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Some things that Mutya Keisha Siobhan should take on board…

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The best pornstars-turned-popstars

With pop performers resorting to ever more sexualised imagery to sell their brands, some have questioned where the dividing line between music and pornography lies. These people seriously need to get out more or stay at home and watch some actual porn. When was the last time you heard of someone discovering “self-abuse” courtesy of Rihanna? This did however get me thinking about pornstars who have made the crossover from adult entertainment to music. For some it’s just another way to make money as the cheques for them doing unspeakable things start to dry up, others meanwhile have a genuine passion which they use their infamy as a foot in the door to demonstrate. Here are a few examples, not necessarily the best or most successful, but certainly the most interesting:

1) Traci Lords:

First gaining notoriety after it emerged that she’d kick-started her adult film career while underage, Traci Lords relaunched herself as a serious actress, training at the Lee Strasberg Institute and landing roles in b-movies such as Serial Mom and Shock ‘Em Dead. Not content with this she also branched out into music, releasing a full-length album of techno inspired dance music called 1000 Fires in 1995. Asides from the odd release such as the brilliant ‘Last Drag’ in 2011 she’s yet to produce another album, but here’s hoping she’ll surprise us all.

2)  Colton Ford:

Since quitting the business, Colton Ford has proved he’s not just a beary face. Unusually it’s his first album Tug of War that features entirely original material while his second Under the Covers is an ingenious collection of takes on pop classics by the likes of Robyn and Alicia Keys. Two dance-orientated tracks including ‘Let Me Live Again’, produced by Wawa were released last year and there’s apparently a new album on it’s way – hooray!

3)  Lolo Ferrari:

The strange, tragic life of the woman with the world’s biggest breasts took an unexpected turn when her husband/manager pushed her into a music career.  The result; one of the most ridiculous bits of pop ever recorded. ‘Airbag Generation’ sadly isn’t catchy or original enough to have endured beyond being a camp curiosity but Madonna owes her video to ‘What It Feels Like For A Girl’  to this poorly-mimed gem.

4) Jeff Stryker:

You wouldn’t expect a man whose penis has been cast into one of the best-selling dildos of all time to venture into music, let alone Country music, but Jeff Stryker at one point seemed determined to break the mould (pun intended). As well as novelty track ‘Pop You in the Pooper’ he recorded a whole album of material in 1995 called Wild Buck which appears to have been only had a limited number of copies pressed.

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Lyrics: Saying “no” to the n-word

Recently I found myself sympathising with of all people, Queen of Goop Gwyneth Paltrow. Gwynnie found herself in the eye of a Twitter storm after posting a picture of herself on stage at a Watch the Throne concert with The-Dream, Ty Ty and B-High with the caption “Ni**as in paris for real.” – a reference to a Watch the Throne song. The fact that said picture was taken in Paris didn’t do her any favours and she was forced to then quickly post; “Hold up. It’s the title of the song!” which did little to quell the temporary hate barrage against her. The context it seemed was irrelevant, it just wasn’t acceptable for a white person to use the n-word.

As a white music fan this has had me thinking about the word and my own discomfort with it. I was raised to NEVER to use it under any circumstances so it feels unnatural to be listening to a song (take ‘Man Down’ by Rihanna for instance) with whatever lyrical message it contains before having to suddenly go “Lalalalalala, not this bit”. When Katy Perry covered the aforementioned Watch the Throne song she replaced “ni**as” with “ninjas”, had she not I get the feeling she would’ve been forced into hiding somewhere dark and impenetrable – like Russell Brand’s beard.

While the word “ni**a” , used in rap, hip-hop, r&b and other music genres is different to “ni**er” – the derivative term originating from the age of slavery and segregation, it is impossible to use one without there being connotations of the other. Reclaiming a word from its original term of of abuse may seem like a noble reinvention, but it keeps the old one lingering in human vocabularies.

If you’re still not convinced try and think of it this way; would you be happy with a song called ‘F****ts in Fuerteventura’ (by the Scissor Sisters) or ‘K**es in Kalingrad’ (Regina Spektor perhaps)? Hopefully your answer would be no. While it’s easy to write this off as “political correctness gone mad”, when you can’t put your hand on your heart and be 100% comfortable with a particular group using a word, that speaks volumes. So until such terms become as forgotten as “glaikit” (“thicko” in Scottish) try using an equivalent. ‘Nougat in Paris’ sounds much nicer, don’t you think?

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Shedding a new light on The Darkness

So The Darkness are back. Not just on the nostalgia circuit, but with a proper album coming out and bagging the lucrative slot of supporting Lady Gaga on some of her tour dates. Asides from the problems with Justin Hawkins, the band has always had another internal problem that’s hindered their success – are they for real? By this I mean are they still the parody of Glam-rock that captured retro-minded imaginations and sold millions of their debut….or are they trying to leave it in the past as a straight-faced rock band? As you might remember their sophomore One Way Ticket to Hell …and Back was a comparative slump as although it tried to replicate the same sense of fun as Permission to Land, it also took itself too seriously in places. The Darkness need to spell out consistently what side their bread is buttered with their tone, otherwise it’ll be a one way ticket – and this time with no return.

The video for their new single ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ suggests jollity is thankfully back on the agenda:

At the same time, have a look at the tracklisting for Hot Cakes (released on August 20th):

‘Every Inch Of You’
‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us’
‘With A Woman’
‘Keep Me Hangin’ On’
‘Living Every Day Blind’
‘Everybody Having A Good Time’
‘She Just A Girl Eddie’
‘Forbidden Love’
‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’
‘Love Is Not The Answer’

Yes, that is a RADIOHEAD COVER you might’ve spotted towards the end. Hmmm.

With Justin promising “Hot Cakes has a nice raw feel to it like the first album had, with occasional luxurious moments akin to the second.” we just might end up with the best aspects of both records, or their worst faults. Either way I will defend them to the death as the perfect support act for Gaga. Camp, self-indulgent but ultimately lots of fun when they want to be…just like the woman herself.

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Eurovision 2013: Who in fresh hell should we send?

After the UK’s second-to-bottom nosedive last Saturday, there are probably emergency meetings planned in the BBC Eurovision broom cupboard office. What exactly went wrong? Was it the song? The Hump? An unlucky combination of the two. In a particularly ballad-heavy year there was nothing distinctive about Engelbert’s offering to make it stand out, despite roping in Ivor Novello Award-winning songwriter Sacha Skarbek.

While I’m not going to go off on one against the performance itself, a competent enough job; some actual promotion across Europe beforehand might’ve helped. When the UK has fared well in the contest in recent years with Jade Ewen (et Andrew Lloyd Webber) and Blue it’s not just been down to the decent song choice, but thanks to creating a bit of buzz. Asides from those old enough to remember the Iron Curtain like it was yesterday, Humperdinck might as well have arrived from Mars instead of Leicester. Familiarity makes all the difference.

Enough post-mortem – ONWARDS to next year:

Auntie has a choice -they could reintroduce the democratic aspect of entrant selection again by allowing the public to vote from a shortlist in another Your Country Needs You-style format, albeit with some decent entrants instead of Katie Price and an ex-dustman from The X Factor.

Alternatively they could continue to pick someone themselves, someone talented who is well-known in Europe but down on their luck career-wise who would gladly take the poisoned chalice of Eurovision. Here are some suggestions:

When she’s not pregnant or postponing an album release Sophie Ellis-Bextor is a reliable, if slightly forgotten household name in the UK, like the Wimpy fast food chain. In Russia and Ukraine it’s a different story altogether where she’s somehow cultivated a vast fanbase to the extent that her last record was released there ahead of her homeland. She’s also a Jill of all trades – her cut-glass vocals suitable for dance, indie and ballads. Now an independent artist with three kids and a husband in The Feeling to support, I have a feeling she wouldn’t turn down this gig if asked.

I despise Mika. His shrill, shrieking tones are enough to put the hairs on the back of my neck on edge BUT – he has potential with the right song. Take away his Kate Nash-esque brand of clunky piano tunes and give him a dance number like ‘Kick Ass (We Are Young)’ that he did with RedOne for the Kick Ass film soundtrack and you’ve the makings of a decent Eurovision act. He’s also still massive in France – his sophomore slumping album still managed 2x Platinum over there so he wisely released the first single from his upcoming new record in French over there, bagging a No.1. With his domestic career beginning to stare at the abyss and an obvious fondness for the flamboyant, it’s a bit of a no-brainer for him.

Melanie C loves being a popstar, and were it not for being in the most successful girlband of all time she’d probably be a fairly successful one, free from the ex-Spice shackles that have always been her biggest blessing and curse career-wise. Instead she’s had to make do with going independent to release the solo material she wanted and occasional hits in mainland Europe. As she has nothing to lose, as well as being instantly recognisable she ticks the right boxes. Recently she seems to be stretching her legs a bit beyond the usual album-tour route, having just plonked an EP of dance outtakes on iTunes and announcing that she’s starring in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new upcoming production of Jesus Christ Superstar – Eurovision wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

See you in Sweden next year…

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Everything you need to know about Eurovision 2012

Recently I drunkenly attempted to describe the Eurovision Song Contest to a New Yorker, whose response was “That sounds fuckin crazy!” They were right. Eurovision is such a uniquely bizarre concept and yet it continues to exist, derided by those in Western Europe who see themselves as above it, celebrated by Eastern European countries barely in their twenties and obsessively competed by quasi-European countries like Georgia and Azerbaijan where it’s being held this year. Having trawled through all of this year’s entries and come to terms with the fact that I’m probably going to miss today and Thursday’s Semi-Finals for the first time by being abroad without access to a TV, the least I can do is prepare you all for the night itself – where the sublime and ridiculous dance Ring a Ring o’Roses around the Western Hemisphere…to a fancy key change.

Here are the seven most important things to bear in mind this year:

I. Firstly, this doesn’t look set to be a vintage year in terms of an abundance of fabulous Euro-dance. It’s bloody ballad-heavy. But this isn’t an entirely bad thing as it means that fans of uptempo goodness will be concentrating their votes on a smaller area, which is good news for the likes of Loreen (see below). Out of all the plodding slowness there are some good ‘uns, particularly this entry from Kaliopi, hailing from F.Y.R. Macedonia which manages to be classy but intense instead of dull.

II. The best bad song is undoubtedly from San Marino (yes, that prominent European superpower). Valentina Monetta sings abysmally brilliant lyrics such as “So you wanna make love with me, am I really your cup of tea?” on ‘Facebook Uh Oh Oh’. I’m surprised that Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t sent her a cease and desist order for damaging the value of his new shares. Whether this will get through to the Final remains to be seen, but HOW I HOPE SO:

III. And then there are songs that are just plain awful. The absolute nadir of this year’s contest is, without any shadow of doubt from Georgia. One third funk-folk, one third rap and one third pure twattishness:

IV. Fortunately the gulf between the very worst and best is unfathomable. And the song that hands-down deserves to win is below. It’ll come as no surprise that I’m rooting for Loreen this year if you’ve been following my near-breakdown over Melodifestivalen back in February. And now it’ll happen all over again as I chew my fingers to the bone until the results are in. Sweden 2013 has to happen, there’s no possible excuse for it. Asides from the whole Mayan apocalypse thing:

V. So Jedward are back again. Which isn’t a bad thing, but isn’t as nearly as good as it could be. Instead of giving us another ‘Lipstick’, it seems they’ve had a rummage through the leftovers bin from Busted circa 2005:

VI. Sometimes when preoccupied by the weird and wonderful from far-flung bits of “Europe” you’d forgotten existed since last year’s contest, one can also forget that the UK is also participating in this mess. And this year we’re sending Engelbert Humperdinck, whose name seems deliberately engineered to be impossible to say correctly by 9pm on the night when you’re already pissed as a fart. Good luck Humpy, you’re obviously not going to win, but a respectable placing might not be impossible thanks to Slavic pensioners speed-dialling in their droves:

VII. Speaking of Slavic pensioners….this is my dark horse. It appears to have had more YouTube hits than anything else competing which could mean either one of three things:

1) Curiosity is a powerful weapon.

2) Everyone loves Russian grannies.

3) Both of the above.

Enjoy the show (Saturday 26th May, 20.00 GMT on BBC One if you live in the UK).

I’ll invariably be ranting, drinking and typing as the madness unfolds on The Twitter.

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Metal’s blunt charm

When people ask you what sort of music you’re into, chances are you’ll immediately lump a few genres together. Dance, R&B, Electro, Pop, Rock and Rap all easily drift apart as individual types but at the same time easily fit in the same box. It’s when you start mentioning Metal that you start to get odd looks. People immediately think of something like this:

Like with one of my friends. When I enthusiastically started to tell her that this Thursday I’m seeing Swedish Melodic Death Metal band Scar Symmetry in concert she started to giggle. The giggling turned into chucking before morphing into hysterical hyena-screeching of “YOU PAID SEVENTY ODD QUID TO SEE KYLIE!”

This left me feeling a bit like this:

As with any other genre I’ve never seen being a fan of Metal as mutually exclusive from everything else. Granted, it’s not easily boxed together with other music; you’re far more likely to hear a Nicki Minaj song played on the radio after Madonna – rather than Megadeth.

There’s also the common misconception that it’s all “samey” in a common vision of dark aggression. In fact there are a whole load of subgenres including Death metal,  Black metal, Post-metal, Power metal, Doom metal, and Gothic metal – each with their own individual motifs and personalities.

Much like a lot of music, the best Metal in my opinion hails from Scandinavia where it has a long history of being more than just a teenage subculture. The song above is the title track from my favourite Metal album, Eternal Kingdom by Swedish post-Metal band Cult of Luna. The circumstances in which the album was formed are as staggering as the material; the band were rehearsing on a site that had once been a mental institution. While there they discovered the diary of Holger Nilsson, a former inmate who had been committed after drowning his wife. The diary was titled ‘Tales from the Eternal Kingdom’. In what he had written Nilsson blamed the death of his wife on the Näcken – evil fairy people from Scandinavian folklore. It was from these writings that the lyrics of the bleak, overpowering songs of Eternal Kingdom were born.

Beats Katy Perry any day…

It’s when you delve into each band that you discover stories like the above. Gaahl, originally from Gorgoroth is basically Black Metal’s answer to Morrissey with frequent outspoken remarks on church-burnings, radical political flirtation as well as his widely known and accepted identity as a gay man in the least stereotypical genre imaginable. He’s a bit of a hero of mine.

Gaahl. Bit of a legend.

By it’s very nature Metal is complex with elaborate, poetic lyrics and complicated melodies. The reason why it doesn’t gel so well with other forms of popular music is because it’s so much more of an art form, but being distinctive is what makes it so appealing. Seeing a Metal band live is probably the most alive you can feel in safe, 21st century Western society as it feels like you’re preparing for battle or at the most intense moments right in the middle of one. While I wouldn’t ever call myself a “metalhead”, there’s a time and a place for everything – and sometimes Kylie just won’t cut it.

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The curse of the girlband lingers on

In the past couple of weeks there have been several deaths:

RIP Soundgirl

It all started on such as promising note – three sassy young ladies with some amazing songwriters such as Karen Poole and Xenomania. So where did it go so horribly wrong? Giving their first single ‘I’m The Fool’ away for free after stalling its release can’t have helped. Their first official and last release ‘Don’t Know Why’  is an odd one. It’s nice enough but possibly the worst attempt at “HI WE’RE A NEW BAND” in music history. Sampling Carly Simon does not a smash make.  Charting at No.45 in June last year, it took until last week for what had long been expected to be formally announced. And already former Soundgirl-girl Little Nikki has announced her intentions to go solo with a video featuring her cavorting in Lidl with samplers of the shelved album Something to Dream About popping up on eBay. A better fate than being recycled by Little Mix, perhaps.

If in doubt of their doomed brilliance, listen to this sampler track.

RIP Belle Amie

As they proved when competing on The X Factor, the lasses of Belle Amie had some decent vocal chops between them. But add the worst girlband name since “Eden’s Crush” and a deranged “let’s hurl an entire wardrobe department and pray something sticks” sense of visual styling and you weren’t left with much.  Their only single ‘Girls Up’, released when the quartet had already been reduced to a trio sounded like the inside of David Guetta’s septic tank. Recently the following message was posted on the group’s Facebook page; “We’re really sorry to announce that Rebecca has decided to leave the group to pursue a solo career…. We’re really upset with the decision made as the future for Belle Amie was looking bright. We’re so grateful to all of our fans that have been dedicated to us and have supported us through everything. Your all so special to us and will always be so important to each one of us. Thank you belles your all amazing x” (sic) – so a Clea to Loveshy transition is hardly looking likely.

Basically, try to avoid joining a girlband right now if you can possibly avoid it. It has the same career stability as working behind the till at Game.

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Keane: When MOR is less

Keane have long managed the balancing act of delighting and frustrating me – mostly because when they’re good they’re very, very good and when they’re bad they’re as bland as Emma Bunton’s solo career. Tom Chaplin has a mighty, Freddie Mercury-esque voice that was made for filling stadiums and blasting from speakers, but the band’s greatest enemy is themselves. Too often the production meanders in a lazy, Middle of the Road direction that satisfies Radio 2’s playlisting criteria but not much else. However every now and again they come up with something like this:

See what I mean? Hardly dull Dad-rock. What they desperately need is a fresh pair of ears to step in and produce an entire album, dragging them out of their comfort zone. Stuart Price’s two tracks he contributed towards Perfect Symmetry were brilliant, without straying too far away from what “a Keane song” means to Joe Public The Music Listener.

Their latest album Strangeland is out next month and FUNNILY ENOUGH it’s produced by someone else, Dan Grech-Marguerat who has worked with Radiohead and the Vaccines. Here’s the first single for it:

Hmmm. Is it too late to give Stuart Price a ring?

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Playing the fame game: 10 tips on creating a pop career out of thin air

Ultimately the sign of a successful popstar is how well known they are. Once you’ve moved beyond being fervently debated on message boards to water cooler territory, you know you’ve probably made it.

But when you’re already famous, branching out into music from whatever else you’ve done to land yourself a place in the spotlight…that’s cheating right? Well in this day and age you need a selling point keep your fame alive and unless you’ve managed to bag yourself the title “the nation’s sweetheart”, sitting on your arse with no discernable talent isn’t going to pay the bills. YOU GOTTA WORK. And with technology now allowing for actual singing talent to come bottom of your list of necessities, it’s never been easier to launch a pop career.

Here’s a guide to getting it right:

1. DO play to your strengths. Before she was slaying zombies for a living, Milla Jovovich was juggling being a catwalk model and a budding young indie actress. Ideal for a Kate Bush-style reinvention to showcase her odd vocals.

2. DON’T forget to try a little charisma. Yes, charisma K-Fed.

3. DO try and model yourself on someone you’re actually like. Not like Naomi Campbell attempting to out-Mariah Mariah through wailing and screeching.

4. DON’T choose a lousy cover if you’re going to do one. Try something that actually suits you, like Twiggy’s version of ‘Waterloo Sunset’:

5. DO make it exciting. Not boring. Sorry Laurie:

6. DON’T try and prove the critics wrong, enjoy yourself. A certain wonk-eyed celebutante did with pleasantly surprising results:

7. DO remember that if you’re feeling nervous by the prospect of going it alone, then there’s always strength in numbers. Girlband Jameerah were formed from a bunch of random Dutch, German and Belgian celebrities teamed up together:

8. DON’T forget your loyal fanbase. Even if they aren’t really fans of your singing, like in the case of Adam Rickitt:

9. DO be wary about blowing all your cash on topnotch songwriters. Heidi Montag claims to have spent around $2 million on her floptacular record Superficial. If you write Cathy Dennis a blank cheque she is going to laugh all the way to the bank before writing the following song while lounging by the pool of the Beverly Hills Country Club:

10. DON’T whatever you do come up with anything like this:

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