Can One Song/Event Change Our Views of Music Artists?

Have you hated a song so much that it negatively impacted how you view an artist? If they have been around a while, their back catalogue and the memories you have associated with that artist may stay the same, but after that ONE song, anything that comes afterwards is subject to major scrutiny. Or has that artist done something that in a way taints your perception of them, and thereby affects how (or even if) you listen to their new music. These random thoughts have popped up into my mind on several occasions as of late.

It all started when I heard Carly Rae Jepsen‘s “Call Me Maybe” for the millionth time. I don’t finish the song, mind you – it just pops up in commercials and whatnot, then annoys the hell out of me. The only song of hers from this period that I like is “Curiosity”, but due to the ubiquity and radio overplay of “Call Me Maybe”, it has caused me to have a certain distaste for every other song she’s done since (add to the fact that her album is not the pop music I like). It’s a shame because I was somewhat of a fan of her initial debut album Tug of War, released after her time on Canadian Idol. So while it was cool, for a little while at the beginning of all this nonsense, to see another Canadian artist get massive success, it annoys me now that it was for THAT song.

Rihanna is an interesting case study. When she first came onto the music scene, with ‘Pon De Replay” and then a little bit later with “S.O.S.”, I didn’t make much of her. It was a little fun to listen to at the time, but nothing felt special. Then she released her album Good Girl Gone Bad, buoyed by the release of “Umbrella” as the first single, which we can all agree was a complete game changer for her. That album, and its subsequent re-release, spawned numerous hit singles and she followed it up with Rated R, an equally solid effort that saw Rihanna get darker and edgier. But then she kept churning out a new album every year, and I got increasingly tired of hearing her songs on the radio. It’s like, take a break already!

It only makes sense now to include Chris Brown in this list. I was never a big fan of Chris Brown; he had a few songs in his earlier days that I enjoyed and only really cared for because we used them for Dance Crew back in my high school days. And then the pre-Grammy incident happened with Rihanna. What we thought we knew about him changed completely, and yet he continues to make more music and sell records. I have a friend who tried to get me to listen to one of his newer songs “Fine China,” but I couldn’t do it. I can’t stand him really and even a supposedly great R&B track, won’t change my opinion of him.

You want to know what really pains me to have to include in this post? Britney Spears. I’ve been a Britney fan from the beginning and love her style of pop music. Now to be honest, I have to admit that I was not a big fan of her last album, Femme Fatale – it was veering into the dance pop/EDM that I’m not into at all, though there was a handful of tracks that I legitimately liked. But then she was featured on the will.i.am song “Scream and Shout” and I honest to goodness hated it. I think it took me two (maybe three) months before I could listen to the song IN FULL, and that was because I couldn’t change the radio station. Yep, I hated the song so much, I could not listen to more than 20 seconds at a time. I think it was the Britney sing-talking(?) in a fake British accent that threw me off…well, that and I didn’t really hear much of substance in the lyrics (what lyrics?!). Now, she’s released a song for the Smurfs 2 movie and I could not care less about it either (doesn’t help that it’s for the Smurfs 2 soundtrack! THE SMURFS! Give me the original animated stuff, not this CGI stuff! Talk about tainting my childhood…Sorry, tangent.) Point is, I’m not particularly liking the direction that Britney is taking with her music. I still love all her old music (the Britney/Dream Within A Dream era was by far my favourite), but her new material really leaves something to be desired. Maybe that’s part of the problem: Britney’s music changes with the times and right now the big thing is dance pop/EDM. My musical tastes have changed and though I’m still a sucker for a GOOD pop track, my dislike of electronica/dance/techno pop still hasn’t changed over the years.

So are there any artists out there who you may have liked in the past, but now hold different views of? Has this happened in regards to other celebrities? What caused the change? Let me know in the comments!

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The Costs of Attending Concerts – Artists Win, Fans Lose?

To me, there is nothing like hearing a band or artist live, so it goes without saying that I am an avid concert-goer. In fact, I actually wrote a mini-thesis on the subject of going to concerts for one of my Sociology classes in university. My concert-going experiences run the gamut from the small club shows to big stadium shows. I’ve paid anywhere between $15 to $150 for tickets, including those pesky facility/convenience fees, and if it’s a stadium/arena show, I’ve managed to get some pretty good seats. As my brother so lovingly puts it, I’ve got disposable income, which is why I can afford to go to a lot of concerts. Now, in light of my recent ticket purchase for the Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z Legends of the Summer tour, I felt compelled to revisit the topic of concerts and one of the biggest issues associated with it – ticket prices.

You see, the Legends of the Summer tour is kind of a big deal. It’s Justin Timberlake’s first tour in 6 years and he’s coming back touring with one of the biggest names in rap, Hova himself. They’re touring 12 cities, playing at huge stadiums (the Rogers Centre for the Toronto show); it was guaranteed to be big. How big? Well, the ticket prices will tell you – floor seats are running at $300 a piece, level 100 close to the stage are $195 and further back is $115, level 200 runs at $95 each, up another level and you’re looking at $45-65 a ticket. $300 to be on the floor with the possibility of someone taller than you (or way too obnoxious) obstructing your view and thereby hindering your enjoyment of the concert?! Not for me, thank you. This is not to mention the VIP packages available, the most expensive one costing you $1500 for a front row ticket plus some other perks/merchandise, which for the record, doesn’t even include a meet and greet. I’m a big Justin fan but there’s something called sensibility, as well as being reasonable – $1500 is a ridiculous amount of money for a concert. Hell, $300 is already a lot of money for a concert.

Due to the current state of the music industry, selling records just doesn’t cut it anymore. Being able to go on tour and putting on a show is an artist’s or band’s biggest moneymaker. It’s an opportunity for the musicians to interact with fans and at the same time, it’s an opportunity for fans to get to see their favourites up close (or at least be in the midst of their favourite acts), enjoy some good music, and have a good time. But what’s the cost of having the best concert experience possible? One of my favourite small club shows that I’ve been to was Matt Nathanson at The Garrison in Toronto back in 2011. I paid $20 for that show and 2 years later, I still have fond memories of it. Matt interacted with the audience of 50 (approx.), told humourous stories to go along with the songs; it was a lot of fun and the fact that it was a cheap show was pretty much a bonus. That’s not to say I don’t have a good time at arena shows. When Justin did the FutureSex/LoveShow tour back in 2007, paying $120 for my ticket already seemed like a good chunk of money, but the show was so incredible that it was completely worth every single penny I spent and then I chalked up the money to see the exact same show on the 2nd leg of the tour. Even to this day, I still compare a lot of other concerts I see to FutureSex/LoveShow because it surpassed my every expectation of what concerts should be like.

Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveShow, 2007

Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveShow, 2007

Even for someone like me who goes to a lot of concerts, I have my limits. I remember not wanting to shell out $150 when Britney Spears came to Toronto on The Circus Tour, because as we all know, live singing isn’t exactly involved and there’s little to no interaction with the audience; you’re pretty much paying for the spectacle of it all. But because it was Britney, I ended up going anyways…sitting in the cheap seats. I have always wanted to see Madonna live because she’s always been such a great performer, but for her past two tours, the ticket prices were always ridiculously high, with the cheap seats not even being that cheap. So what’s a girl to do? Well, simple – not go.

Britney Spears, The Circus Tour, 2009

Britney Spears, The Circus Tour, 2009

Remember those pesky facility/convenience fees I mentioned earlier? Yeah…they’re the worst. You may start off with a reasonable $80 ticket for an arena or stadium show, but then you get a facility charge of $2.50, a convenience charge of $14 (sometimes higher), and then to top it all off, you get charged a $5 order processing fee. An extra $20 in fees! That’s not including how you want to receive your tickets (Print them off yourself or regular mail? Free. Anything else? Pay up.)

Like I’ve said before, going to concerts is a regular and normal thing for me, so ticket prices usually isn’t an issue. At the same time, I also understand that for others, attending a concert, particularly one as big as the Legends of the Summer tour, can be a luxury. I have a friend who currently lives in Edmonton, Alberta and there isn’t a tour stop anywhere around there, so I jokingly tried to convince her to come back to Toronto to go see the show, to which she replied “Tempting, but I should be responsible and not spend a mortgage payment on a concert, no matter how good it will be.” Which to be honest is a fair point to make. Living so close to Toronto and having the money to spend on going to concerts (along with purchasing merchandise and other fees that come up in the process like food and parking) has essentially made me spoiled, but I have friends who can’t be as frivolous as I am and just spend money on any concert that I want to go see. They have to be selective on who they want to see and what their budget is for any particular concert. As exciting and fun as it is to see a band or an artist perform live, the counterpoint can be made that you shouldn’t spend money on something that lasts 2-3 hours, when chances are there will probably a DVD released for it and you can save yourself a lot of money that way, thereby using the money you saved for something more practical.

But who’s to say what is practical? If you think about it, the same logic can be applied to going to the movies, buying your coffee every morning, eating out a restaurant – things we spend money on that we don’t necessarily NEED to but WANT to. So for some (like me) the want to go to many concerts (which for the record, stems from the fact that I have varied tastes in music) a year is just the norm. For others, it’s all about saving up to go to that one concert every year that is an absolutely MUST. That ends up being our choice as fans, based on our circumstances and what we want. However, the idea that we have to save up for a concert (not for a car or a vacation) goes back to the fact that ticket prices these days are getting out of hand. The more expensive the ticket, the more of a luxury it seems. And it certainly leaves me wondering what kind of normal person (or sane for that matter) would have the $1500 to spend on a VIP concert package. Yet there are/will be people willing to pay that money for it, which does nothing but benefit the artists/labels/promoters and leave you with probably a fantastic concert experience but a huge hole in your wallet. I understand that the bigger the tour, the bigger the spectacle, the more people are employed as part of the tour roster, thereby somewhat justifying the hefty ticket prices. But in consideration of those fans who might not have such disposable income but would still very much like to experience a concert to its fullest potential, would it be too much to ask for more reasonable ticket prices?

Something to think about the next time you want to go to a concert.

Glee Does Britney, Take 2

I probably could’ve come up with something witty for a title, but then it would’ve been way too obvious and cheesy (then again, I am writing about Glee sooo…)

To be completely honest, Glee is a show that has been incredibly inconsistent throughout its three (now on its 4th) season run. The show prided itself on doing stories and having characters that were rooted in reality; things you would see at a high school these days. Anyone who watches the show will tell you that they may use these real stories and characters as a base, but will often steer the plot or writing to some ridiculous place. The music used to serve the purpose of aiding the storyline or used as a way to give life to what a character was feeling. They still do that…sometimes. But more often than not, you’ll most likely find the cast sing some random song that has no relevance to what’s going on. At times, that’s perfectly acceptable (having a little fun in the choir room or on stage), however when the random song in question is a current Top 40 hit, it’s a little groan inducing. It’s like they could’ve picked ANY song, but they HAD to choose the song that is completely and utterly overplayed by mainstream radio? Really?!

Britney Spears. Pop royalty. Love her or hate her, you gotta admit (at her best) she is one hell of an entertainer. I am and always have been Team Britney. I don’t love everything she’s done but I’m a fan through and through. I remember watching her music videos religiously to learn the choreography.

Back in season 2 of Glee, they did a Britney tribute episode and it was one of those cases where storyline didn’t matter in the slightest. They made up some ridiculous storyline where some of the members of New Directions went under anesthesia while at the dentist, and consequently dreamed that they were in a Britney Spears music video. See? Sounds incredibly stupid, but the end product was pretty fun to watch, even if only one song wasn’t a carbon copy of the original.

Flash forward to now and we have witnessed a second episode of Glee dedicated to Britney songs, that leaves me with mixed feelings. On one hand, the storyline wasn’t something completely ridiculous and they played around with the music a little bit, giving us 2 different mash-ups and 2 songs that were completely re-done from the original. On the other hand, they still gave us 4 songs that were pretty much carbon copies of the originals and didn’t do anything spectacularly different. Also, they brought up the dark years of Britney Spears (head shaving, attacking paparazzo, the ‘Gimme More’ VMA performance). We all know it happened but am I the only one that was a little uncomfortable at them bringing it up like they did? (Admittedly, the random student shouting “Leave Brittany alone!” was kinda funny.) I, for one, would rather not be reminded of those rough years in Britney’s life/career. I can’t imagine Britney’s camp were aware of what they were doing over at Glee either, or else they probably would’ve stopped it from happening. I understand the purpose of it all was to make way for Brittany/Britney’s comeback, but they couldn’t have gotten to that in some either way? Yeah, I’m not a writer or anything, so what do I know?

Quick Thoughts on the Songs

  • Hold It Against Me: Brittany leads the Cheerios in this number. Choppy cuts/strong edits makes it hard to appreciate the dancing. Not to mention, they didn’t change much to the song, except maybe speed it up a little bit.
  • Boys/Boyfriend: Blaine and Artie bring on the boy band cheesiness on the mash-up. I think they should’ve used NSYNC’s “Girlfriend” instead of Beiber’s “Boyfriend”, if only because…they sound the same. Wasted opportunity.
  • Womanizer: Didn’t really do much for me.
  • 3: Definitely one of the worst Britney songs, lyrically – but the original had an infectious dance beat. Glee strips it down here and still keeps the infectiousness intact. Bonus: Tina sounds amazing here. Nice to hear her vocals more this season.
  • You Drive Me Crazy/Crazy: Newbies Marley and Jake succeed in taking on this inspired and stripped down mash-up of one of Britney’s early hits with one of Aerosmith’s classic.
  • Oops!…I Did It Again: Love what they did with this song, changing it from just a pop song to a sexy R&B track. The performance itself was pretty good (thanks for showing up, former SYTYCDers Marko, Melanie, and Kent!), but similar to HIAM, too many quick cutaways and the smoke/fog/whatever was kind of unnecessary, which took away a little from the performance.
  • Gimme More: It was like the VMA performance – uncomfortable. I couldn’t even see it as funny like when they did ‘Toxic’ or even ‘Push It’ back in first season.
  • Everytime: Marley did a decent take on one of Britney’s few ballads. It worked well as an ending song, is probably the best thing I can say about the inclusion of this song.

Cover Songs: Love Them, Hate Them, Can’t Get Enough of Them

I love cover songs. I think it is totally awesome when artists sing another artist’s song, especially during concerts because it mixes things up a little bit. On her recent “Stronger” tour, Kelly Clarkson performed at least 3 cover songs at each stop: 2 were part of the setlist (Florence + the Machine’s “Heavy In Your Arms” and Carrie Underwood’s “I Know You Won’t”) plus a fan request. I’ve heard Maroon 5 sing “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “If I Ain’t Got You.” James Morrison and Diane Birch once performed “With A Little Help From My Friends.” John Mayer has sung “Free Fallin” and “Gone.” Justin Timberlake sang “This Love” at one of his benefit concerts (even though he technically performed that with Maroon 5). This is just the tip of the iceberg and I could go on and on with amazing covers.

It’s only recently that I’ve realized where I draw the line when it comes to covers. Hearing covers in concert is one thing because I’m watching an artist I’m a fan of so they can’t do much wrong in my books. But over the years, watching so many TV shows where covers abound like Idol, The Voice, X-Factor, and now with Glee + Smash, my reaction to song choices vary from the usual groan and eye-roll when a song that’s been OVERDONE is sung again (11 years of Idol will turn you into a cynic) or total excitement. There has been countless times when we’ve heard female contestants sing songs by Mariah, Whitney, Celine, etc. even though they don’t have the range for it. But then there are a lot of cases where singers do a fantastic job covering the song by either changing up the song to fit their style (Hello David Cook’s version of “Always Be My Baby” and Kris Allen’s “Heartless” that’s STILL on my iPod) or just simply singing the HELL out of the song. Some covers are even better than the original. Glee, in my opinion, does this the best – take an okay song or one that’s entirely overplayed and make it better/worth listening to (i.e. Blame It On the Alcohol, Teenage Dream, We Found Love). For certain songs though, I’ve found that I can’t even like the cover, despite how good it might be.

In the episode of Glee entitled “On My Way”, the Troubletones sang Kelly Clarkson’s “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)”. I was excited to hear it, but at the same time, it was like “Why couldn’t they pick another song?” I think it comes down to the fact that it was a single and I like Glee better when they’re not doing songs that are already on the radio. After I heard it, I felt kind of indifferent about it – it was good but I didn’t really like it. Why? I realized that I’m fiercely protective of when anyone sings Kelly’s songs. I mean I love Kelly Clarkson – she’s one of my favourite artists ever and I love her songs like they are the soundtrack to my life. So for me, I don’t think anyone should ever sing her songs, unless they can do the original justice.  Megan Hilty sang “Breakaway” on a recent episode of Smash and though there’s no denying that she has a great voice, I didn’t feel as though it carried the same weight as Kelly’s original. But again, maybe that’s because “Breakaway” was such a big song for Kelly. Then on Glee, at the end of the episode “Choke”, Lea Michele sang “Cry” off of Kelly’s “All I Ever Wanted” album and I thought she did a fantastic job with the song. It fit nicely with the storyline and worked well with Rachel Berry’s feelings, so it didn’t feel forced. Actually, it was a nice reminder of what Glee was like when it started. Now of course it really is a track-by-track basis, in terms of what I’m willing to accept.

Christina Aguilera is probably one of the best voices in the industry; she’s got a diva voice. We’ve heard people sing “Beautiful” and “The Voice Within” among other Christina songs, and it’s usually met with the same eye-roll and groan. I thought Amber Riley did a good job singing “Beautiful” on Glee, but I definitely was not happy about Darren Criss singing “Fighter” in the episode “Big Brother.” Not that there was anything really wrong with his version, but “Fighter” is one of my all-time favourite songs and no matter how much angst we’re supposed to feel from the storyline, it just can’t match Christina’s sheer power.

Then there’s Adele. Over the span of this past year, I have no idea how many times an Adele song has been covered. Scratch that, over the span of the past 6 months, I have no idea how many times an Adele song has been sung on TV. I’ll admit I liked  Angel Taylor and Mathai’s attempts at singing “Someone Like You” and “Rumour Has It”, respectively, during their blind auditions on The Voice. Before that, Glee did a great mash-up of those 2 songs as well. But now it’s just plain old fatigue of hearing people try to sing Adele. Just stop please.

It’s not just songs by these artists with big voices being covered that have me  up in arms. I have deliberately  sort of avoided American Idol this past season because it got tiring, with the theme weeks and the judges making no sense. But there was the one week where the theme was songs from this decade (so, the past three years in music). Seeing what the set list was ahead of time, I found it to be an interesting line-up, so I actually attempted to watch the show that week (in between my regular television shows of course). I only came out disappointed, feeling like it was a slap in the face because they not only ruined 2 Kelly Clarkson songs, but also a Maroon 5 song. I know, one should not compare a contestant’s rendition to the original, but let’s be real, it’s inevitable and you can’t help it. The contestant in question, Phillip Phillips, re-arranged Maroon 5’s “Give A Little More”. I’ll embed both versions below and judge for yourself. But while the original has a sexy quality to it (what Adam Levine does seamlessly), Phillip re-arranged it somehow to make it cheesy (Saxophone? Really?). This also doesn’t mean The Voice gets off scott-free either because I was REALLY not impressed with RaeLynn singing “Wake Up Call”. Sure the song can be made country but not by RaeLynn, sorry Blake. And I know Adam seemed to like it, but as a fan, I was not having any of it.

Those are the artists, who in recent weeks/months have been covered that I’ve had problems with. On the flip side, I always love a good Britney Spears cover. I love Britney, and to me, she’s pure pop royalty. People can say what they want about Britney, but damn does she not have some great catchy pop songs? I love it when people cover Britney because her songs aren’t obvious choices. When people hear Britney, they just hear the music because she’s never really been known as a vocalist (which she isn’t and we all know that). So hearing someone sing a Britney song, gives a somewhat cool factor. Naturally, when Tony Lucca sang “…Baby One More Time” on The Voice, I flipped out because the whole thing was just PURE GENIUS. Same song, different show – Marty Casey was absolutely brilliant with his version on Rock Star INXS back in 2005. In concert, I’ve heard Kate Voegele sing “Till the World Ends” and again, I geeked out.

Consider this me ranting about song choices on TV shows (reality or otherwise). Also, a justifiable excuse for me to post videos of some cool/awesome (and I guess one not-so-great) covers. Enjoy!