Music Monday: New Music, Old Faves

It suddenly dawned on me on Friday that a number of my favourite artists are releasing (or will be releasing) some new music, in some way, shape or form, and I just had to share my happiness and enthusiasm over the fact.

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First, the artist who spurned my realization: Kelly Clarkson. Throughout last week, Kelly went live on Facebook everyday to sing songs that would serve as hints to an announcement that came on Friday. The news? She’s switching labels, from RCA to Atlantic Records. The product of the label change will be a soul album that Kelly will work on this year, for release in 2017. But on top of that, she has also decided to release some free content on kellyclarksonlive.com, on the last Friday of every month. Said content may include anything from videos to downloads of fan request songs on tour. For instance, on Friday, she released her live covers of “Creep” (Radiohead), “Fix You” (Coldplay), “I’d Rather Go Blind” (Etta James), and “Ready for Love” (India Arie). So the promise of new music, with guaranteed covers every month – I’ll take it!

Another artist who announced a new album is forthcoming, Australian singer-songwriter Delta Goodrem! Early last week, Delta announced a tour (only in Australia, of course), which led many to believe a new album was coming as well. A few days later, Delta confirmed that an album was on its way, but way sooner than most expected; Wings of the Wild is coming out July 1st! Now if only I could find a way to get my hands on the physical CD here in Canada…

Though not a new album of original songs, Kyle Riabko, along with the London cast of Close to You: Bacharach Reimagined released the cast recording of the show (digitally; physical CDs come out July 1st). I’ve been such a fan of Kyle’s for so long and it’s been a very long time since he has released any new music. Of course, he’s been busy working on this musical for about 3+ years, so it’s understandable. This cast recording is the closest thing to new music we’ve gotten in years (not including the Grammy Song of the Year covers he did last year on his website), so I’m going to take what I can get.

Last but not least, Justin Timberlake! So it’s been almost two weeks since JT released “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” but what can I say? I’m obsessed with the song and I can’t get enough of it! And outside of the Trolls soundtrack coming out later this year, I’m hopeful we’re getting a proper album from JT in 2017. Sure, I’m still listening to his previous four albums constantly, but I still want new music! So in the meantime, I’m gonna go listen to “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” again and again.

Unfortunately, nothing new from Britney Spears. Ditto Maroon 5, though they did just celebrate 14 years of Songs About Jane on Saturday, so that’s something? (Not really. I’m waiting for new music from them too.)

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Music Monday: Absolute Favourites

If you’ve read the blog or have known me long enough, you probably have a good idea at who my most favourite music artists are – Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5, Britney Spears, Kyle Riabko, and Delta Goodrem. I could go into detail about why I love them so much, but the simple and vague answer is that, there’s just something about who they are and their music that I connect with. There are also a bunch of other artists whom I am a big fan of and really love – Sara Bareilles, Matt Nathanson, Gavin DeGraw, Christina Aguilera, Kris Allen, The Script, Tyler Hilton, James Morrison, Michelle Branch – though not quite at the same level as the other six. That’s not to mention my love of Vietnamese music as well. For this week’s Music Monday, I share with you my favourite songs from my favourite artists (limited to 3 songs each), plus some additional songs I absolutely love (not including any Vietnamese songs in this playlist though, that’ll be for another day/post).

 

My Blog as a Mixtape

Joie Fatale of Confessions of a Book Pimp wrote a post recently called  “My Blog as a Mixtape”, and thinking that it’s a really cool idea, I got inspired to do it for Pop Cultured Randoms. The challenge is pretty self-explanatory: make a mixtape – five songs on side A, five songs on side B – that encapsulate what the blog is all about.

Now Pop Cultured Randoms is and always has been an extension of who I am: a fan of all things pop culture – music, movies, television. Trying to define the blog in a mixtape however, has turned out to simultaneously be a fun and difficult task. I don’t want this to simply be a compilation of my favourite songs because that’s a hard task and honestly, it’d end up being like 100 songs with half of it being comprised entirely of Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5 songs. That being said, seeing as how I often blog about my favourite artists and whatnot, it’s inevitable that my favourites will indeed be included in this playlist.

Here we go…

SIDE A – Pop Favourites

  1. Justin Timberlake, Let the Groove Get In – I can’t not have JT in a mixtape and though this track isn’t my absolute favourite of his, it is just so much fun to dance to.
  2. Kelly Clarkson, How I Feel – This jem from Kelly’s underrated third album “My December” is pretty much me in a nutshell. The title itself is also very indicative of the blog; I write about how I feel on various pop culture things, so just let me be.
  3. Maroon 5, Sweetest Goodbye – Picking a M5 was so hard but ultimately, I just ended up with, no question, my favourite song of theirs, which happened to stem from “Songs About Jane.” The song is everything I love about M5 – the fusion of pop, rock, R&B; a kind of slow-burning love song that builds to a climax featuring Adam’s longing vocals and the band just jamming, made all the more euphoric when you hear them perform this song live. DAMN I LOVE THIS SONG!
  4. Kyle Riabko, The Rules of the Game – We have a lot of talent coming out of Canada and one of my favourites is Kyle Riabko. He’s an incredibly talented singer-songwriter and actor, who has done quite well for himself on Broadway (he took over for Jonathan Groff in Spring Awakening back in 2008, went on to Hair, and most recently starred in What’s It All About, a reimagination of Burt Bacharach classics for which he arranged the music). I am Canadian and though I don’t regularly acknowledge Canadian talent, do go and check out Kyle’s discography, which is filled with an incredible amount of soul and a hint of indie folk rock.
  5. Delta Goodrem, Waiting for Forever – I’m a little fuzzy on how exactly I came across Delta in the first place, but I’ve been a fan of this Australian singer/songwriter for 10 years. Even as she dives deeper into the pop sound, she holds onto her core of piano-driven songs and thoughtful lyrics.

SIDE B – Random

  1. Tony Lucca, Baby One More Time – This song is a reminder of what I loved when I was growing up (Britney Spears, pop music) and how much (or little, it’s debatable) my tastes have changed. What I have always loved is a good cover, and this one done by Tony (who was on the Mickey Mouse Club back in the day with Britney, JT, X-Tina, Ryan Gosling) on the second season of The Voice was just all kinds of genius.
  2. Gavin DeGraw, I Don’t Want to Be – “I don’t wanna be anything other than me”; how is that not everyone’s motto? As much as we try to run a successful blog/life/whatever, at the end of the day we just have to do what works for us. The song was also the theme for one of my favourite TV shows One Tree Hill, so this song will always have a special place in my heart. Plus, now every time I see Gavin in concert performing this song, I picture the OTH finale with the whole gang singing along.
  3. Jay-Z & Linkin Park, Points of Authority/99 Problems/One Step Closer – Here’s where we get truly random. If you actually met me in person, I don’t think you’d expect me to be a fan of either of these acts, let alone the fact that Collision Course is quite possibly one of my favourite albums. I love me a good mash-up, which by extension brings forth the fact that I love a lot of different music, and this entire album was filled with them. The rap and alternative rap-rock melds so well and truly personifies the random part of the blog.
  4. Legally Blonde the Musical, There Right There – My adoration for musicals is a lot more believable than the Jay-Z/Linkin Park pairing. Say what you will, but Legally Blonde is one of my favourite movies (I will always stop to watch it if it comes on TV) and not surprisingly, I fell in love with the musical. With this song, it’s equal parts silly and awesome.
  5. Thanh Bui, Mirror Mirror – Holding onto my Vietnamese heritage is something that’s important to me and one of the best ways for me to do that is through music. Every once in a while I’ll blog about a Vietnamese entertainment show called Paris By Night. PBN is amazing to me because though its focus is on Vietnamese culture and music, it is by no means just some concert. The production is actually done by Hollywood standards.; they hire the best in the business from their directors, lighting, camera crew, dancers, etc. This song in particular appeared in PBN 96 as a featured performance by Thanh Bui, a singer/songwriter out of Australia (he was a contestant on Australian Idol), and what makes it so special is that it’s actually written/performed in equal parts English and Vietnamese. It’s a pop song in the veins of OneRepublic (circa the “Apologize” days) and so well-crafted, it pleases me to no end to have a song that melds all these parts of me (Vietnamese, Canadian, music fan) into one.

Geez, that was difficult. You have no idea how many changes I made and what songs almost made the cut, but in the end, I’d say this is a pretty decent mixtape that properly represents Pop Cultured Randoms.

Thanks again Joie for the idea!

Favourites of 2012

Another year has come and gone, and with that, a look back on some of my personal favourites in music, movies, and television.

FAVOURITES IN MUSIC

  • Maroon 5 – Overexposed: Not gonna lie, M5 is kind of here by default. There was no way that I wasn’t going to include them, even though I have made it known that this album wasn’t exactly my favourite of theirs. However, with songs like One More Night, Lady Killer, and Tickets being standouts on the album, I can sort of justify picking it among my favourites of the year.
  • Tyler Hilton – Forget the Storm: It was a long-running thing between my friend and I, complaining that Tyler (alongside Justin Timberlake and Michelle Branch) was taking TOO DAMN LONG to release his sophomore album (his debut was released in 2004). This year, Tyler FINALLY made good on his promise to release new music, with him independently releasing the album. The outcome was a great mix of several musical influences.
  • Delta Goodrem – Child of the Universe: I’m still including this album, despite the fact that it hasn’t been officially released in North America. Delta returns with her fourth album, that plays with some different sounds for the singer-songwriter. The album features some piano-driven songs that Delta has been known for, but she also has some songs that very much play up the pop sound.
  • Kris Allen – Thank You Camellia: I kind of loved this album, and I find it a damn shame that Kris hasn’t found bigger success. I enjoyed his self-titled debut after his Idol win back in 2009, but Kris was able to really take his time with this record and personalize it. Camellia ended up being a very solid collection of songs, that found him collaborating with Jason Reeves on the first track “Better With You”, as well as rocking it out a little with “Monster.”
  • Dia Frampton – Red: Okay, so I’m cheating a little bit here. Dia’s album came out in December of last year, but because of my travels, I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until the beginning of the year. That being said, I think Dia made such a great album, really showing off all her musical tastes, with touches in everything from pop to dance to hip-hop to country.

FAVOURITES IN MOVIES

For the record, I am ridiculously behind on movies, particularly the movies with awards buzz, so this list is kind of lacking.

  • Pitch Perfect: When the movie was initially released, I didn’t think much of it, even though it has music and singing and I am such a sucker for it – but after watching it, I totally get it. The movie was fresh and funny, and the soundtrack (consisting of all the movie’s performances) was fantastic. And seriously, the riff-off in the movie was pure perfection (says the music geek who loves a good mash-up or…10)
  • The Hunger Games: I finished the entire series of books before watching this first adaptation, and it completely lived up to the books. Don’t dismiss it as a tween/teen thing, because fluff it is not.
  • The Avengers: I have never been a comic book geek, but I myself have to admit that I have a soft-spot for superhero movies. Give me a superhero that’s at least cool, with a decent storyline for a movie, and some cool looking special effects, and I am in. The Avengers is the culmination of several years’ worth of Marvel movies, featuring Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, as well as Black Widow and Hawkeye. With Joss Whedon at the helm, Avengers turned out to be every fanboy’s dream and a good time for all movie viewers.
  • 21 Jump Street: I was barely alive when the original TV series initially aired, but with most people, I knew this was the show that jump-started Johnny Depp’s career. This year, the show was adapted for the big screen starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, swapping the crime drama of the series for a buddy comedy movie. The result was pure hilariousness, and a great role for Channing to show off his comedic chops.
  • The Cabin in the Woods: Horror movies aren’t my thing, because for the most part, they kind of suck (I’m talking movies from the past decade). The more buzz that I heard about Cabin, the more intrigued I was by it. When I finally got around to watching it, as a movie fan, I must say I really liked it. It is not your atypical horror movie, at times playing up those cliches, and at times surprising you in its direction.

FAVOURITES IN TV

  • Let’s get this out of the way first – shows that I have loved/been a fan of and have continued to love over the past year: Nikita, Fringe, Happy Endings, So You Think You Can Dance, The Voice, How I Met Your Mother, Community, Hart of Dixie, Once Upon A Time
  • Arrow: Action, drama, good looking people, a little bit of humour. I’ve said it before and I will say it again until it becomes reality, this show is the perfect schedule companion to Nikita.
  • Nashville: I’ve said it before, I’m kind of a sucker for anything that includes music. Despite the fact that this is settled in the world of country music (granted, my tastes have been widening over the years), all involved have put together a great show that welcomes you in, regardless of whether you are a country music fan or not.
  • Suits: This year, in its second season, Suits really stepped up in their story-telling. Not to knock down the first season, which was good, but this year, they turned it up a whole other level. Gripping drama, with a great deal of charm, charisma, and humour, the show surpassed White Collar and Covert Affairs as my favourite show on the USA Network.
  • Parks and Recreation: I really hate to admit this, but this was the year I caught up with Parks. I had watched the first season when it aired, and wasn’t particularly impressed with it, so I didn’t continue on. Man, was that a mistake. After watching season 2 during my travels, I continued catching up on the show every chance I got, until I caught up to what was airing in S4. I am so happy I gave the show a second shot, because no other comedy on the air can be simultaneously so hilarious and so endearing.
  • Homeland: The plot about a war veteran suspected of being a terrorist, sparked very negative/eye-rolling responses in me. However, after hearing such great buzz about the first season, I sat down and watched it over the summer. When the show came back for its second season, I was committed to it. Fantastic writing, and without a doubt, award-worthy acting from Claire Danes, Damien Lewis, and Mandy Patinkin, the show breaks all the TV rules of you should tell a story. What most shows would’ve done in 5+ seasons, Homeland did it in under 2.

DISAPPOINTMENTS IN 2012

Just for a little bit of a change, I thought I would include some music, movies, and shows that disappointed me over the year.

  • Music in general has disappointed me this year. Looking back at the music I’ve collected this year, I bought a lot less than previous years. I’m almost certain that half of this year’s music that I have is all from The Voice (U.S., U.K., Australia).
  • Glee: The show continued its descent into ridiculousness and lazy writing/creative music ideas. What I’ve come to finally realize is that I much prefer when Glee covers older songs and when they re-arrange the songs. Over the past year (maybe even 2), Glee continues to cover songs that are currently on the radio, which irks me to no end because I already don’t like 3/4 of the stuff on the radio, and they don’t even do anything different to the songs. I feel like the final straw was them doing Gangnam Style for “Regionals” and that this was the song they gave lead vocal to Jenna Ushkowitz’s Tina – can you say racist much?
  • Smash: Continuing with the music theme, Smash did not remotely live up to its fantastic pilot. The plus that it had was that it featured original music for its musical. After that, it was just ridiculous. Characters like Ellis and Leo were downright annoying. We’re supposed to like Debra Messing’s character Julia, but she did some really stupid things (and wore a lot of scarves). Don’t even get me started on Uma Thurman’s arc on the show. There’s an overhaul for season 2, with a bunch of dispensable characters gone, and some fresh blood in both newcomers (Jeremy Jordan, Andy Mientus) and familiar faces (Jennifer Hudson, Sean Hayes). However with Joshua Safran (previous showrunner of Gossip Girl) taking over for Teresa Rebeck as showrunner, I still have my reservations.
  • True Blood: Speaking of ridiculous, season 5 of TB was pretty frickin’ bad. All that religion, cult, Lilith stuff that went down was terrible. I can’t even bring myself to remember anything else about that season.
  • Prometheus: Straight up, I didn’t like it, didn’t get it. For being scientists and stuff, these people were pretty stupid, doing the typical movie things you should never do (ex. NEVER split up from the group!) There was also, for me at least, a complete lack of character development – we never fully understand why any of these characters are doing what they’re doing.
  • Rock of Ages: I had VERY low expectations for this movie and somehow they managed to make it even worse than I thought. I watched the movie because I’m a fan of Julianne Hough, but you have to admit, the rest of the cast was so incredibly random – Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Malin Akerman, Mary J. Blige, Bryan Cranston, Catherine Zeta-Jones? Random. The movie was just all over-the-place.

So there you have it, some of my pop culture favourites and disappointments of the past year.

Taking “The Voice” Worldwide: How Does Each Version Stack Up?

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I’ll be honest, I don’t usually watch reality TV shows from other countries. For one thing, I watch more than enough TV as it is, so why would I watch shows from other countries? I know American Idol started as Pop Idol in the UK, but I never watched the original. I watched clips of the original X-Factor after I heard about Shayne Ward and Leona Lewis, and subsequently tried to somewhat keep up with the show for a few seasons, but I can’t say I was deeply invested. Though I did watch enough to keep track of favourites and knew of One Direction before they invaded all forms of media. This was before. Lately, I’ve found myself not only watching The Voice that we know and love on NBC, but I’ve also been watching versions of The Voice from the UK and Australia. Like I have been putting in the time and effort to be keeping up with these shows, even trying to find ways of getting the song downloads. At one point in April, I distinctly remember commenting on GetGlue how I couldn’t believe that I was watching 3 iterations of the same show and yet I still love it.

[Note: I know that NBC got the idea from The Voice of Holland, but for all intents and purposes, I’m using the U.S. version as the base of comparison. Like American Idol, the concept really took off after the Americans did it so there’s that.]

One of the biggest things for me is that I find The Voice so fascinating. I’ve said it before, but The Voice is just so much more entertaining and satisfying as a fan of music and television than Idol and X-Factor these days. Don’t get me wrong, Voice has had some frustrating moments of its own over its first two seasons and there’s still room for improvement as far as the voting system, but overall, it’s still a better show in my opinion. A lot of it has to do with the talent and the fact that it’s a free-for-all in terms of song choices. However, the coaches are a big selling point of the show as well, which is exactly why I decided to watch the UK and Australian versions in the first place (and be honest, it’s why we started watching the US version too). So how do the UK and Australia compare to the US version? Let’s take a look.

THE VOICE UK

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For coaches, the UK got will.i.am (from the Black Eyed Peas), Danny O’Donaghue (from The Script), Jessie J, and Sir Tom Jones. With the inclusion of Tom Jones, the UK got themselves quite an interesting lineup. In comparison to our coach lineup of Christina, Adam, Blake, and Cee Lo, we can see some similarities but also some differences. Danny is sort of like Adam in that he can get the crowd going and brings the funny. Jessie’s the sole female and holds her own amongst the boys, but she is different from Christina. You always see Jessie singing along to the song and really enjoying herself. will.i.am is like Cee-Lo only in the sense of the name-dropping but you see Will taking the artistic approach when it came to convincing singers to join his team because of his skills as a producer. That leaves Tom as Blake, but they aren’t similar at all in their coaching. I suppose due to the age difference between him and the other 3, Tom sort of takes a backseat, particularly during the blind auditions. Tom says very little and even when trying to convince singers to join his team, he’s very professional and easy going about it – he let’s the others fight it out. Occasionally, he’ll do some name dropping on his own to match, if not beat will.i.am, but he definitely brings his decades of experience. As a collective, the 4 don’t bicker like our coaches. It’s a different type of teasing that they have going on. During the blinds, you often saw them talking to each other and trying to get the others to turn their chair around. One thing I must say about these 4 as coaches is that they really are taking their position seriously, particularly in their critiques (not that this is a slight to the others, just an observation). It does cause some tension between the coaches, but for the better part of things, it is all in trying to help the contestants. Then during the live shows, actually the results show, when the contestants are doing group numbers, if they are really feeling it, the coaches will get up out of their chairs and dance + have some fun.

As far as overall production, the UK managed to finish the battle rounds in 2 episodes. I’m watching the show online after the fact so I’m not entirely sure about commercials, but it came out to be 10 battles in roughly 2 hours, which for TV is a lot because of all the stuff they fit into the pre-package. Due to the fact that they do put a lot in the pre-package, this felt a little rushed at times. As for the live shows, the results are given in roughly 30 minutes (again, not sure about commercials). They’ve had the contestants sing as a group and then one guest performer, with results in between – moves along very nicely.

At the time of this posting, the UK is preparing for the finale performance show, with the final 4 contestants: Bo Bruce (Team Danny), Tyler James (Team Will), Vince Kidd (Team Jessie), and Leanne Mitchell (Team Tom). All 4 bring a little something different to the table, so it’s really nice to see such stylistic diversity. I know this is for the UK, but of the 4, I’d really like to see Bo win – she’s such a unique voice and though I’m not entirely sure, I think she has the potential to be a great crossover artist and make it in North America. But that’s just my thoughts.

THE VOICE AUSTRALIA

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In Australia, Keith Urban, Delta Goodrem, Seal, and Joel Madden (from Good Charlotte) get a seat in the awesome spinning red chairs. When I first heard of the lineup, I thought it was pretty awesome, almost as good as the US. Now having watched it, I’m changing my opinion to that they are on par with the US coaches. Not that it’s a diss to the UK because all 3 sets of coaches have a dynamic that works and are entertaining in their own ways. But there’s something about the coaches from Australia (technically only Keith and Delta are Australian) that’s fun to watch, and it’s in a different way from watching the US. What I said before about Jessie J singing along to what the contestants were singing? Here, all 4 of the coaches are singing along to practically every song and are totally having fun and completely into it. This singing along has been going well into the live rounds as well, with Keith Urban doing it the most, even singing along to a One Direction song. When they are fighting to get the singers on their team, you don’t see them name dropping or really bad mouthing each other. They really are about helping and nurturing the artists to be better and convincing the singers of what they as coaches can do for them – this is about the only way that they try to one-up the other. One of the funniest things coming out of the blinds is seeing Seal’s attempts at luring singers to his team and not in the sense that he’s bad at it, he’s actually quite good. In the US, you see Christina always complaining about Adam’s salesman pitch; well, Seal does that at a higher level, but he’s so laid back in his delivery of persuasion that sometimes you don’t even realize what he’s doing. Delta’s a very nurturing coach and to me at least, I think that stems from who she is as a person. She doesn’t have a diva personality, but you can tell when she’s coaching and critiquing  how important music is to her. [Sidenote: I have no idea why Delta is not a bigger artist outside of Australia. She is just such a great singer/songwriter and I’ve been a fan since she released her first album, “Innocent Eyes.”] The biggest surprise for me was Joel. I was never really a big fan of Good Charlotte, so I didn’t quite know what to expect from him. For one thing, it turns out Joel was quite the popular pick early on during the blind auditions. More importantly though, he’s shown to be quite insightful as a coach.

Thus far, the production of the show has been pretty good. 6 episodes for the blind auditions might have been a little much, but I think that was moreso them trying to show the auditions of all the singers that made it through. The battle rounds clock in at 3 episodes, which is just the right amount – doesn’t feel rushed like the UK but also doesn’t feel dragged out like the US. One aspect about the battle round that Australia added in that I quite liked was the time-out. Last season on The Voice US, we saw the mentors sit beside the coaches during battle rounds and give their input; this season, with each of the coaches having 2 mentors, we didn’t see them sit in on the actual battles. In Australia, the mentors sit behind the coaches and if the coaches are having a tough time deciding who to take through to the live rounds, they can take a “time-out” to talk to the mentor. When using the time-out, the coach presses their red button to turn their chair around and quickly discuss with the mentor (so the spinning red chairs still get put to use!)

As far as the talent goes, I have to say I have been incredibly impressed by these singers in Australia. They are all so good, so talented and each brings a little something different that I can’t even decide on a frontrunner. They are just simply THAT good. Extra dancers and whatnot have been kept to a minimum, so as to really focus on the contestants and essentially, their voice, which is something I do appreciate.

So at the end of the day, which version comes out on top? Well, none and all of them. Each iteration has its own merits and are all fun to watch. If anything, I’d say it depends on how much you like the coaches and the talent on the show – personal preference. But will that change with the news that NBC will be airing 2 seasons of The Voice a year? Quite possibly. 2 seasons in one year seems a little like overkill. Add to that, there’s no way all 4 of the current coaches will be staying for both runs; they do have actual careers going on, which includes promotion and touring. So they are going to have to find other artists to basically replace whichever coach won’t be able to come back. This is beyond the point of this post. What it comes down to is, regardless of which version of the show you watch, whether it be the U.S., the U.K., Australia, or whichever other country, it is awfully fun to watch. At the very least, you can marvel in the talent from other countries and if they become big stars, you can say you heard them before the rest of your friends.