“I knew you Americans would get it,” British singer Jessie Ware said over uproarious cheering at the Bowery Ballroom, New York’s intimate concert venue, last Thursday.
Ware, who had just made her American television debut the previous day by performing with The Roots on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, was celebrating the release of her new EP, If You’re Never Gonna Move (available on iTunes). Comprised of select tracks from her Mercury Prize-nominated 2012 overseas premiere album, Devotion, the EP serves as Ware’s official introduction to American audiences.
The last time Ware stepped foot in the Bowery Ballroom, she told the crowd, was in December to see Solange’s headlining show. Like Solange, Ware is part of an exciting musical movement that’s ushering in the resurgence of ‘90s house by blending it with elements of Motown, disco, and traces of contemporary EDM. By doing so, artists such as these two have crafted an innovative musical style that manages to sound as fresh as it is retro.
And their industry peers are starting to really notice. Earlier this month, girl group Destiny’s Child reunited for the release of “Nuclear,” their first original song in seven years. A welcome and surprising throwback to ‘90s R&B, “Nuclear” immediately prompted comparisons to the likes of Jade and Vanessa Williams. And while the lack of Calvin Harris / David Guetta production or a Nicki Minaj guest-verse will likely prevent “Nuclear” from becoming Destiny’s Child’s next “Survivor”-level smash, the song’s release signifies something far more important – and frankly, far more interesting.
By paying homage to the era they began in, Destiny’s Child released a song that not only acknowledges that their fans have grown up too (taking notes, Madonna?), but that also catapults the distinct flavors of ‘90s R&B back into a mainstream spotlight. And lead singer Beyoncé (who had already begun to experiment with resurrecting this classic sound on her phenomenal and underrated 2011 album, 4) clearly has no plans to shift the spotlight anytime soon.
“I’ve been working with Pharrell and Timbaland and Justin Timberlake and Dream. We all started in the ’90s, when R&B was the most important genre, and we all kind of want that back: the feeling that music gave us,” the new mother said in an interview in this month’s GQ about her upcoming fifth studio album.
So what does this mean for Ware? Well, for starters, her influence is beginning to be felt on a very large scale. Plus, the increasing popularity of this nu-soul approach to R&B certainly means that Devotion’s upcoming American release (tentatively slated for April) may generate for the singer what 21 generated for fellow-Brit Adele: massive crossover appeal. And considering that tickets for Ware’s Bowery Ballroom show sold out in thirty minutes even before she officially released an album in the U.S., it’s a safe bet to say that Ware’s is a voice we’ll all be hearing a lot of this year.
Ware’s love for the music that inspired her was on full display during her entire set. In addition to singing Brownstone’s classic “If You Love Me,” Ware mashed up her own hip-hop tinged song “No To Love” with Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You.” And for a brief moment during her exceptional cover of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Wouldn’t Do For Love,” she mixed in part of Aaliyah’s “Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.” Ware then casually pointed out mid-song that the day before would have been the deceased ‘90s R&B superstar’s birthday. Clearly, she has been doing her homework.
One of the first things that struck me about Ware’s performance is that not only does she sound exactly the same live as she does on her recordings, but also that sometimes she sounds even better. Filling the intimate space of the Bowery Ballroom, Ware’s melancholy and pitch perfect vocals were accompanied by a three-piece band. The second thing that struck me was that Leonardo DiCaprio would have probably been really jealous of how well Ware rocked the exposed midriff look.
Hearing Ware sing live almost suggested that her recordings are too small to fully capture her big voice. The vocal decorations that she added to songs like the lounge-y “Still Love Me,” the deliciously sexy “Night Light,” and album title track “Devotion” showed off just how insanely talented the songstress really is.
What’s more is that Ware is as humble as she is gifted. The amount of adoration pouring out from the audience was undeniable – and for Ware, it was honestly surprising. Upon receiving a bouquet of flowers from a fan near the front of the stage, she teared up and seemed genuinely taken aback. While headlining an American tour for the first time may have sounded like a potentially nerve-wracking experience, Ware couldn’t have received a warmer welcome.
The first of two back-to-back songs that evoke water imagery, Ware’s masterful delivery of the despondent and beautiful “Swan Song” seemed effortless. And before breaking into the next song, “Taking In Water,” she revealed that the ballad (which she wrote for her brother) almost didn’t make it onto the final cut of Devotion. Luckily it did, and the musician called it one of the songs she’s most proud of.
Additional highlights from Ware’s hour-long set included the simple and sizzling synthpop single, “If You’re Never Gonna Move” (recently retitled from “110%” due to legal problems obtaining the clearance of a sample used), album standout “Sweet Talk,” and the official-anthem-of-longing, “Something Inside.”
While the crowd’s applause level was never anything short of feverish, never was it higher than when Ware played “Wildest Moments.” The third single to be released from Devotion, “Wildest Moments” was written after Ware had a fight with a friend and was inspired by the duo’s shaky relationship. And despite having performed the song on Fallon the night before, Ware serenaded her audience with such conviction that it almost sounded like it was the first time she ever sang it.
Wrapping up her set with her brilliant debut single, “Running,” Ware chose to skip an encore, explaining that she “doesn’t believe” in them and that “you all have to go to sleep and go to work tomorrow, so yeah. Last song.” It was moments like these that demonstrated Ware’s honest, charming and warm disposition, making her one of the most grounded artists I’ve seen in a long time.
If all goes according to schedule and Devotion sees its American release this spring, be sure to make it a point to catch Ware’s phenomenal live show. Trust me, it may not be long before the tickets soar out of your price range.
22-year-old Australian rapper Iggy Azalea may not have an album out yet, but she’s easily one of the busiest players in the industry.
Following the viral success of her debut single, “Pu$$y,” Iggy released her inaugural mixtape, Ignorant Art, last fall. Since then, she’s been hard at work recording two new mixtapes (the first of which, Glory, was released earlier this summer and is available for free on her website) and her first full album, The New Classic.
I chatted with Iggy about all of her various music projects, her side career as a model, her feud with Interscope Records and fellow rapstress Azealia Banks, how she responds to critics who are offended by her music, and more.
How do you feel the sound of Glory is different from Ignorant Art or The New Classic?
Well, it kind of experiments with the kind of feel that I think Ignorant Art and The New Classic are naturally. I just started working on a new project called Trap Gold, and that’s really experimental. But Glory is all about trying to make songs that have traditional song structure and exploring and collaborating with other artists. I wanted to try to see if I could write the kinds of songs that I always hear on the radio, and that’s not really what I usually do. It’s a little bit more mainstream than a traditional hip-hop record. It’s not really experimental with sound, but I had a lot of fun making it. I’m proud of it and I think I did a good job with it.
But I’m going fairly extreme in making Trap Gold. It’s kind of like I walk in the studio and start making crazy shit that sounds like nothing at all that’s on the radio, or that any kid would probably ever want to listen to. I feel like I’ve been all the way left and now I want to go all the way right. I just really want to be able to do that, and I really want to be able to explore the two extremes before releasing The New Classic, and hopefully I can find some kind of a middle ground.
So Trap Gold is going to come out before The New Classic?
Yeah, Trap Gold is coming out really soon. Like, way sooner than anybody would think. But we all decided I wasn’t going to say when it’s coming out, because I wanted some identity with Glory. Because of my label mishap situation, a lot of the music I recorded earlier in the year kind of got stuck. Stuck in a hole is what it felt like. There were so many people involved in the project production-wise, and people that I was working with label-wise kept pressuring me to try to get the music out. It became like I felt like this mixtape was held hostage.
Now with Trap Gold, we all said the only people working on it are me, my friend Christian who I do absolutely everything with, and Diplo and that’s it. Nobody else is working on it. We’re going to put it out, and nobody can fucking stop us. We have this timeline of when we’re getting it done, and it’s really quick, but it’s already August, so I’m working on it every single day. So all I can really think about is I just need to get it done. I loved Glory, but I didn’t feel the same creative kind of freedom as what I did with Trap Gold. With Trap Gold, I just kind of tried to make it, and I don’t want to think about who is expecting it or what anybody is going to think about it.
That’s what I did with Ignorant Art. I put it out when it was ready. There wasn’t a countdown or a release date, or collaboration with a website to put it out, or signing off, or any of that shit. I’m not doing it. I’m just going to put it out, and you’ll learn the date it’s out, but I’m not going to tell anybody until it’s just out.
Is that label pressure you mentioned part of why you switched from Interscope to Grand Hustle?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, even when I was with Interscope I was still with Grand Hustle, but that’s why I left the whole Interscope situation. Grand Hustle is more like a family. Eventually I will get a major distribution deal through Grand Hustle, and I will release my album like that.
Ever since I started having all these meetings and it became all about dates and getting this done, and then all of a sudden you’ll find – and I’m sure other artists can relate to this – that you’re kind of in a room full of strangers. They didn’t work on anything with you, and you haven’t known them for any time at all, but they pretend that they know everything about your project, and sometimes they convince you that they really do know what’s best. There are so many people that just all of a sudden come down out of a spaceship and they try to control all your creativity. All of the deadlines and stuff – it can really take the spark away from what you’re doing. I felt like I lost the spark, and I felt really lost in what I was doing. All of a sudden I was in these big, fancy studios, with people that I didn’t know, and producers that I didn’t know, and it wasn’t the way that I was used to making songs.
I’m used to making songs in my friend’s garage at the back of his sister’s house. I was used to writing with the same guys every day, and it became routine, and it got taken away, and I didn’t really know how to find my feet. I lost the vibe of it, and made it kind of weird, because I didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t have the team that I made Ignorant Art with because Interscope kind of fucked them over, and they didn’t want to work with Interscope, so I couldn’t work with them on Glory or any of that project. Now that I ended my relationship with that label, I’m back working with them in L.A., and things feel normal again. I just felt like I got taken so far out of my element, and it made me lose what I felt was kind of special about my music, and I just I didn’t really know what to do. I had to find it and I felt like I was just floating around. Now with Trap Gold and also with The New Classic, I feel like I’m back to kind of what I know, and I’ve learned a lot as well in the last couple of months to where I can progress with my song writing and stuff like that.
You’ve already worked with some really big names in the industry like T.I., B.o.B., Cee Lo, Mike Posner, Pusha T and Diplo. Which of these people has given you the best career advice so far?
Probably T.I. and Pusha T. Pusha T and I have been friends for around two years now, and I really owe him a lot because I’m a really unorganized person. I do things on a whim and I’m just spontaneous. I never really see a lot of things from start to finish because I’ll get distracted and I’ll start something new. Then I met Pusha, and he really pushed me on through, seriously. “You really have to put a project out. Everybody else is putting projects out, and they’re getting recognition for it, and you still don’t have a project. What are you doing? You’re a good rapper, get it together.” It really motivated me to give my all on a project. I had somebody to report back to, whereas before I wasn’t really accountable to anybody. It made me finish. Believe it or not, I finished it, and I feel like he was a big part of why I finished it, to kind of prove to him I can do it. So he taught me a lot, and I kind of feel like if he hadn’t have – if I hadn’t had the friendship with him, I don’t even know that I’d be Iggy or not. There would probably just be a lot of random songs floating around. I’ll always have love for him.
T.I.’s a veteran. He came into my life at a really pivotal point where I feel like I was kind of losing my balance, not really knowing what the hell was going on. I didn’t really recognize any of my surroundings, and it was like, “Ugh, what the hell? Everybody’s talking about me and everybody wants to talk about other things, not music-related,” and I really had a hard time handling all that. He really helped me kind of navigate through that time where now I feel like I can deal with it and that’s thanks to him.
Speaking of T.I., where did the Toddlers & Tiaras feel of the music video for your duet “Murda Bizness” come from?
Well, I just think everybody heard the song “Murda Bizness” and thought it’d be an aggressive song. But I don’t think people really listened to the lyrics, because I had so many people on social media say, “What do you know about killing people?” I thought to myself, “What do you know about the song lyrics? Have you listened to them?”
“Murda Bizness” is just supposed to be about when you’re doing shit. When you go out, and you’re like, “Oh, man, I killed it! I killed it with my outfit, or we just went out and killed it, and everybody else was wack.” Especially when you’re a girl. You’re like that all the time. That’s what it’s about.
I know it sounds like chopping up bodies or killing people or having guns, and I just feel like people heard the word “murder” and they thought that, but I wanted to kind of combat that and show that it’s actually kind of a light-hearted song. It’s actually one that can get at your soul. It’s a silly song. It’s a stupid, nonsensical song, and that’s why I put it out first.
I kind of have an obsession with Toddlers & Tiaras actually, and I watch it all the time, and I think, “Whoa, this is actually the fiercest competition.” Beauty pageants are the fiercest competitions. Their dresses are flashy. They dress flashy just like I do. I want to get flashy and loud and covered in diamonds. All the things that we do in rap and hip-hop, they do it all in beauty pageants. There are a lot of similarities and they take the competition so seriously. They have their little beef with the different toddlers and tiaras, and it’s crazy. I just like that whole idea of it, and involving and addressing competition, which the song is really about.
I read that you’re working with Missy Elliott on The New Classic. How did the two of you first get in touch and decide to work together?
Well, I don’t even know when it’s going to happen, but I got a friend to sort that out for me actually. He said, “Are there any artists that you’d want to work with? It would be cool for you to work with some other singers in the industry.” I said, “I love Missy Elliott. I love her videos and she’s so talented.” So he said, “Oh, I’m really good friends with her. I’ll call her and ask her.” He did, and she said “yeah,” but we haven’t been able to work yet because she’s always in a different place than me. It’s hard to find days when you’re kind of working in the same studio, or you can both make it out. She’s also been really busy because she’s working on her own album and a lot of different people’s projects, but working with her is definitely something that I’m going to try to do before I put The New Classic out. That would be awesome.
While we’re on the topic of other female rappers, I have to ask – what sparked the feud between you and Azealia Banks?
I don’t know. She did? It’s not just me – it’s also Lil’ Kim, Nicki Minaj, it’s whoever. B.o.B. told me something about her just the other day. I don’t know. I know with me it started because she just went out one day and said, “I’m better than Nicki Minaj, I had a song about being a Barbie before she ever said she was a Barbie, here’s the link.” Then she said, “I’m better than Iggy Azalea. I wrote a song called ‘Pussy’ when I was 17, way before she ever had one, here’s the link.” Basically she was saying she was way ahead of all these other girl rappers.
I tweeted her back, and I said, “You know, you should humble yourself because there’s always going to be somebody that’s going to do it better than you.” There will. Just like there’s going to be another girl that’s going to do another song called “Pussy.” I’m not the first girl to make up a song about my vagina and neither is she. It’s been done a million times. It’s just about who does it differently, and it’s about really being the first to do that. She wrote back to me, and was like, “Beef!” and ever since then, she just kind of talks shit about me. People will ask me why, and I’ll say, “I don’t really know. I don’t really know what it’s about.” But it’s just how it’s kind of been for a while now.
Earlier this year you signed a contract with Wilhelmina Models, and next month, you’ll be walking in New York Fashion Week. What has that training process been like for you?
Oh God, I haven’t even really started yet when it comes to the runway stuff. I’ve been shooting a lot, and I’ve been learning a lot about modeling and photography. It’s really hard! I shot a new campaign a few weeks ago and I felt so out of my element. I was in all denim, had no makeup on, no eyeliner, and no lipstick. It was just all really natural looking. I had my hair down and it was curly, and I looked like a girl. I looked in the mirror and was like, “who the fuck is this person?” and they kept saying, “stop working so hard at being pretty!” It was really difficult but I enjoyed it!
But if I do this, I want to do it properly. I don’t think a lot of people realize that even though I signed to Wilhelmina as an artist, I signed to the women’s division as well. I am working as just a model, not as Iggy Azalea. I’m just a girl, like all the other girls, and I have to go to the casting calls like all the other girls do. There’s no special treatment in that world and I wouldn’t want there to be anyway. They’ll teach me how to walk, and they’re so awesome, because Coco Rocha, who’s my favorite supermodel ever, is signed to Wilhemina. She’s going to help me learn to walk. She’s the best. I’m really excited for that but I’m also nervous because I’m such a big fan of hers! Hopefully I won’t disappoint her, and hopefully I’ll get all the skills I need.
I’m excited to see it!
Yeah, me too! I’m nervous. Whenever you’re a beginner at something, at least for me, I’ve got to really practice behind closed doors. I’m brand new. At first I thought, “Oh, I’ve experienced it. I’ve done so many photo shoots!” But it’s not the same. No. I learned that when I was in New York. All the movements, having to try to jump up and down and do all this stuff to make clothes look cool … it’s hard.
When you’re taking pictures of yourself as an artist, you’re showing yourself, you’re not selling clothes. But when you’re modeling, you need to learn how to take pictures that sell clothes. But it’s really cool. I’m having a good time. I just want to blend in with the other girls. Whenever I go to Wilhelmina’s for model calls, there will be a bunch of models in the hallway, and I’ll always be like, “I don’t fit in with you guys! You’re like, six foot; I’m five-ten, and you have flawless skin, and you’re skinny as fuck,” and I don’t want to be skinny as fuck!
In the regular world, people will say, “you look like a model,” but when I stand in a row amongst models, I’m like “no I fucking don’t and I need to get this shit together.” I don’t want to be walking down the runway and not blend in. I want to blend in. I want to look like a real model.
What is your response to critics who have called your music too graphic and/or sexual?
Different strokes for different folks, I guess. But when did music become politics? When did music become charity? You know what I mean?
Music is art, and look at art, and look at what artists paint about. They paint about everything. Picasso painted about rape, right? Why are some topics off limits? Why am I always supposed to talk about what’s “good?” Why can’t I talk about sex, and why can’t this make you question why it’s not okay? Why is art allowed to talk about all these kinds of risqué subjects, but when it comes to music, apparently we have to be politically correct or along the lines of the authority? It’s still art, it’s still a canvas, and I think that you can talk about whatever the fuck you want in however the hell way you want to talk about it. And I think if you’re too sensitive for my music, then too bad.
Music is my art and I like to say stuff in it. I like to poke fun at society and the fact that people think it’s overtly sexual or crude – I just think that’s funny. Why do words have so much power? I’ve always wondered that.
Why is it so hard for you to hear me say the word pussy, pussy, pussy? My mom can handle it. My dad thinks it’s my best work. Why is it so hard for some women to hear that word? Why is it that society has all of these different images associated with that word that it’s become so crass and taboo? I’ve never shied away from that type of thing. I would rather make you feel uncomfortable and reconsider it, and at least ask yourself why you feel that way. Because honestly, I think most people can’t answer why that is. I think it’s something that’s been told to us in media and society as we were growing up. I don’t even think we really know why we think that, we just do. It’s like, why don’t you question it, or at least reevaluate? Is this how it should be? I don’t know. I’m not saying that it necessarily is or isn’t, but I’m just saying, ask yourself the fucking question. That’s what art’s supposed to do, right? Make you think.
That’s a really good point. So is there anything else you’d like to add about Glory or The New Classic before we end?
You know, I’ve had Glory finished since the start of May. It’s been done this whole time and I’m fucking over it now. I’m over it inside of myself, I’m just so over it. I’ve been over it. I like it for what it is, but I don’t think it – I just don’t think it pushes any boundaries, and I don’t think it does make you think, and I do think that’s what art is supposed to do. I’m trying to make something that makes you think, and Glory is just not that. I want to make shit that makes you wonder. I just want people to take stuff from it, and I don’t know what they’ll take from Glory. That’s fucked up that I would say that about my own project, but at least I’m honest.
I’m not afraid to say what’s wrong with what I create, because I’m an artist, and I’m not perfect. I know who Glory appeals to, and I’m sure they’ll be happy that I made it. And I’m happy I made it too. I love a lot of the songs. I especially love “Flash.” That’s my favorite one. I’m really proud of that record, and I’m really proud of “Murda Bizness.” I’m proud of the video and I’m proud that I did it. But I don’t want people to hear it and think, “is this what everything is going to sound like?” You know? I just want people to know that it’s not, and it will go all the way left and all the way up and all the way down again before you get to The New Classic.
So I just hope people have their opinions, because there will be things that you hear that you probably will hate, that you’ll think is too corny or radio-friendly, and maybe that might be Glory for you. And then there will be some stuff in the middle that you’ll love, and I’m just trying to find the right balance. I’m just trying to share my journey of finding that balance, and when you get to The New Classic, you’ll see it’s called The New Classic for a reason.
Britney Spears isn’t just the princess of pop. She’s a pioneer of the genre who redefines its expectations and stretches its boundaries whenever she releases a new album.
And while her list of greatest hits is familiar to nearly anyone who grew up as part of the TRL generation (and beyond), some of Britney’s finest and most inspiring work was never packaged into singles. Instead, these songs live on the tracklistings of her albums somewhere in between the monster smashes we all know and love.
Far more than just a machine who churns out songs to dance to, Britney is an artist with an extensive catalog of work that is as versatile as it is influential. Below, check out my list of top 10 essential Britney tracks that—unless you’re a more-than-average fanatical fan—you may have largely overlooked. And don’t forget to share your picks for best Britney songs in the comments section below!
10. Can’t Make You Love Me
from Oops! … I Did It Again
By the time Britney released her sophomore album, Oops! … I Did It Again, she was already a global phenomenon. Gone was the cheeky girl-next-door that was introduced on her debut record, and in her place was an established sex symbol whose face could be seen at every newsstand.
While many of Britney’s songs acknowledge her fame (i.e. “My Prerogative,” “Piece of Me,” “Mona Lisa”), Oops! … I Did It Again provides an interesting character study of the pop star. On this album, the then 18-year-old Britney was only first discovering what it meant to be at the center of the public’s eye. Songs such as the hit “Lucky” juxtaposed the glitz and glamour of being America’s sweetheart with the emptiness and artificiality that label can come with.
On “Can’t Make You Love Me,” Britney yearns for her crush to care about her. She compares her life to what it was before she catapulted to superstardom and tries to reassure the song’s muse that, despite the changes in her life, she is still the same person she’s always been at heart.
“I have been through changes, but I’m still the girl you used to know,” she tries to convince. “It’s made me no different, so tell me why you had to go? Oh baby, I will trade the fancy cars for a chance today, it’s incomparable. I might be sitting with the movie stars, everybody says that I just have it all … but I can’t make you love me.”
While the song’s upbeat tempo (dance break included) and sugary bubblegum instrumentation may mask the vulnerability of the lyrics, the dangers of celebrity life are fully on display here: people begin to define you by your public persona rather than by your inner being.
And for Britney, this was just the beginning.
9. Breathe On Me
from In The Zone
One of the fundamental components of building up the brand that is Britney Spears is her raw sexuality. Whether it be a Rolling Stone photo shoot, a sultry music video or an eye-popping performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, Britney has never been one to shy away from the provocative. It’s safe to say that there have been just as many–if not more–headlines about Britney’s sexiness as there have been about her music.
But on her 2004 album, In The Zone, Britney stripped down the spectacle of her sexuality in favor of sensuality.
The primary example of this re-focus comes in the form of “Breathe On Me.” It’s nearly impossible to close one’s eyes and listen to the track without feeling teased by Britney’s deliciously suggestive invitations. Almost tantric, the song is about how the real drive behind good sex is not lust but passion.
“This is way beyond the physical,” Britney seductively coos. “Tonight, my senses don’t make sense at all. My imagination taking us to places we have never been before. Take me in, let it out, don’t even need to touch me, baby, just breathe on me.”
Do your pants feel tighter yet?
8. And Then We Kiss (Junkie XL Remix)
from B In The Mix: The Remixes, Vol. 1
Although the standard version of this song has still to see an official release, “And Then We Kiss” was first introduced to Britney fans in the form of the Junkie XL remix on the singer’s 2005 debut remix compilation, B In The Mix.
Two months prior to this song’s release, Britney celebrated her one-year anniversary with former husband Kevin Federline. She had also just given birth to the pair’s first child, Sean Preston. Therefore, it came as no surprise that the new music emerging from the singer was a declaration of love to this man who had so profoundly changed her life.
“And Then We Kiss” is a midtempo slice of sophisticated electropop that finds Britney needing to be fueled by her lover’s touch. It’s a sensual love letter that showcases how grounded she feels by the man in her life. Without him beside her, she feels lost and uncertain. His presence provides a sense of clarity that makes all the puzzle pieces fit. He focuses, excites and tantalizes her in ways that were foreign to her prior to knowing him.
Although Britney and Kevin’s relationship didn’t last (they finalized a divorce in the summer of 2007), “And Then We Kiss” will always serve as a reminder for the singer of the better days the couple had. It’s a gorgeous song about feeling completed by the love of another individual. And no matter what happened after, it’s worth remembering what that feels like.
7. Toy Soldier
It’s such an incredible shame that the dark days of Britney’s personal life overshadowed the musical genius of her critically acclaimed fifth album, Blackout. Originally released in October 2007, it was the only one of Britney’s seven studio albums that didn’t debut at #1 (although entering the charts at #2 isn’t too shabby either). Not surprisingly, however, it’s the album that keeps on giving.
Earlier this year, it was announced that the record had certified platinum status and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Music Library and Archives – the only Britney record to ever do so. These archives were created to serve as the “most comprehensive repository of materials relating to the history of rock and roll” and to highlight music that would “broaden awareness and understanding of rock and roll, its roots, and its impact on our society.” In other words, even industry experts and scholars admit that Blackout impacted the genre in unprecedented ways.
“Toy Soldier” is a prime example of Blackout’s brilliance. A stomping club banger with a heavy injection of attitude, the saucy track finds Britney raising the bar for her new potential lover. Tired of the weak and subpar men in her life, Britney’s next love interest needs to be a soldier: a strong, assertive guy with a fearless attitude and innate drive to protect and take care of her.
Vocally, Britney is extra peppy as the sprightly, fast-paced verses are accompanied by little yelps and carefully selected drawn out syllables. Set against a military drumroll, the song packs an extra punch as it displays Britney’s confidence and reveals a seldom seen playful side of her.
6. Before The Goodbye
from The Singles Collection (Deluxe Edition)
Originally intended as the lead single from Britney’s eponymous third album, “Before The Goodbye” was replaced prior to the LP’s release with “I’m A Slave 4 U” – and removed from the record’s tracklisting altogether (except as a bonus track in certain countries).
Musically, “Before The Goodbye” was way ahead of its time. Listening to it now, it’s interesting to note that the song shaped Britney’s sound today more than most of her chart-topping hits did. It has an intensely dark electronic feel that would later be fully explored on Blackout and would bleed into all her subsequent releases. Additionally, the quick whipped verses serve as a teaser to her exploration with hip-hop on future songs like her duet with Madonna, “Me Against The Music.”
While it’s a fantastic track, it’s no surprise that “Before The Goodbye” was scrapped in favor of “I’m A Slave 4 U.” At the time it would have been released, the song would have been far too dance-heavy to make an impact on mainstream radio. Going straight from sugary hits like “Oops! … I Did It Again” and “Lucky” to a thumping club anthem like “Before The Goodbye” would have been too abrupt a departure for Britney. While her third album was intended to herald in a new era for the singer, many of her fans, especially the youngest contingent, might have been alienated by such a departure from her original sound.
“I’m A Slave 4 U” was a much safer choice to go with. While it was certainly controversial, too, the song triumphed as a declaration of sexual liberation. It paved the path for an adult Britney while building off the foundation of her bubblegum roots. And although it did present a new and evolved sound for the pop star, it didn’t radically come from left field as “Before The Goodbye” would have.
Included as one of many b-sides and remixes on the deluxe edition of the 2009 compilation, The Singles Collection, “Before The Goodbye” is finally available for mass consumption. And it’s a career-shaping song that no true Britney fan should be without.
5. Inside Out
from Femme Fatale
With last year’s Femme Fatale, Britney introduced dubstep into mainstream pop. Following the success of smash single “Hold It Against Me,” it became standard practice for a pop song to include a dubstep breakdown as musicians like Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Cheryl Cole all followed her lead.
But on the sultry ballad “Inside Out,” Britney proved that dubstep is not just an ingredient to bake dance floor anthems out of. Here, she utilized it as a tool to illustrate her insatiable need for one more memory to cling to before letting a relationship die.
In “Inside Out,” Britney knows she’s about to break up with her lover. But instead of trying to win him back, she makes herself look as desirable as possible to get one last thing out of him: sex.
“So come on, won’t you give me something to remember? Baby shut your mouth and turn me inside out,” she alluringly demands. Whatever else happened between them is irrelevant, as all she’s looking for at the moment is one last hoorah in the bedroom before they part ways entirely.
Britney thus seeks closure by detaching herself emotionally and immersing herself into one final physical act. It’s a rollercoaster for her that’s enhanced by the dramatic dubstep that continues to thrust its way to the song’s surface. Sexy, mature and self-aware, “Inside Out” is as unique as it is bold.
4. Born To Make You Happy (Bonus Remix)
from The Singles Collection (Deluxe Edition)
“Born To Make You Happy” was without a doubt one of the standout tracks on Britney’s debut album, …Baby One More Time. While it was in no way groundbreaking, its simple and cute puppy-love lyrics make it the best Taylor Swift song Taylor Swift never recorded.
On the bonus remix of the track, Britney re-recorded her original vocals to give the song a more acoustic feel. Reducing the original down to her bare vocals and organic instruments, this remix provides for a far more raw take on the song. It’s one of the few recordings where Britney’s vocals take center stage without any sort of enhancement (you even hear her clearing her throat). Listening to this version, it’s easy to picture Britney perched on a stool, holding a microphone and really committing herself to singing her heart out.
Recently re-released on the deluxe edition of The Singles Collection, the bonus remix of “Born To Make You Happy” is both a distinctive treat for Britney fans and a middle finger to those who have criticized her singing abilities over the years.
3. Unusual You
One of the saddest tracks in Britney’s repertoire, “Unusual You” reveals just how jaded the pop princess is when it comes to men. In the song, Britney sings about her confusion that a relationship is actually going well for her instead of falling apart at the seams.
“Baby, you’re so unusual, didn’t anyone tell you you’re supposed to break my heart? I expect you to, so why haven’t you?” she tenderly asks her lover. Talk about trust issues, geez.
Accompanied by a haunting electronic backdrop, this Bloodshy & Avant produced track (the team behind B’s massive hit, “Toxic”) is sprinkled with flurries of piano and a throbbing bassline. It’s a midtempo song with music as ethereal as its lyrical content is melancholy. And what makes it that much more depressing is that to Britney, it’s a happy song about realizing what the true meaning of love is. But to listeners, it’s a song about how psychologically damaged the singer is from the relationships of her past.
One listen in and the song will make you want to buy a plane ticket to Kentwood, Louisiana. After you land, you’ll want to pick up ice cream, drive to Britney’s house for a girls’ night and reassure her that it really does get better.
2. Heaven On Earth
There are surely many reasons that Rolling Stone called Blackout “the most influential pop album of the past five years” (the magazine’s “Decade-End Readers’ Poll” also voted the record to be #7 on the list of best albums between 2000-2010). But one of these reasons has to be the album’s unapologetic determination to explore and conquer territory usually written off as too niche for wide, mainstream audiences.
The Euro-disco fortified “Heaven On Earth” is one such example. The glitzy electronic track is masterfully layered with three individual vocal lines in a way reminiscent of Donna Summer’s classic “I Feel Love.” Throughout the song, Britney interjects the melody with stolen whispers and husky alto decoration, giving “Heaven On Earth” a distinctively multi-textured and celestial aura.
A deeply romantic song, “Heaven On Earth” is about how every detail about her lover provides Britney with a sense of shelter. She’s in love with everything about him. His imperfections become perfections and as long as he’s around, nothing else matters. With him, Britney ascends to otherworldly levels of bliss. It’s a sentimental track that finds our beloved pop star high off of the connection she has with another human being – a feeling she so earnestly yearns for in many other tracks within her back catalog.
1. What It’s Like To Be Me
Everyone remembers when Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake dated. How could you not? They were the golden couple of their time. But what fewer people remember is the incredible collaboration the two had on Britney’s third record.
Closing out the album, “What It’s Like To Be Me” is a punchy self-empowerment anthem. Full of sass and a “don’t fuck with me” attitude, the track is without a doubt one of the edgiest in Britney’s discography.
The song is also much rockier than a typical Britney track. Its dramatic use of strings and thrashing drums give the song sharper corners than most of her material. In turn, this sound also gives the track the courage to risk being a little more experimental.
During the song’s bridge, the music drops out and Britney sings acapella over Justin’s signature beatboxing. Layers of Justin’s background vocals are then looped in as Britney’s voice builds to welcome the explosive return of percussion. And as the song ends, it goes back into Britney and Justin’s acapella back-and-forth all the way through its chill-inducing finale.
Individually, these two artists were pivotal in defining the pop culture of their generation. But together, their work was catapulted to new heights. “What It’s Like To Be Me” not only showcased what Britney and Justin each do best, but it solidified that these two talents were unafraid to change the game and were destined to stay on top for a very long time.
If Rye Rye isn’t on your radar yet, the release of her hotly anticipated debut album, Go! Pop! Bang!, is about to change all of that.
Over two years in the making, Go! Pop! Bang! finally hits stores today. An amalgamation of cleverly crafted hip-hop, explosive club bangers and dabs of trip-hop, the record is a welcome slice of bedazzled sunshine sure to make you drip sweat this summer. And with current single “Boom Boom” recently having crept its way into the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs chart, you might need to start reaching for a towel even sooner than that.
I caught up with the 21-year-old electro-rapper to chat about the album, her peers in the female hip-hop world, her unique fashion sense, why her mentor M.I.A. compared her to a “lost member of Destiny’s Child,” and more.
ALEX NAGORSKI: Where does the title, Go! Pop! Bang! come from?
RYE RYE: Those are lyrics in one of my songs and when we were naming the album, we were looking for words that stood out to describe my energy. And those three words stuck out because they were comic book words and they make you feel excited.
In the past, you’ve described your sound as “hood” meets “hipster.” Can you elaborate a little bit more about what you mean by that?
Well, I do a lot of dance music but I come from the hood and I put a lot of things into it that you wouldn’t normally find on dance tracks. It’s me be bringing my flavor to the hipster world but with hood attitude.
How would you best describe your sound to someone who’s never heard a Rye Rye song before?
There’s a lot of bass and crazy lyrics. I like to experiment in different sounds. It’s just really fun. And definitely dance-y.
In what ways has your sound evolved from the release of your mixtape to the release of Go! Pop! Bang!?
I feel like my mixtape was more Baltimore. I was there for more of it so the music hit home. But for my album, I couldn’t be there because I had to be making my album. On my mixtape, I said what I wanted to and I did whatever. But on my album, I actually made songs. The genre of my music changed as well because it’s not all club music. It’s influenced by other high-energy stuff that fits better into the mainstream market, but with my flavor – versus my mixtape, which was straight underground.
Are there any distinct Baltimore flavors that can still be heard on Go! Pop! Bang!?
Bass. I’ve stuck to the repetition of the bass. On some of the tracks, I’ve stuck in that lane except I was using 808’s to make it more dance-friendly. It was important to me to make music that would just make me want to dance. And of course, my flavor on a track makes it automatically more Baltimore in general – my flow, my everything.
There’s been a significant increase in the number of female hip-hop artists over the past few years. How do you feel your music distinguishes you from some of your peers like Nicki Minaj?
I think it’s cool. I’m glad that all these females have their own sounds and I support every female artist out there. But we’re all different in our own ways and I feel like that plays a major part. Your fans love you for what you do and if everybody sounded the same, it would kind of take away from that. I think it’s really awesome that we’re all different and we all have our own flavor.
You’ll be working with a few of these ladies on the upcoming remix to M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” (along with Missy Elliott and Azealia Banks) and have collaborated in the past with Iggy Azalea on your mixtape, so I definitely get the impression that you support one another’s work.
Yeah well, when we were created the mixtape, the songs sort of seemed like they were all going in the same direction so I wanted to freshen it up. On that song with Iggy, I sampled a track by Kanye and Jay-Z and I did a straight, hard remix to it. But then I kept wanting to get someone else on there. At first I wanted to feature a guy but then someone was like, “this song is so strong already so if anything, you should put another girl on there.” So I thought Iggy would be cool because I like her flow and she’s doing that type of hood stuff I like and I thought she’d be good for it.
In addition to M.I.A., Go! Pop! Bang! features collaborations with a wide variety of artists, including Robyn, Akon, Tyga and Porcelain Black. If you could record a duet with any contemporary musician, who would it be and why?
Missy Elliott, definitely. She’s one of my favorite artists. She’s just so interesting and is someone I would totally love to work with. Especially because she’s so visual. What she does in her videos is so creative and is so based around dancing, which is my first love. So I was always into that. And Kanye West is one of my favorite artists too.
You and M.I.A. have been friends for a long time. You appeared in the music video and on a remix for her hit “Paper Planes,” you became the first artist signed to her record label (N.E.E.T.), you’ve toured together and she collaborated with you on a few tracks from Go! Pop! Bang!, including the lead single, “Sunshine.” What was the best mentoring moment she gave you over your years working together?
When I first started touring with her, her style rubbed off on me. She always told me, “you can wear anything but you’ve got to wear it with attitude. If you wear something with confidence, nobody can really tell you anything bad about it.” When I would go back to Baltimore, a lot of people were really close-minded. So if I’d wear something in my style, they would look at me and think I was crazy because they weren’t exposed to that swag culture yet. But what M.I.A. said about that really stuck with me. She told me to be myself and work with and embrace what I was wearing, so I ran with it. Then there was other stuff like if record labels were ever doing something that I didn’t want, to always put my foot down and stay true to who I was and to stay true to Baltimore. Those are the two main things that have stuck with me to this day.
Another thing that makes you stand out is your incredibly unique sense of fashion. Can you tell me a little bit more about where you draw your style inspirations from?
I love being street but for grownups. Back in the day, I used to wear a lot of baggy clothing and a lot of street clothing. M.I.A. used to say to me “oh no, I don’t want you to wear heels. You look like a lost member of Destiny’s Child!” But now that I’m older, I like to wear things like heels with streetwear and outerwear, like t-shirts or leggings. I really just have my own style. I like taking risks and I’ll wear anything. I like things that are bright and patterns that pop.
You’ve been associated with various fashion designers such as Prabal Gurung and Jeremy Scott. If you were to come out with your own clothing line, what would be some of the signature looks?
I’m a big fan of crop tops. I feel like that those are the types of shirts you can wear anywhere – to the store, to the club, wherever. Plus they’re comfortable and also fashionable. I’m also a big fan of leggings. I wear leggings all the time and I feel the most comfortable when I’m in them. And I love latex stuff now too. I’m getting into a lot of rubber dresses, so I’m into a lot of different styles.
This year, you also made your acting debut in the box office smash 21 Jump Street. Is acting something we’ll be seeing you do a lot more of in the future?
Yes! I would love to. I’m working on it. I love it. I don’t have anything lined up right now but I’m working on setting it up.
Now that your album is finally being released, can your fans expect a tour in the near future?
Yeah! I’m putting together the tour. I’ve got a couple shows lined up but I know for sure we’ll be hitting up New York and Portland – but I don’t really know the rest off hand.
What’s something your fans most likely don’t know about you that would surprise them?
I’m very sensitive about real life stuff. Like, seeing homeless people is like heart failure for me. I take that very seriously and I always say I want to open up a shelter for them. I really care about people a lot. I’ve got a lot of crazy energy and I like to do my thing and people know me from the club scene, but I really have a heart.
You turned 21 back in November. How did you celebrate this milestone birthday?
Prior to that, I was in Vegas doing some shows with LMFAO so I was celebrating days in advance. I really didn’t do anything on my actual birthday though. I stayed in because I was on tour. And being able to perform and being on the road and doing what I love was already a celebration for me. I was celebrating the whole time.
And for my final question, what about the release of Go! Pop! Bang! are you most excited about?
I’m just relieved more than anything because the album’s been such a long time coming. I feel like now I can finally breathe because I don’t have to wait for it anymore.
28-year-old UK pop sensation Cheryl Cole has been poised to break America for quite some time now.
In her home country, Cheryl is a household name. As part of pop group Girls Aloud, Cheryl had twenty top ten consecutive hits, including four number #1s. She then landed two #1 hits of her own with “Fight For This Love” and “Promise This” after launching a solo career in 2009.
With a resume like that, one would assume that Cheryl would have at least been on the radar of American audiences. Yet her music never attracted the airwaves of US radio, causing her to be relatively unknown this side of the Atlantic.
Following a successful stint as a judge on the British version of The X Factor from 2008-2011, Cheryl was offered a spot by Simon Cowell on the judges’ panel of the reality show’s American incarnation. Finally it seemed as though she was going to get her chance to make her real introduction to the land of the free and the home of the Big Mac.
But then like the venomous cockroach that she is, Nicole Scherzinger struck down with her reign of terror and ruined everything. It was almost Shakespearean; the way Nicole poisoned her competition. One devious plan later, Cheryl was out just weeks into the initial auditions and guess who was suddenly first in line to be her replacement? What’s done is done, indeed, Lady Macbeth.
Maybe it’s true then that the third time’s a charm. Because with her new single, “Call My Name,” Cheryl has delivered a smash so massive, its chart impact will most likely be felt across the world. And this time around, America will be no exception.
Released this morning on British radio, “Call My Name” marks the debut collaboration between Cheryl and hit-making producer Calvin Harris. His Midas touch for monster hits (i.e. Rihanna‘s “We Found Love“) and signature emphasis on gargantuan electropop hooks (i.e. Scissor Sisters‘ “Only The Horses“) makes for the perfect formula to re-launch Cheryl from a national into an international pop treasure.
And while Harris’ formula is in no way innovative or boundary pushing, it’s a catchy one that fits perfectly with Cheryl’s voice. We don’t say that Cheryl’s always sounded more like Britney than Christina. We don’t say that she’s not exactly the vocalist of her generation. But now we said it. And if Cheryl is looking for a global genre takeover, submerging herself into a pool of electronica-amplified dance/pop is without question the way to go.
“How do you think I feel when you call my name/ You got me confused by the way I changed/ How do you think I feel when you call my name/ My name/ Say my name, baby,” Cheryl croons over the fist-pump-inducing and addictively repetitive chorus.
The lead single from Cheryl’s upcoming third album, A Million Lights, “Call My Name” is the closest contender so far to being the song of the summer. Which only goes to show that sometimes a feel-good generic dancefloor anthem goes a lot further than a messy mashup of too many genres and sounds (are you taking notes, Nicki Minaj?).
A Million Lights, out in the UK on June 18th via Polydor Records, features collaborations with Alex Da Kid, frequent musical partner Will.I.Am, the glamorously infamous Lana Del Rey, Jim Beanz and newcomers Pantha and HyGrade. With a roster as impressively fruitful as that, it’s pretty safe to assume that Cheryl will score her third #1 album in a row.
And while details of a US release for A Million Lights have yet to surface, Cheryl Cole is a name that American audiences are about to become increasingly familiar with. The singer will be appearing in the upcoming chick-flick What To Expect When You’re Expecting (starring Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez) and has reportedly been offered a role on ABC’s smash sitcom, Modern Family. Meanwhile, the now unemployed Nicole Scherzinger (can you say karma?) is still trying to track down the e-mail addresses of the producers of Where Are They Now?.
With an accompanying Anthony Mandler-directed music video set to drop on Vevo on May 2nd, “Call My Name” is the ticket Cheryl has been waiting for to become America’s favorite new British import. It may not be her first single, but the song marks the debut of a huge new era and turning point for Cheryl – one in which she breaks out from her comfort zone and dominates pop charts everywhere.
Don’t be surprised once Call My Name takes over clubs and airwaves. Between the release of this explosive new single and Cheryl’s string of upcoming high profile appearances, it looks like America will finally catch on and start calling her name after all.