Thankful for Pop Culture

I’m Canadian, so we already celebrated Thanksgiving a month ago (ya know, the REAL Thanksgiving, as per Robin Scherbatsky). However, in honour of Americans celebrating their Thanksgiving this weekend, I thought I would give thanks to the pop culture things I am thankful for this year.

1.) NIKITA

Always thankful for this show, from the moment that it was picked up to the fact that it is still on the air, despite the odds. I know I gush about this show A LOT, but they have never failed to amaze me with what they do. Maggie Q is the the first Asian-American to be the lead of a TV show, which to me is such a huge deal. The rest of the cast and crew work tirelessly (especially the countless¬† “Fraturdays”) to give us a mini-movie each episode. The show has done so much in 2.5 seasons (thus far) than most shows do in their entire run. Thank you for being awesome and I honestly look forward to the day that I can actually tell you all that in person!

2.) The last season of FRINGE

So incredibly thankful that we’re getting a final season of Fringe. Again, it’s a show that has faced incredible odds and as a fan, you can’t help but be incredibly grateful that a final season of the show even exists. FOX could have easily cancelled it because of the low ratings, but they totally did us (and all involved with the show) a solid by allowing the writers to finish the story they set out.

3.) MAROON 5 & KELLY CLARKSON

Two of my favourites in music had a great year. Though Kelly released her album “Stronger” last year, I’m simply thankful for her putting on such great concerts this year. A great singer performing incredibly well LIVE, there’s not much more you can ask for than that. I’m still not IN LOVE with Maroon 5’s “Overexposed” but I am happy that they have a huge hit with “One More Night”; they completely deserve it. Also, the fact that “One More Night” kept “Gangnam Style” from ever hitting #1 on the Billboard chart was a great bonus (seriously, I would’ve called that the end of the world if Gangnam became a #1 hit).

4.) TIFF

The Toronto International Film Festival is such a great event for movie fans. It offers a little something for everyone: indies, documentaries, foreign films, and just damn good movies. This year I got to attend one of Jason Reitman’s famous live readings, got to see an incredible performance by Marion Cotillard in the film Rust and Bone; the harrowing Twice Born starring Penelope Cruz and Emile Hirsch; and a lighter different side to Alexander Skarsgard in What Maisie Knew. Not to mention the official release of movies that played at TIFF last year – 10 Years, Friends With Kids, The Oranges.

5.) Wonderfully written TV Shows

A great number of both new and returning shows have been doing ridiculously well creatively. On the drama side: Parenthood, Homeland, the resurgence of Dexter, Once Upon A Time, Revenge (season 1), Covert Affairs, Suits, Nashville, and Arrow. On the comedy side: Parks and Recreation, Community, Happy Endings, How I Met Your Mother, Go On, and Ben and Kate.

6.) AMAZING DANCING

I am beyond thankful for all the truly amazing dancing we witness on both the big and small screen. Step Up Revolution continued the series with some more new and exciting choreography. But So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars are the dancing gifts that keep giving. The most recent example? Derek Hough and Allison Holker choreographing an INCREDIBLE contemporary number this past week on DWTS, that also featured Melanie Moore, Kathryn McCormick and Jessica Lee Keller.

 

That’s what I’m thankful for, this American Thanksgiving. Share what pop culture things you’re thankful for!

Album Review: Christina Aguilera “Lotus”

Christina Aguilera is back with her 5th studio album (not including her Spanish and Christmas albums early in her career), Lotus, and the album is a return to form for the incredible singer. Her last album, 2010’s Bionic, was anything but “back to basics” (save for a few closing tracks) as the singer forayed into the world of dance/electronica music, which came off as though she was trying way too hard to adapt to current popular music. On Lotus, however, Christina returns to her pop roots, while still holding on to some of the dance tendencies that has now taken over radio – it’s Stripped meets Bionic and still a different side of Christina Aguilera.

TRACK-BY-TRACK REVIEW

  1. Lotus Intro – It’s an intro, so there’s not much to say about it. Although clocking in at a little over 3 minutes, it is mighty long for what it’s supposed to be.
  2. Army of Me – Christina has deemed this song as “Fighter 2.0”, which to be honest is kind of a tall order. Thematically, they are very similar, with a message of empowerment. Musically though, they are two very different songs. “Fighter” was a powerful, edgy pop/rock (heavy emphasis on the rock) song, that featured Christina’s vocals in full force. “Army of Me” has a rock tinge to it, but the chorus features a very dance heavy beat that sounds a little like Katy Perry’s “Firework.”
  3. Red Hot Kinda Love – A fun upbeat song that doesn’t really have much to it lyrically; it’s almost equivalent to Britney Spears’ “Big Fat Bass.” To me, it’s probably the weakest song on the album, mainly because Christina could do much better than this song.
  4. Make the World Move [ft. Cee Lo Green] – After collaborating with Adam Levine and the rest of Maroon 5 on “Moves Like Jagger”, Christina works with another fellow Voice coach, none other than Cee Lo Green. It’s a dance-pop track that is sort of an amalgamation of everything Christina is (or has shown us so far) as an artist. It’s a pop song, mixed into a dance beat (making it ripe for current radio), and it also has an old school 70s soul twist to it. This could be a really good hit for Christina.
  5. Your Body – It’s still surprising to hear that this is the first time Christina has collaborated with Max Martin, the man who has been such a force to be reckoned with in pop music, writing and producing for Backstreet Boys, Britney, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, and the list continues to grow. Upon hearing the song a couple months back, it felt like a return to Christina around the Stripped era – pop with a lot of sass, and that’s the Christina I love to hear.
  6. Let There Be Love – Without a doubt, the most dance heavy track on the album, which will certainly play well in the clubs but it’s not a sound that I particularly like. Thank god for Christina’s vocals being so definitive or else this song could easily be washed away with all the other dance songs out there.
  7. Sing For Me – This song epitomizes what is so great about Christina. It’s not a stripped down/acapella song, but the production on it is more on the minimal side and sort of harkens back to the power pop ballads of the 90s, particularly when the song starts to come to a close. The ‘less is more’ of it all allows Christina to sing the hell out of the song.
  8. Blank Page – Proving once again what a great team they’ve become, Christina works with Sia on this beautiful ballad, that really puts Christina’s voice front and center with, it seems, only piano accompaniment.
  9. Cease Fire – The song carries a militant/army sound, and when the chorus kicks in, I immediately knew that it was one of the tracks that Alex Da Kid produced. It’s a rather unique sound, with its slight touch of hip-hop, and sort of surprises me that Rihanna didn’t get her hands on this song, as it is right up her alley. But Christina, despite pulling back on the vocal theatrics, really gives the song a bit more life and weight than anyone else could have done.
  10. Around the World – I don’t know what it is, but once again, this is a song that feels like it would be right up Rihanna’s wheelhouse, with the hip-hop/pop/rock fusion. It’s an okay song, nothing spectacular.
  11. Circles – I hate to repeat myself, but what I said about the previous song applies here too. The one difference with this song is that Christina’s adding some attitude with her lyrics (“Spin around in circles on my middle, middle finger”). Also, unfortunately, Christina’s greatest asset (her voice) is found behind layers of production.
  12. Best of Me – Taking a swipe at the media, and really anyone, who has said bad things about her, Christina gives us this track that continues the self-empowerment theme found quite often on this album. It’s another song produced by Alex Da Kid, so you can definitely hear the hip-hop influences on here. At one point, when the chorus comes in the second time, the militant drum beat sounds a little similar to Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks.”
  13. Just A Fool [with Blake Shelton] – Leave it to the collaborations to be the highlights of the album. Easily my favourite track off this album is this song, where Christina completes the Voice trifecta and duets with Blake Shelton. People are dubbing this song as country-pop (granted, it’s thanks to the likes of Taylor Swift, what classifies as country is a little iffy) but the singers bring a lot of soul into it as well. If Christina, or rather the record company, were smart, they will release this song as a single and I would not be surprised if it became a hit along the lines of Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson’s duet “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” It’s that good.
  14. Light Up The Sky [Bonus Track] – This mid-tempo track serves as a great way to show off Christina’s powerful vocals, starting off with Christina and a piano backing, then slowly builds towards a percussion heavy chorus that allows her to really belt. My only qualm about the song though is that while Christina’s strong vocal play is evident on the chorus, at the same time, the production on that section sounds a little too much.
  15. Empty Words [Bonus Track] – Another bonus track, another mid-tempo track. There’s nothing particularly spectacular about the song, that’s not to say that there’s anything bad about the song either – it’s an okay song. Actually, it sounds a little like a Ryan Tedder-produced song (even though it’s not) with the piano/drum line.
  16. Shut Up [Bonus Track] – Christina brings out a lot of attitude on this diss track, telling haters to “shut the [eff] off”. The song starts off innocently enough, with a little bit of a throwback sound. However the more you listen to it, particularly the chorus with its bleeps in “shut the —- up”, it begins to sound like a comedy song –¬† you know, like what Andy Samberg does with The Lonely Island.
  17. Your Body (Martin Garrix Remix) [Bonus Track] – It’s a dance remix. I skipped it.

Overall, Lotus is definitely a vast improvement over Bionic, allowing Christina’s voice to actually shine instead of hiding behind layers of production. It’s not her best album by any means (that honour, in my opinion, goes to Back to Basics) but it’s still a pretty good album. If you’re a fan of Christina’s, I don’t think there’s much here that will disappoint. If you’re a fan of what’s on the radio right now, give this album a listen, because Christina Aguilera’s voice alone elevates even the most mediocre song to something worth listening to.

Looking Ahead to the 2013 Grammys

I don’t often write posts looking ahead to events and making predictions, but then a funny thing happened. While watching TV with my family a few weeks ago, Canadian network CTV aired a promo for the re-release of Katy Perry’s album Teenage Dream and I said to my siblings “Look at that! Music sucks so much right now, that they have to advertise an album that has essentially, been out for 2 years” (the re-release itself has been out for months.) To which my brother responded, “It does suck…So what are they gonna do for the awards stuff?” My brother, for the record, could care less about the Grammys (or any other awards shows for that matter), but for him to make such an observation, that’s kind of a big deal. And so the question is: With pop music not being entirely great this past year, what will come of the Grammys with its focus being on appealing to the mainstream audience?

*NOTE: My music knowledge is far greater in the pop category, so forgive me if my focus is on pop music*

Generally speaking, in terms of the overall Grammys, it is in my honest (and slightly biased) opinion that Kelly Clarkson will come out on top when nominations are announced. Stronger was such a great album, not to mention the title track itself is one of the best songs all year (that you’re probably still not sick and tired of hearing). After Kelly, I think Coldplay’s a pretty solid bet for nominations for their album Mylo Xyloto, as well as Grammy favourite John Mayer for Born and Raised.

The category that scares/worries me the most, as has been the case for the past few years, is Best New Artist. I feel like it gets harder and harder to determine who the best new artist is, because there hasn’t really been a standout new artist. I mean last year, Bon Iver won, where he was up against Nicki Minaj, The Band Perry, J-Cole, and Skrillex. If it wasn’t for the fact that he had won a Grammy at the 2011 show, I would’ve bet my money on Bruno Mars being nominated and winning the category; but he did win, making him ineligible in the category for 2012, per Grammy rules. Guesses for who could potentially be nominated? I think Ed Sheeran has made enough of an impact to garner a nod and even a win. Representing Country, I’m going to take a wild guess and say Thompson Square or Hunter Hayes (based purely on observation). Representing Hip-Hop, I wonder if Childish Gambino can sneak in there. Which means 2 spots left, that could go to any of the following who had hit singles this past year: fun., Ellie Goulding, Carly Rae Jepsen, One Direction, Karmin, Gotye.

So some predictions (however off-base they will probably be) in some of the categories:

RECORD OF THE YEAR

  • Kelly Clarkson, Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)
  • Coldplay, Princess of China [ft. Rihanna]
  • Jason Mraz, I Won’t Give Up

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

  • Kelly Clarkson, Stronger
  • Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto
  • John Mayer, Born and Raised
  • Florence + the Machine, Ceremonials
  • Miranda Lambert, Four the Record

BEST SOLO POP VOCAL PERFORMANCE

  • Kelly Clarkson, Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)
  • Jason Mraz, I Won’t Give Up
  • Adele, Set Fire to the Rain
  • John Mayer, Shadow Days
  • Ed Sheeran, The A-Team

BEST POP VOCAL PERFORMANCE BY A DUO/GROUP

  • Maroon 5, One More Night
  • Coldplay, Princess of China [ft. Rihanna]
  • Taylor Swift, Safe and Sound [ft. The Civil Wars] —> I really think they’re going to put this under pop, if nominated, just because the Grammys can be weird when it comes to this category

BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM

  • Kelly Clarkson, Stronger
  • Maroon 5, Overexposed
  • Florence + the Machine, Ceremonials
  • Jason Mraz, Love is a Four Letter Word
  • John Mayer, Born and Raised

The Grammy nominations will be announced live on their annual Nomination Concert on December 5th, airing on CBS. Taylor Swift will be co-hosting with LL Cool J, and Maroon 5 will be one of the performers. Until then, any thoughts as to who might get nominated? Who really are the best new artists of the past year? Can we possibly see some lesser known (but equally talented, if not more) artists get nominated this year? Sound off!

The Voice Season 3: Are the Twists Working?

Going into the live playoffs (as it is apparently called now), I’ve been left to wonder how the different changes made to this season has impacted the show. Don’t get me wrong, change is good, keeps things interesting. Whether or not these changes work or well executed, that’s another story. All this pretty much stems from seeing who actually made the live rounds and who didn’t.

One of the first twists to this season was the inclusion of the “STEAL” in the battle rounds. After a winner has been declared by the coach, the 3 other coaches have the opportunity to steal the losing contestant for their own team, giving that singer a second chance to continue on in the competition. Each coach was allowed 2 steals. The “Steal” offered up an added excitement to the battle round proceedings: Is the losing singer worthy of continuing on? Are the other coaches going to save them? Are they seriously not going to save them? Did they really save that singer?! It’s those last 2 questions that kept bothering me as the battle rounds went on. As exciting as it was to see Adam steal Amanda Brown, when Cee-Lo foolishly put up Amanda with Trevin Hunte, it also became increasingly clear that the use of the steals was going to be a frustrating affair. With only 2 spots for steals, the coaches had to choose wisely who they wanted to save, risking the possibility that after those 2 steals got used, another (probably more deserving) singer would still get cut. The whole purpose of the inclusion of the “steal” was to give those singers who deserved to stay longer that opportunity (think what would’ve happened if the likes of Niki Dawson and Chris Cauley hadn’t been paired up with Vicci Martinez and Tony Lucca, respectively, and got to continue on in the competition). But if a handful of great singers STILL got cut (which obviously happened), then it kind of becomes a little pointless. Michael Slezak, who does the recaps over at TVLine, suggested that the coaches should somehow decide who they want to steal from the losing contestants, after all the battles are done. Great idea, but keyword is ‘somehow’ – that’s clearly something for the show’s producers to think about/come up with.

After the battle rounds, each coach has a team consisting of 10 members, so in order to cut the teams in half, the show introduced the “KNOCKOUT ROUND.” The ‘Knockouts’ are essentially the battle rounds, except that the contestants each get to pick their own songs to sing, and they don’t know who they are paired up against until moments before they perform. It’s another way to weed out the weaker singers, but at the same time, it’s very much dependent on who the coaches pair up and what the coaches decide. Because as we viewers saw, in another example of making the “Steal” twist look rather pointless after the fact, all the coaches except Adam ended up cutting the singers they stole. The most frustrating result was Blake pairing up Julio and Marissa Ann (whom he stole from Christina’s team) for the knockout round, and ending up choosing Julio simply because he had invested more time coaching him, despite the fact that Marissa Ann sang infinitely better than Julio did. I love the coaches, but they have made some VERY questionable choices this season.

This leads to the twists that we’ll see implemented for the live rounds, leading to the finale. Whereas the past two seasons, each coach was guaranteed a spot in the finals, that has gone out the window for this season. For this first week of the live rounds, the top 2 vote-getters from each team will automatically make it to the Top 12, and then each coach gets to save 1 additional singer from their team. Thereafter, adopting the typical reality competition voting standards, all bets are off and whoever gets the lowest number of votes, regardless of team, will get the boot. The good thing about this is that the coaches now don’t have much sway as to who stays and goes, something that as the live rounds progressed last season, got quite irritating to some viewers. Plus, I’m sure I’m not the only one who wished that it was a Team Cee-Lo/Team Adam final, so the possibilities are endless as to what will come of the finals. That being said, the worst thing is that America can often get things wrong and there is a possibility that some of the best singers might not make it very far (I’d like to think higher of The Voice audience, but years of Idol/DWTS/SYTYCD has made me somewhat of a reality TV cynic).

Overall, I must say that at least The Voice is willing to make these constant changes/twists to keep things fresh on the show. I really wouldn’t expect anything less with Mark Burnett being the executive producer. So Voice fans, thoughts on this season’s twists? Anything they could improve on? And more importantly, who are your favourites on the show?