than it is explicit, but Rowland and Pharrell, who produced the track, hit all the right notes.  She could be talking about a proposal when she sings about “getting down on bended knee.”

 

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<p>Rihanna</p>

Rihanna

Credit: FOX

Rihanna passes Justin Bieber for most YouTube views

Who else is in the top 5?

Rihanna has passed Justin Bieber as the most-viewed artist on YouTube. Don’t worry Psy fans, we’re sure he’ll pass both of them with his next video.

In the wee hours of June 18, according to Billboard, Rihanna’s 77 videos on her official channel overtook Justin Bieber’s 79 official clips by a score of 3.784 billion for Rihanna to 3.782 billion for Bieber. Yes, that’s billion. Rounding out the top 5 are Psy (3.1 billion views), Eminem (2.4 billion) and Lady Gaga (2.25 billion).

Billboard chalks Rihanna’s victory up to her larger subscriber base: she has 8.37 million YouTube subscribers, while Bieber has 3.7 million.

Beliebers, don’t despair: Bieber remains the most followed person  on Twitter (person, not just musical artist), with more than 40 million followers.




 

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The Postal Service's new clip, 'A Tattered Line of String': Watch

The Postal Service's new clip, 'A Tattered Line of String': Watch

HitFix
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Readers
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Dirty laundry can kill you

Watch out for your own dirty laundry. That seems to be the message in the Postal Service’s new video for “A Tattered Line of String.”

[More after the jump...]

 

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<p>M.I.A.</p>

M.I.A.

Listen: M.I.A.'s new relentless single, 'Bring the Noize'

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Rapper also set for a handful of North American summer dates

M.I.A. is back in action, and how, on “Bring the Noize,” the first single from her forthcoming album, “Matangi.”

With a machine-gun rat-a-tat beat, the relentless, rapid-fire tune takes on one of her favorite topics: banks and other corporate raiders: “It’s not me or you/it’s the f**king banks/Bring the noize when we run up on them.”  The assault continues until the last third when the percussion drops out and she softly sings. It’s a striking tune.

[More after the jump...]

 

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<p>John Mayer</p>

John Mayer

Credit: AP Photo

Watch: John Mayer's prancercising video to new song, 'Paper Doll'

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Is it about Katy Perry?

It had to happen: sooner or later, someone was going to capitalize on the Prancercise craze. We just didn’t expect it to be John Mayer.

[More after the jump...]

 The lyric video for his new single, “Paper Doll,” features Prancercise creator and viral video sensation Joanna Rohrback, introducing the video: “By now you know the foremost Prancercise, but what about a prance to romance to,” she somewhat awkwardly asks.*

She then gracefully Prancercises to the song as the lyrics scroll across. The video is filmed primarily in a single shot (we caught only one edit once Rohrback starts doing her thing), so we can get full advantage of Rohrback’s graceful, fluid movements as she prancercises through a suburban neighborhood getting her Prancecise on.  She also, quite honestly, is getting quite the work out in, especially as she imitates the angel wings in the lyrics.

But what about the song? It’s a lovely, stripped down, lilting ballad, the kind of which we’ve been hearing from Mayer ever since “Wonderland.”  This time, he’s not bedding the girl, he’s romancing her and trying to woo her back after after she’s gotten spooked. “You’re like 22 girls in one, and none of them know what they’re running from," he sings.  He throws in lots of colors: black, gold, blue, mint green, moroccan red —as he runs through fashions made specifically for a seasons as a metaphor for her running away. It’s hardly a song of girl empowerment to compare a girl to a “little paper doll,” but not everything has to be an anthem.

The coda is a little too reminiscent of “Mockingbird,” but that may have been intentional.  The bigger question is if the song is about Mayer's off-and-on-again girlfriend, Katy Perry, who told Vogue that she is "still madly in love" with Mayer in a July cover story. (Interestingly, Rolling Stone speculates that the song is about Mayer's ex, Taylor Swift, because of the use of the color red, her current album title  and the number 22, which is her age and also a song title on her current album).


Mayer pairs once again with Don Was, who produced the fine “Born and Raised,” for “Paper Doll,” the first single from Mayer’s forthcoming album, “Paradise Valley.” Here, as is often Was’s trademark, the production is spare, with nothing extraneous added in. Both Mayer's vocal and guitar sound warm in inviting.

Mayer starts his first full tour in three years, following his vocal issues, July 6 in Milwaukee (following a July 4 appearance at 4th of July festival in Philadelphia). For full list of tour dates, go here.

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<p>Jack Johnson performs at the 2013 Bonnaroo Music Festival.</p>

Jack Johnson performs at the 2013 Bonnaroo Music Festival.

Credit: Wade Payne/Invision/AP

Jack Johnson sets fall tour dates with all proceeds going to charity

Fresh off Bonnaroo gig, Johnson plans to hit the road again in September

Fresh off his headlining gig at Bonnaroo, where he stepped in for Mumford & Sons, Jack Johnson has announced a fall tour.

If he weren’t already the good guy after filling infor M&S, who dropped out due to Ted Dwane’s emergency surgery, Johnson will earn even more karma points with the tour because he is donating 100% of the profits to charity (as he has since 2008).

The outing, which is in support of his sixth studio album, “From Here To Now To You,” out Sept. 17, starts in Europe Sept. 5 and kicks off the U.S. portion Sept. 22 in Canton, Mass.

Proceeds from the tour will go to 75 community groups that focus on sustainable local food systems and plastic-free initiatives.

Johnson released the album’s first single, “I Got You,” a few weeks ago.

From Here To Now To You tour:


September 5      Cologne, Germany           E-Werk
September 6       Munich, Germany            Circus Krone
September 7       Amsterdam, Holland        Heineken Music Hall
September 8       London, UK                   Hyde Park - BBC Radio 2 in the Park
September 11      Manchester, UK              Lowery Theatre
September 12      Birmingham , UK           Symphony Hall
September 14     Paris, France                   Olympia          
September 16      London, UK                   Roundhouse Theatre - iTunes Festival
September 22      Canton, MA                   Life is good Festival
September 25      Washington, DC             Constitution Hall
September 26      Upper Darby, PA             Tower Theatre
September 28      Toronto, Canada            Massey Hall **
September 29      Akron, OH                     EJ Thomas Performing Arts Hall
October 1           Atlanta, GA                    Fox Theatre
October 2           Nashville, TN                 Ryman Auditorium
October 3           Durham, NC                   Durham Performing Arts Center
October 5           Indianapolis, IN              Murat Theatre
October 6           Chicago, IL                    Chicago Theatre **
October 7           Minneapolis, MN            State Theatre
October 9           Denver, CO                    Paramount Theatre
October 12         Oakland, CA                  Fox Theatre
October 14         Vancouver, BC               Orpheum Theatre
October 15         Seattle, WA                   Paramount Theatre
October 16         Portland, OR                  The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
October 18         San Diego, CA               Balboa Theatre
October 19         Los Angeles, CA             Orpheum Theatre
October 20         Santa Barbara, CA           Arlington Theatre
 



 

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J. Cole's "Born Sinner"
J. Cole's "Born Sinner"
Credit: Columbia/Roc Nation

Album Review: J Cole goes looking for redemption on 'Born Sinner'

HitFix
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He has plenty of questions, but not many answers

While much, if not all, of the focus on June 18 album releases has been on Kanye West’s “Yeezus,”  fellow rapper J Cole is nipping at his heels like a eager, overly-confident puppy.  Cole deliberately moved the release of his sophomore set,  “Born Sinner,” up a week to compete directly with “Yeezus.”

“Yeezus” will win the sales battle, but Cole may win the war.  “Born Sinner,” produced largely by Cole with some help from No I.D., Elite and others, solidifies Cole’s impressive wordplay and rap skills. While he may not have as much of import to say as he thinks he does, Cole certainly has a way with a story: here they often tie in with with biblical references, whether its original sin, the promised land, or crucifixion (though, thankfully, he doesn’t have quite the level of messianic complex as West).

His lyrics, as full of braggadocio as they can be,  are also full of questions for which there are often no answers. “Born Sinners”’ tunes deal with conflict after conflict, whether it’s the war between genders (all too often, Cole resorts to denigrating women), race relations, his sudden rise in money and the accompanying power, or just the endless noise in his own head.

“Cole World: The Sideline Story,” Cole’s 2011 debut studio album (following a series of mixtapes) entered the Billboard 200 at No. 1. As the Jay-Z protege displayed, he had a keen sense of rhyming and delivery, if a bit deadpan, sort of like Drake.

Cole anchors “Born Sinner,” but there are plenty of guests that nicely counterpoint his flat vocals, such as Miguel on “Power Trip.” (Is there any song that Miguel doesn’t make better?)

On “Power Trip,” the woman keeps him up all night. Females continue to vex him throughout the album. On “Forbidden Fruit,” featuring Kendrick Lamar, Cole raps about “apple juice falling from her lips,” in an extrapolation of Eve tempting Adam with an apple in the Garden of Eden. (In the song, he also addresses deciding to “jump out the same day at Kanye, and shouts out to Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, even if he does mispronounce his last name).

The conflicted relationship with women continues: On “Crooked Smile,” which features TLC, he is all about empowering women, telling them to be happy with their natural beauty, before expanding “Crooked Smile” into a treatise about race. “If my skin pale, would I sell like Eminem or Adele,” he asks over a loping, easy-going melody.

That’s not the only place he takes on the white/black divide. “Chaining Day” has tough lyrics about the lessons he’s learned so far over a chant of “I need you to love me, love me, love,” while early in the song he questions the different reactions between blacks and whites and what constitutes enslavement.

On “Mo Money Trouble,” he raps over an ethereal, floating melody,  “Money control ni**as, white men control money,” before the song gives way to a heavier beat base. He realizes that the money and supposed wealth he has accrued is illusory compared to the true magnates, almost all of whom are white.

When he’s not trying to figure out if women are saints or whores or tackling race relations, he alternately praising and slapping down his elders. In addition to taking on West, he sings about his heartache of realizing he let down one of his heroes, Nas, on “Let Nas Down.” “Long Live the idols, may they never be your rivals/Pac was like Jesus,” he sings in the beginning of the song over a jazzy saxophone bed. The song is a near literal telling of how much he admired Nas, and how devastated he is when he found out that Nas was let down by his music (particularly, a song called “Work Out”). He compares himself to Jesus, taking the fall. “For the greater good, I walk among the evil...I went to Hell and resurrected.”

Cole, like West, masterminds his own records from constructing most of the beats to writing the songs and there’s genuine talent there. There are germs of innovation that show he has plenty of room to grow as his inchoate talent continues to develop.

On “Born Sinner,” he’s smartly created an album that examines what happens when your dreams come true both money and fame wise and you’ve gotten yourself a little dirty in the process. Is redemption possible or even desirable or do you wait until you fall further.  Stay tuned.

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