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DONNA SUMMER REVIVAL?Â… Will Jennifer Hudson and La Toya London — and Fantasia Barrino too, if the worst happens — get recording contracts after the debacle of this year’s American Idol competition? Here’s hoping so. But at the moment we’re just as interested in a separate, related question: Will Donna Summer try yet again to revive her career? She sure gave it a boost from a terrific, tremendous performance on Idol last week. But is there a place for female baby boomers in pop music these days? That’s the million-dollar question of the day. The answer seems to be no, given that first Madonna and now even Janet Jackson can’t make a go of it, sales-wise. And despite her still pristine power pipes, Summer hasn’t gotten very far in even dance circles in the past year with the new song "You’re So Beautiful" or the greatest-hits album it was taken fromÂ…
DONNA SUMMER’S LASTING INFLUENCEÂ… Speaking of Summer, her influence is being felt at least twice around the pop charts of late. Most famously, it’s her "Love to Love You Baby" that supplies much of the heat to Beyonce‘s latest smash hit, "Naughty Girl." That song is inching up ever closer to the top of several charts, including the Dance Club Play Chart, which is also home to another Summer-inspired ditty: Goldfrapp‘s "Strict Machine" takes the chorus and the mechanically precise rhythm of Summer’s "I Feel Love" as its starting point in fashioning a bewitching song about man vs. machine (in bed). There’s plenty more where that came from on Goldfrapp’s Black Cherry, the British group’s sophomore album that alternates from soothing chillout to brooding electro in an unexpectedly consistent manner. Just off a U.K. tour opening for Duran Duran, Goldfrapp didn’t get nearly as much attention in the U.S. as it deserved upon the album’s release last year. Here’s hoping "Strict Machine" continues its quick ascent up the Club Play Chart, and soon the Hot Dance Singles Chart, with the just-released remixes from Victor Calderone, Peter Rauhofer and othersÂ…
EUROPOP’S CHICK KIEVÂ… Last week, we mentioned the Eurovision Song Contest, at which the first same-sex married contestant was competing. Well Tomas Thordarson from Denmark didn’t make it past the qualifier round. He was two points shy of what he needed to make it to the finals, which instead was dominated by New Europe: newly eligible entry Serbia & Montenegro took second, while Ukraine’s Ruslana won the contest. She’ll hit the states to tour later this summer, when she’ll also release her English-language debut, according to Billboard. On a related note, ABBA won Eurovision 30 years ago this year. And now, 23 years after they split up, not even $2 billion could entice the Swedes to regroup, according to Reuters. Maybe it’s just as well, since Bjorn Ulvaeus told the news service: "I cannot remember a whole lyric of any that I have written. I am translating them into Swedish now for the first time because we are doing a production [of Mamma Mia! The Musical] in Sweden at the beginning of next year. I find that I don’t know them by heart — not one of them"…
REMIXING’S VIRTUESÂ… Are dance remixes of popular Hot 100 chart hits a fad now coming slowly to an end? Maybe not, judging by the movers and shakers on any week’s dance chart. Too many times though these remixes seem to be a marketing ploy for an R&B balladeer to further her career — or actually sell records. But there is still some value left in the practice; sometimes a remix makes you even appreciate for the first time the slower version of the song. Take "Fake" by Simply Red. (Yes the "Holding Back the Years" band is still around today but you haven’t heard from them in part because they’re without a label.) Buried as it was among mellow, dull tracks on Mick Hucknall & Co.’s self-released album from last year, Home, "Fake" went unnoticed until we recently stumbled on its CD Maxi-Single, where Love 2 Infinity draws out the angst in the song’s meaning. Love 2 Infinity’s Classic Mix features dramatic keyboard strokes, all the more powerful because of their simple three-note back-and-forth pattern. After that — and the pleasant disco vibe of Phunk Investigation‘s Exte Club Mix — draws your attention, listen to the mid-tempo, Motown-inspired original, and also give renewed attention to the radio edit of the song. Its simple two-chord piano flourishes was the clear inspiration for Love 2 Infinity, and that simple melody adds layers of mixed emotions to the pining lyrics. As shocking as it sounds, the slow-tempo radio edit turns out to move us more, in the end.
Unfortunately, "Fake" isn’t the Simply Red track just finishing a high-profile run on the Billboard Dance Chart. (It did that a couple months ago, reaching the chart’s peak.) And the group’s remake of the R&B ballad "You Make Me Feel Brand New" proves a different point entirely. No matter how much a remixer — even an obviously great one, like Love 2 Infinity — may try to transform a lackluster original song to make it at least tolerable if not enjoyable, sometimes it just doesn’t work. I don’t understand how the just plain awful "Brand New" remixes made it as high as No. 5 on the dance chart, but fortunately that’s as high as it got. Here’s hoping we never again have to suffer through its utterly cheesy emoting. "God bless me and you," indeedÂ…
A DJ’S NO SPIN ZONEÂ… Dance music makers are a competitive lot, since there are a great number of them, chasing after the same fame from a relatively small pool of consumers. But that small pool makes them a rather collegial bunch, and most of them mince words when put on the spot to talk about the industry and, especially, their competitors. Not Peter Rauhofer. He gave a blunt breath of fresh air in a recent interview in New York’s HX magazine, where he lodged a five-pronged broadside against Maurice Joshua. It’s too juicy to pass up here.
1. "Everybody knows that Maurice Joshua only got the Grammy because of all the hype around Beyonce at the time of the awards." Joshua, you see, won this year’s Grammy for Best Remixer for his work on Beyonce’s incredible "Crazy in Love." It surely helped matters that the song and Beyonce’s debut album, Dangerously in Love, were just beginning to peak at the time of voting. Unlike, say, Christina Aguilera‘s "Beautiful," which peaked nearly a year before.
2. "None of the DJs I know played the Maurice Joshua mix" of "Crazy in Love." "Junior [Vasquez] deserved to be nominated for a Grammy for his remix of [of the song] more than Maurice Joshua." Uh-huh.
3. "It’s about the Remix of the Year; it’s not some lifetime achievement award or what this guy did back in 1992 when he remixed CeCe Peniston, you know?" Joshua remixed Peniston? Wow, somehow that escaped our notice. Which is not surprising, Rauhofer contends.
4. "Who is this guy? We never heard of him." That’s how Rauhofer categorizes most people’s response at the mention of Joshua’s name. And he’s right: Joshua has been remixing one R&B singer after another for years, but about the only time you ever encounter his name is at Grammy time. Ah, and there’s a reason for that too, Rauhofer says, lobbing his deadliest attack yet.
5. "Maurice Joshua is on the Grammy committee that decides who gets nominated for Best Remix — and he has been nominated every year! If that’s the way it is, then I’m going to become a member and nominate myself every year, too!" Ouch.
Now, before you start thinking Rauhofer’s just a sore loser, think again. True, Joshua snagged this year’s Grammy from Rauhofer, nominated for his popular remix of Christina Aguilera’s "Beautiful." But Rauhofer, as Club 69, has already won a rare dance music Grammy for Best Remixer. He earned that in 2000Â…
RAUHOFER’S DIVA TRIBEÂ… Rauhofer is the gay Austrian behind the leading underground dance label Star 69 Records, and he spins every other week at the Roxy’s popular gay Saturday night party in New York. While we’re here, we’d like to share a gripe of our own. During his five years at the Roxy he’s rarely stopped in DC, which of course is just a hop, skip and a big electric bounce away. Could someone finally rectify this oversight?
FILL ME UP WITH GASÂ… Can music make you hungry? Some of it sure can give you gas. Haru, a New York-based Japanese restaurant chain, is achieving at least one of these feats. "You’ve danced to it. Now eat to it." That’s Haru’s advertising slogan, referencing the popular current dance hit of the same name. To ensure you don’t forget it, the name serves as both the title of the song and the artist. (The song’s female singer, as is regretfully common custom in dance pop, goes unnamed). And the name is repeated like a birdcall on the track, as is the play-on-words line "you fill me up." But assuming you weren’t already aware of the song’s marketing origins, don’t you feel bloated now? Gad Romann — hired by Haru to handle advertising, the very reason he created the song — trusts you won’t. He told Billboard that it all depends on where you first heard the song. "If that first experience was authentic, positive and legitimate, ‘Haru’ will be accepted as a song," Romann says. "Then, when you find out that it’s also the name of a restaurant, you won’t feel cheated." That’s awfully presumptuous on his part. Dance music the past few years has been used to sell non-music related products, but let’s hope this variation of the trend doesn’t catch on, or we could soon be dancing to Buca di Beppo, Red Lobster or perhaps the forthcoming Girls Gone Wild restaurant chain.
Of course the worst of it all is that "Haru" is such an innocuously tuneful track. Actually, no. The worst of it all is the approach that Romann’s production company, as with so many others, is taking to create music. He told Billboard, "We are not building artists’ careers; we are building content." It’s that lack of a named living and breathing being out in front of a song that’s killing dance music today, turning it into the musical equivalent of canned refried beans. Sure it tastes okay, but watch out. It’ll come back to bite you in the ass — and not in a good wayÂ…
BLOND AMBITION I: KRISTINE W… We have good news, bad news and mixed news to share about three "blond" ambition singers. First the mixed news: The amazingly talented Kristine W — surely one of the most far-ranging, energetic live performers dance pop has ever produced — told Metro Weekly last month that her upcoming fourth album will be her first to diverge from uptempo dance pop. The followup to last year’s Fly Again will be a musical fusion, mixing jazz standards with a modern-day chill out lounge sensibility. It’s more a reflection of what she tells us she listens to at home, beyond the dance music that fuels her mornings. She specifically cited Mel Torme, Annie Lennox, Sarah Vaughan, Chaka Kahn and even Heart as artists who get repeated play during the day. Does she worry she’ll lose her dance-pop fans by making the switch? Not at all. "There’ll be lyrics and stories they can relate to." But for good measure, she quickly added: "And there will of course be some dance tunes on it, and of course we’ll be remixing it as well"Â…
BLOND AMBITION II: JEWEL… Was it only a year ago that Jewel courted us by speeding up her music and adding electronic touches? The video for her lady-razor-christening first single, "Intuition," even spoofed MTV with its text message from a fan glowing about how he likes Jewel much better "now that she’s dancing." Well, party’s over. According to Rolling Stone, Jewel is at work on her fifth album, to be released next year. The artist says "it’s going to be really lo-fi," featuring songs that Jewel has played live for years but never recorded. It will be far removed from the dance-oriented material of last year’s appealing dance pop album 0304, according to the magazine. That was apparently just a passing fancy — passed over, perhaps, because the album and its singles were only modestly successful, nothing close to the fancy she was surely gunning forÂ…
BLOND AMBITION III: GWEN S… But fear not, as another "blond" singer will pick up where Jewel and Kristine W left off — and we’re inclined to think Gwen Stefani will at least match Kristine W and far exceed Jewel in uptempo pop artistry, given her track record. The No Doubt frontwoman and fashionista will release later this year her solo debut. Billboard recently quoted Stefani talking about a track written with No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal "that is really a mixture of everything we loved growing up: Prince, Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam, and Club Nouveau." Sounds fun and funky. Also promising is earlier reports of collaborations with producers Dallas Austin (most recently known for creating Janet Jackson’s ear-candy club hit "Just a Little While"), Missy Elliott, the Neptunes, and best yet, Outkast’s Andre 3000 ("Hey Ya"). A single should be ready for release this summer, after No Doubt’s tour next month. And then, in November, around the time of the album’s release — what a synergistic coincidence! — Stefani will make her big-screen debut, in Martin Scorsese’s biopic about Howard Hughes,"The Aviator." Stefani will play Jean HarlowÂ…