Month: July 2008

Musical Flashbacks

Musical Flashbacks

Like many children, I was exposed to a lot of the ethnic music my parents themselves grew up listening to and represented where they were from. Like most children I usually didn’t care for it since I was just too cool to listen that “old people stuff” that simply didn’t reflect the more modern sounds of artists like Jesus Jones, 2 Unlimited, Ace of Base, Bell Biv Devoe and of course, Madonna that I was listening to as a kid growing up in the guilty pleasure nineties.

Eventually as time wizened me up and made me realize that it was okay to like Latin music from the past and present, I developed a fondness for Latin pop, mostly because it reflected the same genre of music I prefer in English. This fondness eventually lead me to discover Shakira (before she became a household name in both languages) and other artists like La Oreja de Van Gogh, Juanes and Mexican singers Thalia and Paulina Rubio.

Speaking of Thalia and Paulina Rubio, they both attempted an English crossover but neither managed to grab the attention of American audiences like Shakira, although they both did manage relatively minor hits, the former with “I Want You” off of her 2003 self titled album and the latter with “Don’t Say Goodbye” off of her Border Girl album.

In some cases the manufactured aspect of Latin pop music (some of it anyway) of today reflects the same manufactured approach that’s played on American radio these days which really made me appreciate the time and effort that a lot of singers and musicians put into their craft way back in the day.

With the advent of YouTube and its ease in sharing these videos of the past and present, I’ve recalled a lot of these older artists that I grew up listening to or whose songs I was particularly fond of like Daniela Romo, Emmanuel, Jeanette, Camilo Sesto and Rudy LaScala. Some of those were one hit wonders or simply faded from the music scene but with YouTube I’ve found their videos and it’s so great to get reacquainted with these songs once again while chuckling to myself at some of the fashions and limited technologies that were used to create these videos and now seem so silly but were so modern back then.

Does there always come that point in one’s lifetime when they learn to appreciate the music they were raised on and exposed to or are there common circumstances where even in adulthood this older music still seems…blasé? It’s always fun to revel in that moment when you remember something like Kaoma’s version of Lambada and remember it fondly. Having access to this video and countless others from back in the day or from the nineties for that matter…it only makes the revelry that much more pleasant.

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Hey Mr. DJ, Put a (Different) Record On

Hey Mr. DJ, Put a (Different) Record On

I’m almost certain I’ve mentioned it before but for purposes of the topic at hand, I’ll reiterate that my listening to popular radio these days is limited. The varieties of tunes that were played back in the day has now been reduced to a few tunes played every fifteen minutes that sound just like everything else that’s out there.

To further solidify the fact that radio caters strictly to the “manufactured song du jour”, I was reading Billboard’s weekly song reviews and confirmed what I had already known for some time. Janet Jackson‘s “Can’t B Good” was, among others, one of the songs being reviewed. It should be noted that this is Ms. Jackson’s fourth release from her “Discipline” album.

Now I will say that I took issue with Janet’s choice to ramp up the raunch ever since she split from her longtime secret husband Rene Elizondo and some of her output sounded like it catered heavily towards trying to grab the attention of popular radio. In fact, I didn’t find a single tune I liked off of “20 Y.O.“, the only thing that grabbed my interest was the creative contest that was held which allowed fans to create cover art using old photos of Janet.

Normally I end up liking the first singles Janet releases to radio off of the albums she’s about to promote so I was pleasantly surprised when I heard “Feedback” and liked it. True, it wasn’t anything groundbreaking but it was definitely creative and incredibly catchy so I figured its inclusion–and Janet’s long overdue return to pop radio–would only be a matter of time.

Well, it turns out neither “Feedback” nor the following singles (“Rock With U” and “Luv”) made a blip and while I’m on her side in hoping the same fate doesn’t await this latest single, I don’t see it happening.

As such, it’s a situation that’s affected numerous artists. Madonna‘s second single “Give it 2 Me” off of “Hard Candy” is not getting any airplay although she at least has the luxury of having “4 Minutes” being played every now and then on radio.

But what did Madonna have to do? She made an album that practically screams “I’m trying to court popular radio listeners”, not that I find any less entertaining mind you.

Has anyone heard any new tunes from Alanis Morissette since “Uninvited”? Heck, does anyone know she recently released her album post Ryan Reynolds breakup album “Flavors of Entanglement“? Did Tracy Chapman or Fiona Apple receive any sort of airplay after “Give Me One Reason” and “Criminal”, respectively? Is anyone aware Kylie Minogue released her album “X here in the states to zero fanfare? When was the last Bjork got any kind of radio recognition. True her music is a bit out there for some but she is quite talented, although in her case she doesn’t survive based on chart figures. This is all due at least partially because popular radio is too preoccupied playing gimmicky drivel like Katy Perry‘s “I Kissed a Girl”.

I’ll be the first one to admit that I enjoy manufactured pop music with no artistic merit but I think some of these artists that have musical chops and can write their own lyrics and in some cases music also deserve the time of day. Instead they choose to release albums that are squarely aimed at trying to get some radio airplay.

I do know that these days labels are very critical with album sales and it’s tougher for the average artist to ship enough units in order to achieve gold status and nearly impossible to go platinum which often leads to a speedy pink slip from the label. Then again if the artist is focused squarely on sales, they’re probably not in the business for the right reasons in my opinion.

Madonna is no longer associated with the traditional label ever since she signed that major multimillion dollar deal with Live Nation so I can’t yet say how much sales will factor into her future album sales. Speaking of which, Shakira is also in talks to ink a similar deal, albeit not one with as many zeros at the end. I’m sure Island Records will keep Janet around for the next go ’round or who knows, she might also deflect to Live Nation.

The old adage says “diversity is the spice of life” and radio supposedly plays music that’s “hot” so why am I being force fed junk that sounds like the same thing I heard before?

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