Posts Tagged ‘Vision Of Love’

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hypocritical much?

August 29, 2009

Okay, I realise that I’m in serious danger of stanning for Mariah Carey before the album even drops, and I posted about her only yesterday.  But reading certain blogs and forums, which I know are only opinions often by a lot of small minded people or people who are blatantly paid to support certain artists, I can’t help but feel that there is some injustice going on.

Mariah Carey releases a cover song, “I Want To Know What Love Is”.  According to some, she is whispering too much through the song because she has lost her voice and can never get it back.  Others say that she is shrieking and howling and squeaking like an animal.  Which is it?  Either you are shrieking and howling, or you have lost your voice – it can’t be both.  I personally think that her voice is damaged somewhat, and isn’t the same as it was as she first came out. I acknowledge that, and then I say that she is still the best female vocalist around today.  This is part of the hypocrisy I am perceiving; people want to down Mariah Carey for lip-synching a few times, but when she does sing live, they criticise her for a whispery voice not like on the record / oversinging her song with too many histrionic outbursts / not being able to sing and dance at the same time.  What do people want?  Nobody is perfect, but Mariah Carey is possibly the closest that we have.  I would like to warn Beyoncé, who is the most prominently successful young singer / songwriter / dancer / entertainer of the new era – THIS IS YOUR FUTURE. Hate no matter what you do, and the majority of people’s opinions on your album is dictated by how much media support / criticism it gains.  It was decided by the media before the album even dropped that The Emancipation Of Mimi would be a smash hit / “comeback”.  It was decided by the media before the album even dropped that E=MC² would not live up to The Emancipation Of Mimi either in terms of sales or in terms of quality.  I happen to prefer E=MC² because I think the songs are slightly stronger, whereas I tend to skip a few of them on Mimi. I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing, but I’m just tired of stans putting one artist down for no decent reason, and criticising an album when they probably haven’t even listened to it.  If you have an opinion, please back it up.  I may not agree with you, but at least I will respect you.

So people are dogging Mariah Carey because she decided to cover a song.  Um, “Without You” was also a cover, but nobody had a problem with her version of that 16 years ago?  Also, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” was a fantastic song that was a cover version of Dolly Parton’s original. I don’t hear anyone having a problem with that song.  In fact, let’s talk about Whitney Houston.  I nearly did this yesterday, but I managed to restrain myself; after reading some of the frankly retarded opinions posted on Lil’ Kim Zone, I can no longer hold my tongue.  Whitney Houston’s new album is okay.  I like some of the songs (“Salute” is my favourite), I think others are atrocious.  Mostly, I like the ballads and dislike the uptempos.  That’s fine, you can’t win ’em all, and I know that other people are really enjoying her record.  Her voice sounds good, but undeniably not how it did before (she doesn’t belt, she riffs too much).  These are criticisms which, funnily enough, have been levelled at Mariah Carey.  Okay.  Whitney Houston’s new single “Million Dollar Bill” has peaked in the mid-70s on the Billboard Chart.  Mariah Carey’s song has stayed within the Top 20 of that chart for the past 5-6 weeks.  So don’t tell me that Mariah Carey is pushing her album back because she is scared of Whitney Houston; don’t tell me that her career is ‘flopping’.  If you want me to quote stats, I can do: “Obsessed” has had her highest chart debut in 11 years, and its digital sales currently stand at 526,000.  Whitney Houston’s newest song has sold 32,000 copies, which is about 6% of what Mariah’s single has sold.  Who should be scared?

Let’s talk about songwriting.  As far as I am aware, Whitney Houston has only written one song in her catalogue – the massively successful “Whatchulookinat” (that is sarcasm, by the way).  Mariah Carey writes 90% of all her material – and not only is she involved in writing lyrics, but she also has a hand in creating and producing the music.  Of course, because Mariah Carey’s newest song is a cover version, there have been snide comments about her not being able to hire a decent team of songwriters to write a hit for her.  In actuality, this is something Mariah Carey has never done; she has never hired anybody to write her material.  Songs such as “Vision Of Love”, “Dreamlover”, “Hero”, “Fantasy”, “One Sweet Day”, “Always Be My Baby”, “Heartbreaker”, “We Belong Together”, “Don’t Forget About Us”, “Touch My Body” all have songwriting credits to Mariah Carey. By the way, all those songs went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and “One Sweet Day” and “We Belong Together” jointly hold the record for the longest stretch at #1, which is 16 weeks.  I enjoy Mariah Carey’s music, whether it charts highly or not.  I loved her Glitter album when her career was at a real low point, and I still think that “Lead The Way” and “Never Too Far” are two of her best songs and vocal performances to date.  I think that Charmbracelet was a more heartfelt and personal album than The Emancipation Of Mimi, despite Mimi selling 5 times what Charmbracelet sold.  I am able to have an opinion on the music which is separate from how much it sells, because what’s important to me is whether I like the damn songs and vocals and music, not how successful it is.  Just because an artist isn’t constantly at the top of the charts has nothing to do with their artistic merit.  However, it’s come to the point where I am quoting these statistics because certain foolish people are trying to down Mariah Carey too much, and it’s just ridiculous to me, not to mention utterly hypocritical.

Whitney Houston doesn’t write her songs.  I don’t think that this matters, because a great singer doesn’t have to be a great songwriter (as Aaliyah said); if they can interpret material well, that is equivalent to making the song their own.  As I said before, Houston did this with “I Will Always Love You”.  But if people want to talk about songwriting prowess, Mariah Carey wins hands down.  Sales-wise, both currently and in terms of their entire careers, Mariah Carey is ahead of Whitney Houston.  (Barbra Streisand is the biggest selling female artist of all time.)  If people want to talk about Mariah Carey not being able to sing live, then please hold your tongue until Whitney Houston sings her new single live.  I have yet to hear or see her performing “Million Dollar Bill” live, and I have yet to hear or see any announcement that she is going to be doing this in the near future.  Until she does this, can we stop criticising Mariah’s live performances, because whether her voice is damaged or not, the facts are that she is singing live and Whitney is not, so you can’t compare the two.

People say they have lost respect for Mariah Carey because she doesn’t dress her age (she is 39, and I see many women 10 years older than her walking around Bristol in far less, but anyway), she has had plastic surgery, she cavorts with too many rappers and doesn’t sing the way she used to.  A small point: on I Look To You, two of Whitney Houston’s songs were produced by Akon, and he features on one.  A larger point:  Whitney Houston was a drug addict for possibly a decade or more; she raised a daughter while addicted to drugs, and god knows what else her daughter has been exposed to during Houston’s drug addiction, marriage and divorce to Bobby Brown.  Mariah Carey has never done drugs, or even been reported to do drugs (yet… wait for it!); the worst vice she has is for a couple of glasses of champagne or wine.  Mariah Carey didn’t raise a family under the glare of the media nor while taking cocaine.  The worst that Mariah Carey has done is wear a few (debatably) ill-fitting dresses.  I think that Houston and Carey are both even in terms of diva behaviour (reported, not usually substantiated, by the way) and in terms of their ability to spend money on things which appear frivolous to you and me.  In my opinion (I keep repeating this) NONE OF THIS AFFECTS THEIR ABILITY TO SING OR MAKE MUSIC.  But since so many people seem to go on about Mariah’s imperfections whilst forgetting about Whitney, I just wanted to do a comparison to put everything into perspective.  Mariah Carey is the more successful artist in terms of sales, charts and airplay; she writes her own material whilst Houston has a team of accomplished songwriters to do so for her; Mariah Carey has never done drugs nor raised a child whilst on drugs; Whitney Houston has had a more successful film career (again, I am nothing if not fair) and dresses more conservatively.

I can’t stand the hypocrisy of people, both ill-informed stans of other artists and biased media acting on a propaganda brief.  When Michael Jackson died, people conveniently forgot about his repeated child-abuse trials, and overlooked his excessive plastic surgery.  Radio hadn’t played his records for years, and suddenly you can’t go a day without hearing “Man In The Mirror” or “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, songs which radio stations in Bristol have never played.  I am pleased that in his death, his music has been made more accessible to so many people, and is finally being honoured, even if it is a little too late.  He was a truly legendary and fantastic performer.  But I don’t see how we can suddenly excuse Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston for their faults (in both cases, they have done things which are not only massively ill-advised, inconsiderate of young people, but also illegal), yet take Mariah Carey to task for wearing short skirts & low-cut dresses or for not sounding 100% perfect when she sings live or for choosing to do a cover version of a song.

I’ll say it once more: an artist’s sales, personal life, dress sense, media scandals and choice of partner / collaborator / pet should not influence whether you like their music or not.  I own albums by Carey, Houston and Jackson, and none of what has happened in the past year (his death, Houston’s “comeback”, Eminem’s annoyance with Carey) has remotely affected my enjoyment of their music.  Like what you like, because you like it. But if you really want to go there, and want to compare stats, then let’s compare stats.  The only thing I can think of is that some people are jealous, because Mariah Carey really does seem to have it all (even though she is not perfect and her voice is not quite what it used to be; I’m not deaf.) – the body, the voice, the talent, the money, the husband, the songwriting credits behind her songs. So if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all – don’t hate; appreciate.

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90s baby.

August 27, 2009

Okay, I confess, I was born in the 1980s.  But apart from a few songs, the majority of what I grew up with was 90s music.  As you know, Mariah Carey is a massive influence on me, and my mother bought her very first single, “Vision Of Love”, on vinyl back in 1990.  Right through “Dreamlover”, “Without You” and “Fantasy” to the  Butterfly and Rainbow albums which closed the 90s, she was an epic atom bomb dropped on my life.  But if you know me, or you’ve read certain previous entries, you already know that and I’m not going to delve into it further here.

As a preteen and young teenager bearing the combined musical influence of my mother and my school friends, I would listen to songs by the Honeyz, En Vogue, Shola Ama, Backstreet Boys, No Doubt, Solid Harmonie, Peter Andre, Blur *shudder*, Aqua *cringe*, Aaliyah, Monica, Brandy and Usher, to name but a very select few.  The magazines I read (Smash Hits, TVHits, Top Of The Pops) were aimed squarely at teenagers who were of a sunny pop disposition, and although I was much more aware of the charts then than I am now, I still felt a little bit like there had to be something more.  Beyond straightforward manufactured pop (however good a product it may be), I started to lean towards more urban music.  I discovered garage (2-step) music, R&B, rap and hip hop.  Ms. Dynamite, Shola Ama (and the remixes), Honeyz and Kele Le Roc represented British R&B to me, while the American singers such as Toni Braxton, Aaliyah, Brandy, Usher, Monica, TLC and Jennifer Lopez were an emblem of something smoother, sexier and edgier.  Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope opened my eyes to how well an album could be constructed, seguing effortlessly between different moods, concepts and tempos.  Missy Elliott’s Da Real World smacked me upside the head with a combination of weird bassy dark production and super-explicit lyrics that I wasn’t familiar with.  Jennifer Lopez’s video for “If You Had My Love” left me with the undeniable impression that a star was born, from her ridiculous beautiful looks to her insanely polished and expressive dancing.  Brandy & Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine” ended up on my cd player before it dawned on me just how much of a classic that song was going to be.  TLC’s Fanmail sounded like the future.  Aaliyah’s One In A Million album sounded like effortless sexuality, and sounded like nothing and nobody else.

All the aforementioned artists, albums and songs still hold that exact same resonance for me.  Perhaps it’s just the fact that I was growing up and those singers played an integral part in my adolescence, but music just isn’t the same anymore.  Show me a singer as effortlessly sexy and sophisticated as Aaliyah.  Show me a group as fiercely cool as TLC.  Find me a singer with a voice, body and songwriting skills like Mariah’s.  A rapper as off the wall as Busta Rhymes, as influential as 2pac or Notorious BIG.  I mean no disrespect to all the musicians and artists in the game today, because they have a hard job living up to these stars, who to me represent the golden age of urban music.  Ciara, Beyoncé, The-Dream, Electrik Red, Robin Thicke, Pitbull, Lil’ Wayne, Black Eyed Peas all hold down the front line.  Perhaps it’s just that I’m older, but despite their best efforts, I can’t help reminiscing.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because I’ve found music in the last 3-4 years to be somewhat dry, I’ve discovered music from that golden age that passed me by the first time round.  Unbelievably, until 2 years ago, I had never listened to a Jodeci song.  Obviously I’d heard of them and their songs must have played very occasionally on the radio or tv, but I’d never really listened. Now I know where Dru Hill got their ideas from!  R. Kelly and his protégée Sparkle crafted some classic 90s R&B.  SWV and Total were some bad-ass girl groups!  Listening to the Notorious BIG’s albums and Puff Daddy’s older output allows me to see where Diddy, Lil’ Kim and Bad Boy Entertainment stand today and plot the journey and progress in between.  The joy of this has been that it is an entirely personal quest, because nobody else, in my past or present, is into the exact same music as me.  I’ve managed to convert some of my friends to some urban music, but I don’t really know anyone in person who’s into in the same depth.  The people who seem to understand most where I come from musically are on the internet, in forums and on urban music blogs.  Quite often, different posts educate me.

And that’s why I get so frustrated at the state of music today.  For one, every song seems to be a recycle of something else.  Beyoncé’s “Halo” = Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” = Kelly Clarkson’s “Already Gone” = Jordin Sparks’ “Battlefield”.  Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face” = Britney Spears’ “Gimme More” = Eva Simons’ “Silly Boy” = Rihanna’s “Shut Up And Drive” + “Umbrella” = a large part of The-Dream’s subsequent output = Electrik Red.  LeToya’s “Not Anymore” = Ciara’s “Never Ever” = Monica’s “Still Standing” = Nicole Scherzinger’s “Happily Never After” = Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” = Rihanna & Ne-Yo’s “Hate That I Love You” = Ne-Yo’s “Because Of You” = Ne-Yo’s “Sexy Love” = Ne-Yo’s “Mad”.  So damn formulaic.  And as Jay-Z has finally noticed, auto-tune is everywhere.

Another thing: why does music being released right now sound like it is 20 years old?  Aaliyah’s self-titled album sounds like an edgy, modern masterclass nearly 10 years on.  TLC’s Fanmail sounds more futuristic than Keri Hilson’s In A Perfect World…despite the former being released in 1999 and the latter released in 2009.  Whitney Houston’s latest “greatest” “comeback” album I Look To You is an utter mess, because instead of a graceful attempt to keep up with the times as on My Love Is Your Love (a burnished masterpiece) and even Just Whitney (which has held up surprisingly well), she decides to go time-travelling.  The ballads fare well, with “Call You Tonight” a classy modern song, while “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” and “I Look To You” are classic ballads which are strong, even without the power of Whitney’s old voice.  “Salute” is the best song on the album for me, because it is pure timeless R&B.  But the uptempos…. oh no.  “Million Dollar Bill” revisits old-school R&B and falls asleep, “Nothin’ But Love” presses the 90s synth button repeatedly, “Like I Never Left” should be titled “Like I Never Left The 80s”.  The major disaster is “A Song For You”, which was performed sublimely by Herbie Hancock and Christina Aguilera a couple of years ago.  Here, the first half of the song is typically piano led, but Whitney seems to jump through the hoops a little bit.  No matter, it’s not a problem compared to what happens at 1:30.  Hex Hector and Peter Rauhofer must have cried a river when they heard this tepid 90s-dance mess. I listened to this and had to skip to the next track, because Whitney was done a pure disservice with this song.  Words fail me…

Whitney Houston is not the only victim of this dated-modern fad… even on Trey Songz’ fantastic third album Ready, the melodically lovely “Love Lost” boasts a musical backing that sounds like it was created in 1987.  And Monica’s latest leaked song “Betcha She Don’t Love You” sounds like Missy Elliott vomited up an old record and told Monica to sing over it.  (Aaliyah would never have stood for it, I’m sure.) I have no problem with being inspired by the past and appreciating heritage and history.  You can honour the classics in a tasteful way. But when it seems that it’s so difficult for artists to be forward thinking that they recycle old songs and pass them off as ‘new’ or ‘retro-cool’ when in reality they are just lazy, that really pisses me off and makes me rifle through my older CDs, listening to music that is forward thinking, doesn’t sound at all dated, but is timeless.  There’s a big difference between the two that a lot of today’s music industry (both A&R honchos and artists alike) would do very well to learn.

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intangible.

July 24, 2009

Two of my very favourite things in my life are music and fragrance.  Music has been something I have loved from day one, and I never looked back: ever since I was little my mum and I would dance around the living room to Whitney Houston, Belinda Carlisle, Kool & The Gang records (on vinyl! Somewhere in my bedroom is Mariah Carey’s very first single “Vision Of Love” on vinyl, which I imagine might be worth some money!).  We’d sing along to Bon Jovi, Lionel Richie and the Pointer Sisters in the car (on cassette), and as soon as we had MTV I knew that my ideal vocation was a pop star.  I think by force of habit (I was singing long before I got my first Mariah Carey album, which was at age 12) I made myself a decent singer, and once I was 13 I broke through at my school singing anywhere and everywhere, making myself a little celebrity status and signing autographs at school (it was a stressful time with gossip and rumours, but also a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the renown.).  I did concerts, dance competitions, displays and random other stuff, and I made myself my own brand… it was good training for the real world!  But primarily, I did these things because I love to sing, I love to dance, and I have always enjoyed these things.  To sound corny, they make me feel free and allow me to escape the monotony, depression and pain of everyday life, and the fact that I seem to be genuinely talented (though I need occasional reassurance from my friends, now that I don’t do performances very often, that I’m not secretly shit – they are always supportive of me 🙂 ) is a bonus.  But writing songs, making my own music, and singing along to everything is such an intrinsic part of who I am, and it’s something that can’t be taken away from me (unless you rip out my larynx) because it’s intangible.  It’s the air I breathe, the way I control my voice, the years of daily practice… it’s nothing tangible.  It’s more ethereal and spiritual to me.

On the other hand, my love of fragrance is something much more recent in comparison.  Though I realised, leafing through the Avon catalogue tonight, that I have had fragrance in my life since the age of 15, when I used to buy their cheap n cheerful classics Black Suede, Modern Balance, Mesmerise… I can’t remember what my first “proper” fragrance was (I know my mum bought me CK Contradiction when I turned 17, but I don’t know what the first one I bought for myself was), but I have always loved Black XS, Dior Homme and A*Men, and despite working at a perfume shop for a year and a half and coming into contact with all the brands and all the scents a guy could want, those are still probably my favourites (along with a couple of others 😉 )!  I think there is something so captivating and seductive about someone who smells intoxicatingly good, it’s like an addictive allure (wading into Bai Ling territory there…).  Although a lot of fragrances have a ridiculously long list of notes of which most normal people can only smell two or three, there is something mysterious about the way certain aromas or elements (well, they’re actually aromachemicals, but we can pretend it’s something more organic and exotic 😉 ) are combined to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.  And again, it’s something that travels on the wind, something subjective that triggers individual reactions and desires, something that is unique to each person and which suggests something primal about who that person is (and after all, the fragrance someone wears can tell you a lot about them! Perfume SAs around the world can vouch for this 😉 ).  I think that is why both of these things are so important to me, because they come from within, they are both things which are at once intangible and primal, and they are an opportunity for us to expose the essence of who we are.