Favourites of 2014

Another year is coming to an end and with that, a list of my favourites in movies, music, and TV. Again, not a “Year-End Best of” list by any means, just things that I loved this past year. Also, due to time constraints, this really is just a list of my favourites – I wish I had the time to fully explain everything but alas, December just flew by me.

ALBUMS

  1. Begin Again soundtrack
  2. Kris Allen, Horizons
  3. The Script, No Sound Without Silence
  4. Colbie Caillat, Gypsy Heart
  5. Jason Mraz, Yes!
  6. Lady Antebellum, 747
  7. Pentatonix, PTX Vol. 3
  8. Nikki Yanofsky, Little Secret
  9. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
  10. Maroon 5, V

SONGS

Obviously I loved songs from my favourite albums above, but here are the other stuff that I couldn’t stop listening to this year.

  1. Tyler Hilton, One More Song
  2. Nick Jonas, Jealous
  3. Jessie J, Masterpiece
  4. Michael Jackson ft. Justin Timberlake, Love Never Felt So Good
  5. Sam Smith, Like I Can

MOVIES

As always, there are still SO many movies that got released this year, that I have yet to get a chance to see. But of what I did manage to see this year, these are absolutely my favourites.

  1. Begin Again
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy
  4. Snowpiercer
  5. Nightcrawler

NEW TV SHOWS

There were some REALLY good new shows that came out this year.

  1. The Flash
  2. Jane the Virgin
  3. The Affair
  4. You’re the Worst
  5. How to Get Away With Murder

RETURNING TV SHOWS

And of the returning shows, these continued strong all year.

  1. Arrow
  2. Brooklyn Nine Nine
  3. Agents of SHIELD
  4. The Mindy Project
  5. Sleepy Hollow

SHOWS THAT WERE CANCELLED

These are some of the shows that got cancelled this year, which very much hurt.

  1. Selfie
  2. Enlisted
  3. Trophy Wife
  4. Witches of East End
  5. The Tomorrow People

Music Monday: My Year in Concerts

As a music fan, I’ve always loved going to concerts. There’s just something about hearing music live that just makes me so happy and feels like everything is right in the world, if only for a couple hours. So for this Music Monday, I thought I’d feature the concerts I went to this year.

1. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Tour

JT 2020 Tour

I wrote about my thoughts on this tour back when I saw it, but let me repeat – my dancer’s heart loved every single minute of it.

2. Lady AntebellumTake Me Downtown Tour

Lady Antebellum Take Me Downtown Tour

I’m very limited in my tastes when it comes to country music. Country pop I can deal with to an extent; I can’t handle real southern country twang. When I first heard Lady Antebellum, it was when they released ‘Need You Now’ and I remember thinking these guys are really cool and sound really great. I quickly became a fan, to say the least. After missing out on their Own the Night tour (which I’m still kinda bummed about because I absolutely LOVED that album), I had to make sure I got to see them the next time they were in town, which was for this tour. Though to be honest, I felt really out of place at the concert. Being a minority and a generally awkward person, I’m typically used to feeling out of place. For some reason, I felt VERY odd being one of few Asians at a country music concert (and not wearing plaid – believe me, there was A LOT of plaid). My being-out-of-place aside, Lady A are wonderful live and it was a great concert overall.

3. Gavin DeGraw

Gavin DeGraw

For years, a friend and I had complained about Gavin not doing a show in Toronto. Lucky us this year, he did 2 separate shows. This first show he did was a solo show in support of his Make A Move album. I remember still being sick/jet-lagged from my trip, but I still had so much fun seeing Gavin perform. His opening acts were Rozzi Crane (signed to Adam Levine’s label) and Parachute (a pop-rock band I’ve followed for some time now), both of whom were really solid.

4. Justin Nozuka

Justin Nozuka

It had been years since I’d last seen Justin Nozuka in concert and when I found out he was releasing a new album and coming back to Toronto, I jumped right on it. Personally, I don’t really like the new album; it’s a little too mellow for my tastes. And most of the concert was comprised of the new material so I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more of the old stuff. I still cherished him performing ‘After Tonight’ midway through the show; it was quite a pick-me-up that got everybody grooving and singing along. I just wish there was a little more of it.

5. Michael Buble – To Be Loved Tour

Michael Buble To Be Loved Tour

I love seeing Michael Buble in concert. I always say this but when you go see him, you get a little bit of a comedy show as well. It’s his natural sense of humour and self-deprecation. Once again, he brought out Naturally 7 (a very cool acapella group) as his opening act, and who later returned to do a couple songs acapella with Michael. And one of my favourites parts of the show was actually when Michael performed part of a song by himself, with no accompaniment and no mic – a feat all in itself considering he was playing in a huge arena.

6. Matt Nathanson & Gavin DeGraw

Matt Nathanson Gavin DeGraw

 

I always love seeing Matt Nathanson in concert (this was my 5th time seeing him) and add to that, getting to see Gavin for a second time within 3 months? Yeah, it was a no brainer. Despite the fact that the show was at the Sound Academy, a venue in Toronto I have associated with bad memories. Even so, I had to go see this double headlining tour of two of my favourites. My friend and I actually got lucky and received a VIP upgrade when we got there, allowing us to go to the second floor of the club. But after about 20 minutes upstairs, we made our way back down to stand with the masses; it just felt weird standing up top and what’s the point of VIP if you don’t even get to meet the artists? Regardless of that, it was a fantastic show!

7. Tyler Hilton

Tyler Hilton

It wasn’t that long ago that my friends and I complained about Tyler never playing a show in Toronto, despite the fact that he was constantly in the area (his now fiancĂ©, Megan Park, is from London, Ontario). Since seeing him in 2012 for the first time, this was show number 5. I remember Tyler was actually battling a bit of a cold and kinda losing his voice, but he powered through his (albeit shortened) set. AND to make up for the fact that he didn’t do as long a set as he normally does, he agreed to do a meet and greet, taking pictures with fans.

8. Jason Mraz and Raining Jane

Jason Mraz & Raining Jane

For his new album Yes!, Jason Mraz worked exclusively with a wonderfully talented female band, Raining Jane. It was more a collaborative album than a simple Jason Mraz album. That being said, the two took the album on the road, and I got the chance to see them at the historic Massey Hall. Massey Hall is a venue that is known for its amazing acoustics and ended up being a fantastic place for Jason and Jane.

9. Kris Allen and Boyce Avenue

Kris AllenTechnically, it was Boyce Avenue’s show, with Kris Allen supporting, but I was there to go see Kris since I had yet to see him live in concert. Plus, I wasn’t going to say no to a $30 concert ticket. Kris’ set was a short 45 minutes but he managed to squeeze quite a number of songs from all three albums, plus a couple cover songs (Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ and Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’). ‘Monster’, a song from his 2nd album, is one of my favourites from Kris, but man, to hear it live? Kris and his band took it to another level. I even went so far as to compare it to hearing Maroon 5 perform ‘Sweetest Goodbye’ (my absolute favourite M5 song) live. Pure perfection. As for Boyce Avenue, I was familiar with their cover songs but not their original material. Honestly, I thought their originals were a little blah, and I actually got a little bored hearing them perform. Talented guys, just not into them.

10. Justin TimberlakeThe 20/20 Experience Tour (again!)

JT 20/20 TourIt only seemed appropriate that I end my concert year the same way I started it – seeing JT. The guy never ceases to amaze me and I always have SO much fun at his shows. I feel like I’m just gushing at this point, but what can I say, I’m a dancer at heart and loved singing/dancing along.

With 10 concerts, I feel like that’s the most shows I’ve ever been to in a year, and that’s not even including theatre shows, plus TIFF and SDCC. At this point, concert-going is like my life, so I can’t even keep track anymore. Here’s to another fun-filled, musical year in 2015!

“Baby One More Time” Turns 16

Here’s something to make you feel old if you’re around the same age as me: Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time” was released 16 years ago today. 16 YEARS. Meaning it is the same age Britney was when she released the song in 1998. I was 10.

Honestly, I didn’t even realize it until I saw this article from Billboard wherein they include 5 great performances of the song. Naturally, it got me thinking: for a total “POP” song, the one that catapulted Britney’s career and really is one of the defining pop songs of the late 90s, it has been done/redone/remixed so many ways by Britney herself (as evidenced by the Billboard article), but has also been covered a lot by other artists, some in very unexpected ways.

So to supplement the Billboard article (check out the videos they have there!), I present you with some more versions of “Baby One More Time,” by Britney and others. Two things of note: 1) Watching the early Britney performances makes you realize that she tried to sing live at times; 2) It’s interesting that most of the covers of this song are all by male artists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music Monday: Songs from TV and Movies

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of all things entertainment, so when music intersects with movies or TV, I get super nerdy about it. Last September at TIFF, I saw a movie called Can A Song Save Your Life? and instantly fell in love with it and the music in it. Fast forward some 10 months and the movie finally gets released under a new name Begin Again and I FINALLY got my hands on the soundtrack, so I could just listen to all the songs over and over again. It is certainly something special when the right song (whether written specifically for the movie or not) is played at the right moment and encapsulates the feeling of that entire scene or becomes synonymous with that movie/show.

So with that being said, here are some of my personal favourite songs from TV and movies

  1. Adam Levine/Keira Knightley, Lost Stars [Begin Again] – I’m sure I’ve said it enough at this point, but I LOVE this song. I keep alternating between Adam’s version and Keira’s version. There’s such a sweetness in Keira’s version that plays to how the song was written within the context of the movie. Adam’s more polished version of the song presents itself later in the movie, showing character growth with a slight sense of nostalgia.
  2. Switchfoot, Dare You to Move [One Tree Hill] – I could have gone the easy route and just picked “I Don’t Want to Be” because if you think OTH, you think of that song. With “Dare You to Move,” I actually remember hearing it in A Walk to Remember first, but always associate it with OTH + Nathan & Haley, their memorable kiss in the rain.
  3. Nada Surf, If You Leave [The O.C.] – Again, it would’ve been too easy to put “California” or even “Hallelujah” but instead I had to put “If You Leave.” Who could forget the scene with Seth playing out the cliche of running to the airport, chasing after Anna, thinking that she’s moving back to Pittsburgh because of him?
  4. Gina Rene, U Must Be [Step Up] – Ahhh Step Up, the movie that brought Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan together. It was a pivotal scene, with Nora telling Tyler how she imagined her senior showcase, and then they dance with the sunset in the background. It’s all cute and romantic, and stuff.
  5. Michael Jackson, The Way You Make Me Feel/Ruff Endz, If I Was the One/Jamiroquai, Canned Heat [Center Stage] – So I’m cheating a little bit here, putting three songs for one movie. BUT, these three songs were used for the finale piece in Center Stage! They go together! And I can’t listen to any one of these songs without immediately playing the scene in my head, picturing the choreography.
  6. Gerardo Matos RodrĂ­guez, La Cumparsita (Remix) [Take the Lead] – For some reason, I’ve always loved watching a good tango, so I’ve always loved the song, even if I didn’t know what it was called when I was younger. Then Take the Lead came out and featured this AMAZING trio tango with a remixed version of La Cumparsita, which kind of became my everything. The classic tango song, updated with a hip-hop flavour, which was part of what made the movie unique.
  7. Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova/Steve Kazee & Cristin Milioti, Falling Slowly [Once/Once the Musical] – Just such a beautiful song.
  8. Katharine McPhee & Megan Hilty, Let Me Be Your Star [Smash] – Let this be one of the few good things to come out of Smash. The pilot capped off with this wonderful song, that set the stage for the rest of the show. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. But hey, at least we got this song and Megan Hilty from that mess.
  9. Oscar Isaac, Never Had [10 Years] – Oscar Isaac actually wrote this song for the movie (an underrated gem about friends meeting up for their high school reunion), where he plays Reeves, a musician with this hit song. The song keeps getting talked about throughout the movie, until Reeves gets convinced to karaoke his own song. The song has a great nostalgic tone that was obviously meant to work with the movie. Just watch it.
  10. Dianna Agron & Lea Michele, I Feel Pretty/Unpretty [Glee] – There once was a time when I loved Glee, before it all went to shit. I particularly loved it most when they actually picked songs that worked itself organically into the story, and not just them doing songs for the sake of it. The performance is actually still one of my favourites that they did, which was in season 2, and dealt with Rachel’s want to get her nose fixed.
  11. Jason Segel, You Just Got Slapped [How I Met Your Mother] – Now for something fun and silly. Because creating Slapsgiving wasn’t enough, the HIMYM gang created this tune to commemorate the occasion in season 3.
  12. Orishas ft. Heather Headley, Represent Cuba [Dirty Dancing Havana Nights] – I stand by my “I don’t really like the movie, but I love the soundtrack.” I just love this song.
  13. Sara Bareilles, Breathe Again [The Vampire Diaries] – There once was also a time when I loved The Vampire Diaries. Now season 1, their music supervisor had already established himself with some really good song choices. But I remember distinctly the first half of season 2, where I thought they were just on a complete roll with the music. They used this fantastic Sara Bareilles song as the coda in episode 4.
  14. Jonathan Groff/Kyle Riabko, Left Behind [Spring Awakening] – It’s a poignant song in the musical, with Melchior lamenting Moritz’ death, wondering what led to it including Moritz’ parents’ treatment of him. Obviously I love the original version as sung by Jonathan Groff, but there’s also a soulful quality to Kyle Riabko’s version which he did on his own album.
  15. Florence + the Machine, Cosmic Love [Nikita] – Season 1, Episode 17: Michael goes to see Nikita and realizes she was right all along when it came to Division. They kiss and that was the beginning of Mikita. I sigh just thinking about it.

 

 

Album Review: Maroon 5 “V”

V

Maroon 5 is back with their fifth studio album, appropriately titled V. I’m an unabashed Maroon 5 fan, have supported them from the (almost) beginning, and will defend my love for them when others speak ill about them. Even as a fan though, I wasn’t particularly fond of their last album, Overexposed. My biggest issue with that album was that it was overproduced to the point where you couldn’t tell on some songs that there was a band playing. That and the fact that those same overproduced songs sounded kind of pop generic, like any artist/band could have performed the song – there was little of the signature Maroon 5 sound. To quote Keira Knightley’s character Gretta in Begin Again, “I think you’ve lost the songs to the production” (I nearly let out a huge “HA!” in the middle of the theatre, hearing that line).

With V, the guys took the pop sound of Overexposed and refined it by incorporating the sounds of their first three albums. As Adam put it,

“[This album has] some of the old funk from Songs About Jane, and the rock from Hands All Over mixed with the pop from Overexposed and the sheen from It Won’t Be Soon Before Long.”

The album is obviously no Songs About Jane or even Hands All Over, because the prevalence of pop production is still there. But at the very least, you hear the band and actual instruments in the majority of the songs, even if Jesse, James, Mickey, Matt, and PJ don’t have songwriting credits. Lead single Maps feels like a natural extension of the signature Maroon 5 sound – upbeat fun pop, with a little rock and funk. Animals plays up the radio success of “One More Night,” mixing up that song’s almost hip-hop swagger with the sexiness of “Give A Little More”; In Your Pocket plays up a similar sound, with the inclusion of a rather infectious drum loop. It’s songs like It Was Always You and Coming Back for You that worries me a little, with its synth-heavy sound that somehow reminds me of the music of the 80s. Though whereas some of the Overexposed songs were so overproduced that I couldn’t hear how they could play it live, I feel like I can hear these songs in concert; there’s room there for the band to actually play. Unkiss Me plays like a pop/R&B song (or as I tweeted, I could totally see it as a NappyTabs lyrical hip-hop on SYTYCD) but it has JUST enough of the M5 sound to make it distinctive from anything generic (a somewhat recurring theme with this album). Sugar sounds like it could be a Katy Perry song, which I’m still debating whether or not that is a good thing. There’s a quality to Leaving California that makes it sound almost like “Back At Your Door”/something from IWBSBL mashed-up with a fun. song (which makes a lot of sense considering Nate Ruess co-wrote it). The song that doesn’t really do much for me is New Love; it’s not a bad song per se, but for some reason it just feels like it’s trying too hard to be a sweeping mid-tempo stadium pop song (Does Ryan Tedder being a co-writer on the song explain anything. Maybe.) Feelings is a song that’s hard to pin down – I hear a little 70s disco a la the band’s “Get Back in My Life” from Hands All Over, mixed with a bit of Euro-pop not unlike what Kylie Minogue does, and a new wave Jamiroquai-like sound – but the end result is just a lot of fun. The lone ballad, My Heart is Open, features Gwen Stefani and was co-written by the incomparable Sia; the song comes off as a great emotional vocal showcase for the two Voice coaches, but at the same time understated, never overpowering each other.

The deluxe edition of V also features five bonus songs, two of which are remixes of Maps. The first bonus track is Shoot Love, a pop/hip-hop/funk hybrid that sounds like a cross between Madcon’s “Beggin”, John Newman’s “Love Me Again” and Mark Ronson. It’s the third album in a row that features a cover in the bonus tracks (no complaints here!), this time hearing the band re-work Marcy Playground’s Sex and Candy. The funny part is their arrangement for this song is probably the closest thing you’ll hear to Maroon 5’s SAJ sound, with its slow burn and stripped down appeal. The final bonus track is Lost Stars from Begin Again; I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I LOVE THIS SONG and will be incredibly happy if they decide to play this song in concert (Sure, Stereo Hearts I have issues with them performing. Lost Stars, not so much.)

V, for all intents and purposes, is a solid pop album and is a step in the right direction for the band if their hearts continue to be set in the mainstream pop world. By no means do I expect them to recreate the magic of Songs About Jane, but it’s nice every once in a while to hear those sensibilities are still present and embedded in their current sound.