Fight, Fight, Fight for This Swagger Jagger

Cheryl Cole, nee Tweedy, is one fifth of a British girl group (Girls Aloud), manufactured on a competitive reality show, turned celebrity/solo artist.  Cher Lloyd is a British solo artist, mentored by Cheryl Cole on a competitive reality show.  Cheryl is huge is the UK.  Depending upon your level of interest in British pop culture, you may or may not have heard of her.  She sputtered when she tried to break the market in America.  Cher is well known in the UK, but has achieved a global success that Cheryl was not able to attain, breaking the American market with a re-released single from her first album–on her first try.

This is Cheryl Cole:

This is Cher Lloyd:

They are remarkably similar physically.  Both are tiny, pretty, brown-eyed girls with sweet features, and great smiles.  They are remarkably similar as vocalists, as well.  Neither are great shakes as singers, but both have released funky, poppy, can-dance-to-them tunes, produced by some of the biggest names in the business.  Both have been taken under the wings of major rap and hip-hop artists, and they share very similar management.

So why did one work in the American market and not the other?

I would wager that the reason Cher Lloyd broke the states, and Cheryl Cole didn’t is the same reason that the Spice Girls are still US favorites, and most of the US has no idea what Girls Aloud are. 

If you head over to YouTube and listen to some Girls Aloud [this is one of my favorites], you’ll come away thinking, “Ah–obvious successors to the Spice Girls throne.” [and for fairness, my favorite Spice Girls video]  But, for all their trying, they weren’t.

The Spices (Posh having been name-linked to Cheryl Cole through shared interest in their husbands’ professions.  Posh is married to soccer god David Beckham, and Cheryl Cole is divorced from Becks’ former teammate Ashley Cole–why do I know this?!) were a manufactured girl group from nowhere, who burst onto the scene with color, and excitement, and posturing, and nonsensical lyrics, and “Girl Power, feminism, blah blah blah!”  They were all platform heels, insane hair, and performance art, comprised of one really good vocalist (Melanie Chisolm, Mel C a/k/a Sporty, sadly, also the least charismatic of the group), three decent vocalists, and Posh (the one who struggled in all areas, save looking good.) 

Girls Aloud were formed by process of elimination on Popstars the Rivals, a precursor to the X Factor (from when Cher Lloyd came), with one of the Spice Girls (Gerri Haliwell a/k/a Ginger Spice) as part of the judging panel (again, why do I know this?!)  They burst onto the scene with glorious beauty, and lip gloss, and nonsensical lyrics, and erm…lip gloss!  They were all luscious hair extensions, and false eyelashes, and wind machines, comprised of one excellent vocalist (Nadine Coyle), three middling vocalists, and Cheryl Cole (the one who struggled in all areas, save looking good.  Even Ginger Spice said so!)

The Spice Girls were in on the joke.  They had carefully and definitively cultivated images, but they weren’t just the image.  They came to work.  They came to perform.  They came to show you a good time.  And if you laughed?  Well, they were laughing, too.  Spice World, anyone?  (If you have not seen Spice World, you are truly missing out.  I mean this sincerely.)  They were successful because they came to entertain YOU.  They were focused on pleasing YOU.  They played to the audience.

Girls Aloud had little to no sense of humor.  Their carefully cultivated image was glossy video sex appeal.  Aside from Nadine’s vocals, the group didn’t have anything much different from lingere models, and their imaged was propped up for the audience to admire.  They were serious about achieving celebrity, and there was no joking about their images.  (I cannot find the interview they did with Russell Brand, where he throws them for a loop, calling the least attractive of the group the most beautiful, and ignoring the two most popular.  He negs Nadine so effectively, I expected her to climb into his lap for attention the first time I saw it.)

So which would you rather go see?  A group of middling singers who perform and engage, and work to bring you entertainment, or a group of middling singers who perform and pose, and work to look attractive, expecting that to be enough?  And don’t get me wrong, Girls Aloud are gorgeous, but no way in hell would Nadine Coyle be making Spice World.

It’s the same thing with Cher and Cheryl.  Cher, though a poor singer, is a brilliant performer.  She is engaging and energetic, and she is working her tail feathers off to bring you a good time.  She wants to perform because she loves the audience.  Cheryl is beautiful, and she clearly works at making the best of what she has vocally, and she clearly works hard at learning her performance.  But she performs because she wants you to love her.

Spice Girls/Cher Lloyd=Want You to Love the Show They are Doing for You

Girls Aloud/Cheryl Cole=Want You to Love Them

And you know what the American market loves?  A good time.  You show us a good time, and we will love you.  We will zigga-zig-ah your socks off with appreciation, no matter how goofy your hair is.

That’s how to break the American market.  Just like a helicopter!

Album Review: All You Need Is Now

I thought about kicking it old school and writing as serious a review as I would have when I was getting paid to listen to music I got for free, but I am too lazy to do it just now, and I will forget later. I’ll just give you the rundown as I hear it.

Much has been made of All You Need Is Now being Duran Duran’s comeback album. Quite honestly, I didn’t think the album could live up to the hype. Mark Ronson. Kelis. Ana Matronic. It sounded like it was going to be overkill to me. After the disappointingly average (thought not bad at all) collaboration with Timbaland, I was hoping the Durans would scrap producers altogether and just let John Taylor play the fooking bass. And, after hearing a couple of leaked tracks, I was less than underwhelmed. But…

Once the album dropped on iTunes, I found myself grooving along to several of the tracks on first listen. Without even a second go, I had a couple of them stuck in pleasant head-loops. I started to get excited. I hadn’t felt this way about their music in, well, decades. I liked it well enough to go see them live, something I hadn’t done in 22 years, and then I watched their live stream, David Lynch produced concert from The Mayan. And I loved every second of it.

Today, I went out and bought the Deluxe Edition CD for the extra tracks. I didn’t want to stop my car! I’ve been listening to this on my computer, and there was a huge difference in sound in my car. I was excited. I was elated. I was fourteen again. The Man Who Stole a Leopard came on, and it was the same feeling I used to get in my chest when I would listen to The Chauffer or Secret Oktober.

Look, I am an old school, diehard Duran Duran fan. I will argue the merits of their music against any hall of famers, any day. With the exception of the execrable Pop Trash, I have found something to enjoy on every album. My favorites of theirs are from the very lean years, Big Thing and Liberty, with their first album and the Wedding Album tying for third. So, you see, it isn’t like I’m someone who loved Rio and hasn’t looked back since Andy left the band. I haven’t been wondering where Duran Duran has been all these years. I know exactly where they’ve been, and I’ve been right there to listen, hoping to love what I heard.

This album…this…this is the album I’ve been waiting for all this time. This is the album that makes me feel something when I listen to it, and there are precious few of those: Molly’s Yes (Wonderland), Fiona Apple (When the Pawn), Arcadia (So Red the Rose), Erasure (The Innocents), Loreena Mckennit (Book of Secrets…!!!!), Duran Duran (The Wedding Album). This is the album I will be listening to for a long, long time.

Yeah, they were quite right. All I needed was now.

Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me

Listen, I had a rough night. It happens. I got up this morning feeling it in my bones. Gloom. Despair. Agony. Woe! Woe! I needed music.

When All You Need is Now wouldn’t load, and Molly’s Yes wasn’t doing the trick, I turned to YouTube with something very specific in mind. Hee Haw. Yes. Hee Haw.

I was at least half-smiling after watching it three times.

My father was deployed overseas for most of my small childhood. I think he only lived with us for two out of my first six years. Family time was a non-concept to me, so imagine what a revelatory delight it was for me to realize that my mother, father and I could sit down and watch a TV show together. We did that with Hee Haw.

I can remember sitting on the arm of my father’s chair, smiling. I liked the show. It had pretty ladies with shiny hair, and a donkey. And Minnie Pearl. I loved Minnie Pearl. She had hats. I looked at my father, who was laughing. I looked at my mother, who was laughing. I was laughing, too. We were all three laughing at the same thing, at the same time, maybe even for the same reason!

Yeah, we went to Disney World when I was 9, but the best times I remember with both my parents were spent laughing at television shows. Hee Haw and Designing Women being the two that we could all enjoy.

The Passenger

This one is for Renae.

In 2000, Renae and I headed off to Europe for a coach tour (you can read about it here.) It was cramped, close quarters as we rolled through January in the frozen European countryside. Renae’s long legs were best seated in the aisle, and my motion sickness was best suited to the window, so we spent hour upon hour, riding and riding and riding, and riding some more, and then riding some more whenever the driver would get lost. I’m not sure how many times we circled St. Goar before finally landing in their gingerbread village, but it was long enough that I was bouncing my forehead against the window, hoping for the salvation of unconsciousness. There is a picture of me sprawled across the bed of our Inn there. It is an excellent representation of just how I felt by the time we arrived.

Frequently, we would spend six hours on the coach at a time. As you can imagine, those of us who could, would sleep. I would get into my toque, which was about two sizes too large for my head, and pull it down to my chin like the cover on a birdcage, and nod off. And, like everyone else who could sleep, I would lurch into wakefulness with a start every time Midgie-the-Tour-Guide would turn on Iggy Pop’s, The Passenger, at an ear-bleeding volume of 11. This was how Midgie liked to announce we were rolling to a stop. By the end of the tour, I wanted to find Iggy Pop, pick him up by his ankles, swing him like a bat and knock Midgie into the bleachers. I hated them both.

Now? Now, The Passenger numbers on my personal hit parade. I hear it and I remember how much fun Renae and I had together, and separately. I remember how we started a snowball fight in front of our hotel in Germany, then went inside when it was clear our Australian counterparts meant war, and watched from the window in our room as those same counterparts were rounded up by hotel security and reprimanded for the display. I remember how much fun it was to watch Charlie’s Angels in a Parisian theater, and the goofy things we did at the expense of fine art in the Louvre. And, I remember how passionately we both felt about strangling Midgie. Good times.

Nothing wrong with being the passenger.

The Wedding Album

I wouldn’t call myself a music buff at all. I know what I know, and I like what I like, and that’s that. I couldn’t tell you Green Day from that band that sang the song about the old people disappearing without their car–apparently I can’t tell you they are either. Some baseball reference. I dunno. I can tell you all about James Bond, if you are interested, but I can only tell you about music as it relates to me. And since this is my blog…

There are songs and whole albums which have made great impressions and impacts on my life. Some albums carried me through heartbreak. Some songs became my theme songs in my personal soundtrack. I play certain music to help me get into certain characters. Listen, I have been cranky as a bear all morning (ask Amy), and I started playing Chic and now I’m just back to normal. Happy. Bouncy. Shaking my booty.

You know that Dance Like No One is Watching thing? My motto is Dance Like No One is Laughing. I don’t care if you watch, or if you like what you see. I’m not dancing for you. I’m dancing for me!

Since I’ve told you some of my New York story, I’ll tell you the album I relate to it.

Before heading up to the Big Apple for the first time, a friend passed along a bootleg copy of an album that would become Duran Duran’s Wedding Album. At the time, it was under the working title Four on the Floor. It ranks in my top 3 of their albums, and you all know they are in my top 3 favorite bands of all time. You’ve all heard Ordinary World and Come Undone, but that album also offered Love Voodoo, which is such a dirty groove…lol. Another one of my favorites.

I can listen to that album on repeat with no issue. It is a lovely, lovely and also a dirty, dirty funk album, with some grit to it. It’s like a Ducati. It’s sleek, and it’s dangerous, you want to get on it and fly, and when you get off, you’re going to be a little grimy, but you don’t care. It is worth every bug in your teeth. It is the absolute antithesis of Pop Trash, which is probably one of the worst albums I’ve ever heard.

Anyway, I spent a lot of time in NYC, sitting on a fire escape, listening to the pre-cursor to this album. Ordinary World comes on, and I am transported. I had some Chanel liquid liner, and a bottle of Revlon’s Raven Red nail varnish. I would sit on the fire escape painting my nails and trying to accomplish the perfect cat eye, and I would watch the street go by below me. The weather was awful. It was hot, and humid, and the sky was always kind of gray. And I was in love with a city for the first time in my life.

The Wedding Album is married to NYC in my mind, and when I was up there in January, all I could hear was Breath after Breath. And I was happy.