Sugababes Flowers

The Sugababes Are Back, And They've Brought Us 'Flowers'

Mutya Keisha Siobhan no more: the Sugababes are officially back.

It's been ages - over six years, officially - since we last heard anything from any version of the 'Babes.

But as of Friday (October 18), the original line-up of the Most Successful All-Female Act of the 21st Century, individually known as Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhan Donaghy - are releasing music together again.

Finally.

The briefest of summaries, just to catch everyone up to speed: after well over a dozen chart hits across the span of two decades - everything from "Overload" to "Push the Button" to "About You Now" (and, of course, "Get Sexy") - and three member switch-ups, the very first version of the British girl group reunited in 2011 as MKS, named after themselves. They surely would have liked to have gone with Sugababes, but the name was still registered with the already defunct Sugababes 4.0 which, at that point, consisted of zero founding members of the band.

Little did the Origibabes know, they'd have to grapple for half a decade to secure the rights to their own brand again.

Their first (and only) release as MKS, "Flatline," came out in 2013. It also happened to be the best single of 2013.

Life imitated art a bit too literally, and the song itself flatlined, stalling at No. 50 in the UK charts, as did the group itself. Over the next five or six years, bits and pieces of their planned project leaked as each member vaguely promised in various interviews that it wasn't truly over. There's now well over an album's worth of Mutya Keisha Siobhan demos like "No Regrets," "Boys" and "Drum" floating around on the Internet, produced by the likes of Dev Hynes, MNEK, Richard X and William Orbit among others. Devastatingly, it all sounded extremely promising.

Nevertheless, they persisted: they won the name back. They hit the studio again. And now, the artists formerly known as Sugababes-then-known-as-MKS are rightfully, known as the Sugababes again. Sorry Heidi, sorry Amelle, sorry Jade.

For their first move in their re-return to the music scene, they're revisiting a 2000 UK garage classic called "Flowers" by Sweet Female Attitude, recorded for DJ Spoony's Garage Classical album.

Given that "Flowers" is a previously existing hit, it's not a stretch to say it...sounds like a hit.

The difference, of course, is the vocalists at hand: there is arguably no modern girl group in the game more equipped at heavenly harmonizing than the Sugababes. They just work together, so gorgeously, despite being three entirely distinct, entirely capable vocalists in their own right. (Mutya, rightfully, was ranked No. 2 Best Girl Group Member of All Time on Michael Cragg's great Guardian list.)

Every good girl group has their own je ne sais quoi: The Spice Girls came crashing in with their feisty, '90s bubblegum pop and "Girl Power" rallying cries, Girls Aloud dominated with their spike heels and skintight jeans and sleek, Xenomania-produced electro-pop bangers, and when it came to the 'Babes (at least, up until the Sweet 7 era), their appeal had everything to do with their slight rough-'round (round)-the-edges-style-meets-Soul Sound - it was always about vocals, vocals, vocals.

The track is such a welcome return from the 'Babes - that very first "I'll bring you flowers..." alone? My heart!

If there's even the slightest shred of pop justice remaining in this world, they'll soar higher than "Flatline" with this one - and, hopefully, stick around for a while this time. They truly are one of the best groups to ever do it, after all. Who knows? Maybe they can even salvage a few (or all) of the long-since leaked tracks as a bonus collection of sorts - they do deserve to see the official light of day.

"We are happy to finally be able to give a little something to our amazing supporters whilst we prepare for 2020. We hope you like it! Love Sugababes x," the girls wrote on their newly relaunched Instagram.

Let this be just the beginning of a legendary comeback for our most deserving and talented Sacred Three.

"Flowers" was released on October 18.

This song is featured on the MuuTunes Spotify playlist. Subscribe!

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Photo credit: @official_mutyabuena


Jennifer Lopez Shakira Super Bowl

Here's How the Jennifer Lopez & Shakira 2020 Super Bowl Halftime Show Should Go

Jennifer Lopez and Shakira are co-headlining the Super Bowl 2020 halftime show, officially.

This decision is, of course, derechos gays - or "gay rights!" if you're Jennifer Lawrence.

In all seriousness, this is going to be an incredible show, and the honor is more than deserved for both of these Latina legends.

I've given it some thought, and I've come to the conclusion that this is exactly what should happen during the show.

Considering my expert opinion and insider knowledge, I can also assure you that this is exactly what will happen, so please...don't be mad that I've spoiled the whole show in advance.

Without further ado...

THE 2020 SUPER BOWL HALFTIME SHOW

[STADIUM LIGHTS DIM]

ANNOUNCER (PROBABLY PITBULL): She's a singer. A dancer. An actress. A soon-to-be Academy Award winner. The dictionary definition of a Triple Threat. People Magazine's Most Beautiful Woman In The World. The reason Google Images was invented. She's J to tha L-O. She's Jenny from the Block. And now, she's here...to rock the Pepsi Super Bowl halftime stage. Ladies and gen--

JENNIFER LOPEZ'S VOICE, SOMEWHERE BACKSTAGE: "Wait, wait, wait! Hold up! Don't start the show yet! Has anyone seen my shoes?!"

ASSISTANT: "These, Jennifer?"

JENNIFER LOPEZ: "No, not those!"

[SOUND OF SHOES BEING TOSSED AGAINST A LOCKER]

JENNIFER LOPEZ: "You know, my shoes! The shoes! You know the ones..."

ASSISTANT 2: "You mean these, Jennifer?"

JENNIFER LOPEZ: "No! Oh God, this is a nightmare. Not those!"

[SOUND OF MORE SHOES BEING TOSSED AGAINST A LOCKER, A CAT YELPS]

JENNIFER LOPEZ: "This is so bad. I'm going to be late. For my own halftime show! Wait - here they are. Hey, guys! I found them! My..."

[ALL LIGHTS GO OUT]

JENNIFER LOPEZ, ECHOING: "Louboutins."

[STAGE EXPLODES IN A RING OF FIRE AS A 20-FOOT TALL RED-BOTTOMED SHOE DESCENDS FROM THE AIR.]

"Louboutins (Extended Version)"

Jennifer Lopez, wearing something expensive and sparkly, arrives to the stage atop a giant Louboutin. She jumps off the shoe and sticks the landing in a moment of redemption from the 2009 American Music Awards performance.

THROWBACK MEDLEY

Jennifer puts on a baseball hat. A 6 train pulls out onto the stage.

"If You Had My Love"
"Get Right"
"Love Don't Cost a Thing"
"Jenny from the Block"
"I'm Real" (Ja Rule and Ashanti cameo)
"Control Myself" (LL Cool J cameo)

MOVIE MEDLEY

"Anaconda" (Nicki Minaj)

Dance breakdown. Backup dancers form a giant snake and chase Jennifer around the stage. Jon Voight gives a thumbs-up reaction shot from the audience.

[THE CELL VIDEO MONTAGE, A POLE RISES]

"Criminal" (Fiona Apple)

Jennifer slips on a fur coat and recreates her Hustlers strip-tease. Dollar bills featuring Jennifer's face rain down across the stadium. All royalties from the song's usage go to refugees, and the J.Lo bucks are redeemable for one free bottle of her new fragrance, Super Bowl Glow.

"Como La Flor" (Selena tribute)

[SMOKE FILLS THE STAGE]

Shakira rises onto the stage next to Jennifer. The two have a stare-off, leading into an intensely sexually charged hip-shaking showdown.

DUET MEDLEY

"Hips Don't Lie"
"Beautiful Liar"
"Booty"
"Inevitable New Shakira-Jennifer Lopez Collaboration, To Be Released Sometime Before February 2020"

Jennifer exits the stage.

SHAKIRA, SHAKIRA MEDLEY

"Ojos Así"
"Estoy Aqui"
"Whenever, Wherever"
"She Wolf"

GIRL POWER MEDLEY

Rihanna rises from the stage, wearing Savage x Fenty lingerie and Fenty shades.

"Can't Remember to Forget You"

In the final moment of the song, Shakira and Rihanna are just about to kiss. Conservatives everywhere clutch their pearls. Instead, Rihanna grabs a bottle of Fenty Gloss Bomb in shade Fu$$y from her back pocket, leans in and applies it to Shakira's lips. She gives the camera a wink before disappearing offstage. R9 drops at midnight, along with the announcement of Rihanna's headlining performance at the 2021 Super Bowl halftime show.

Becky G, Belinda, Lali, Thalia, Paulina Rubio, Gloria Estefan and Fey rise up from the stage to join Shakira, holding shirtless dancers on leashes, Return of the Spice Girls Tour "Holler" performance-style.

"Men In This Town"
"Las de la Intuición"

Jennifer returns to the stage to join the ladies.

"Ain't Your Mama"
"Let's Get Loud"
"Conga" (Miami Sound Machine)

BRIEF MALE MEDLEY

Maluma rises from the stage.

"Chantaje"

At the end of the performance, Shakira grabs Maluma's waist and pulls at his tearaway pants. He's meant to be wearing a jock strap, but instead he's naked, wearing a football-shaped cock ring in a 2004 Janet Jackson Reverse Warholian Experience. The Federal Communications Commission fines Pepsi and the NFL for $600 million amid outcry, except no one's career gets canceled. A court somehow later determines that Justin Timberlake must pay the fine.

Bad Bunny rises from the stage.

"Te Guste"

Pitbull flies into the stadium on a "Mr. Worldwide" helicopter.

DALE MEDLEY

"Rabiosa"
"On The Floor"
"Love Again"

FINALE

Everyone's on stage, including their families.

"Waka Waka (This Time For Africa)"

Sure, it's technically a soccer theme song, but who's counting? Jennifer and Shakira wave goodbye to the crowd in a colorful, multicultural explosion of flags and confetti and joy. But it's a fake-out.

[STADIUM GOES DARK]

Electricity noises.

VOICEOVER: "Warning: System Overload. Warning: System Overload."

Alarm sounds.

[GREEN LASERS SHOOT OUT ACROSS THE STADIUM]

Jennifer rises up on stage again in a superhero-meets-pop star version of the Versace jungle dress.

"Waiting For Tonight (Hex's Monumentous Radio Mix)" (Intro)
"Waiting For Tonight (2020 Remix)"

Jennifer strikes a final pose. Green fireworks erupt. The audience roars. Straight men are visibly weeping.

The halftime show, originally planned as a 12-minute performance, turned out to be a two-hour long concert. The rest of the game is canceled.

The New York Times calls the performance "the stuff of legends." Time Magazine hails it as "indisputably the best Super Bowl halftime show ever." Stan Twitter declares "ok they did that, tea wbk." It is the highest-rated Super Bowl of all time.

See you in Miami.


Mandy Moore When I Wasn't Watching

'When I Wasn't Watching': Mandy Moore Returns After a Decade

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5yM8lHoOAk

"What I became when I wasn't watching..."

After over a decade of craving, crying, hoping, lifting our hands and praying with nothing but pennies in our pocket, Amanda Leigh Moore has returned to us - as Mandy Moore, The Singer - at last.

Barring a smattering of TV and movie contributions, like the Tangled soundtrack and, more recently, a cover of "Willin'" by Linda Ronstadt for the soundtrack of This Is Us in 2017, "When I Wasn't Watching," out on Tuesday (September 17), is the first real - so, so real - single from Mandy Moore in ten years...and an especially meaningful one at that.

"Spent a whole life waiting patiently, convinced it all would come to me..."

For those fearing a "return-to-roots," country-pop return based on the final few records before her extended hiatus - after all, Wild Hope yee-d so Joanne could haw - fear not: this isn't that. It's also not a return to the bubblegum pop-era "Candy" Mandy, either, but then, Mandy's been musically steering clear of that material since 2003's Coverage.

"My favorite version of me disappeared, through longer days and shorter years..."

Instead, "When I Wasn't Watching" - produced by Amanda Leigh collaborator Mike Viola and co-written with Jason Boesel and her husband Taylor Goldsmith - finds the now 35-year-old singer-songwriter-turned-Emmy Award-nominated actress taking inventory of the life she's led thus far, not straying far from the contemplative lane she paved for herself years ago with Wild Hope and Amanda Leigh, but dwelling into dreamier, '80s-tinged adult contemporary territory, with a nostalgic opening that vaguely recalls Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time."

"The fear of what I'm facing in the mirror stops me cold and leaves me here / A little lost, a little rough, the lack of answers all add up..."

Like fellow actress-who-sings Leighton Meester and her gorgeous, overlooked 2014 record Heartstrings (one of that year's best albums), Mandy finds her sweet spot - like candy, if you will - in the sound of dreamy, reverb-y guitar, punchy drums (it's got a bit of a kick to it, mercifully) and pleasant harmonies. Mandy sounds lovely and restrained throughout - that chorus is an earworm too, especially those low notes.

Mandy's return to the spotlight feels authentic to her artistry, and makes sense as her next step. And when modern acts like Post Malone are giving us melancholy guitar music, there's arguably even more of a place for Mandy's sound now than in the years of her absence. It's a refreshing way to begin again.

The return of Mandy also represents more than just a pop star rebooting her singing career.

As you might already be aware, Mandy, along with a group of other women, came forward with allegations of misconduct and manipulation against her ex-husband Ryan Adams in a New York Times article back in February. Ryan discouraged her from working with any other producers, and told her she's "not a real musician" according to Mandy, who claims his controlling behavior "essentially did block my ability to make new connections in the industry during a very pivotal and potentially lucrative time."

She effectively stopped releasing music after their marriage. This comeback is about pushing past self-doubt and doing the damn thing, anyway.

"It’s been ten years since I’ve released music and to be able to confidently step back in to this world with some of my very favorite humans and artists beside me (@taylordawesgoldsmith, @themikeviola, @dawestheband and @herbadams) is something else all together. I’m thrilled to share the first track from my forthcoming record. It’s been a bit of a winding road to get here but so worth it," she wrote on Instagram.

Welcome back. Love always, Mandy.

"When I Wasn't Watching" is featured on the MuuTunes Spotify playlist. Subscribe!

You can also subscribe to MuuTunes on Apple Music.


Hustlers Movie

Yes, 'Hustlers' Really Is That Good

Hustlers Movie

"It's all a strip club. You have people tossing the money and people doing the dance."

As hoped, my most anticipated film of 2019, Hustlers, is great.

It's so great, in fact, there's even genuine Oscar buzz around the movie following its critically-hailed Toronto International Film Festival premiere last week.

As someone who genuinely and unironically stans Burlesque, I legitimately have no idea what qualifies as "good cinema" from a critical standpoint. Lord knows, I love me some Low Art.

But I can say, definitively, that if you're a pop star enthusiast, a Jennifer Lopez stan (and/or fan of any of the queens in the film, including Cardi B and Lizzo), someone in the market to see strong women pumping cash out of Wall Street blowhards, a gay, or perhaps and most likely all of these things at once: you should see this movie.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot, partly because you can just Wikipedia that yourself, but mostly because you'd already know much of the story if you read the 2015 New York Magazine article The Hustlers at Scores by Jessica Pressler on which the movie is based.

Hustlers Movie

Perhaps the most crucial thing you need to know off the bat is that - last chance to turn back, spoiler alert, you were warned! - the movie is primarily set in 2007, at least for the first half of the film.

As a result, there is one scene in particular in this movie that features Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu sitting in a car, turning on the radio, and discovering Britney's "Gimme More" playing. Jennifer yells something like "I fucking love this song!" - Jennifer Fucking Lopez delightfully shrieking at the sound of Britney - and the two thrash along in the car (which turns out to be parked in a dealership, in front of everyone), leading into a montage of all the strippers grinding to the sound of the Blackout masterpiece.

It is phenomenal usage of "Gimme More" in a film - and, quite frankly, gay porn. You just bought a ticket to see this movie now, didn't you?

In fact, for being a movie about female strippers, a bulk of the film feels like the Erika Jayne "I'm gonna give the gays everything they want" GIF, especially the music: from being bookended by Janet Jackson musical moments ("Control" and "Miss You Much") to that Britney, bitch sequence, to scattered samplings of Rihanna ("Birthday Cake"), Lorde ("Royals") and Kelly Rowlegend ("Motivation"), there is ample appreciation of the True Gay Icons™ on the Hustlers soundtrack. (And yes, just to throw it back to the mid-to-late '00s, a joyous Usher moment too...with a cameo by Usher, no less.)

To kick it all off, there's an unbelievable opening striptease to introduce the audience to Ramona (played by J.Lo) set to the sound of Fiona Apple's "Criminal" - a licensing first for Fiona, who approved the request and will be donating the royalties to refugees. It is genuinely jaw-dropping in its display of Jennifer's sheer athleticism and sexuality in a barely-covering-the-bits string ensemble. Please, dear God, let her do this at the Super Bowl.

HUSTLERS Movie

If you didn't go hard for Jenny before - it's truly been a summer of stanning La Lopez for me personally ever since attending the It's My Party Tour - you most certainly will after watching her work the pole after only six weeks of training prior to filming this movie. She is unreal.

Every J.Lo ensemble is also gay-gasp worthy, from being draped in furs (sorry, PETA) as the cigarette-smoking bad ass Godmother to a series of elevated, scantily-clad looks while showing the new girl Destiny (played by Constance) the ropes of The Art of Seduction. She's 50 years old. Impossible. And inspirational.

Watching all of the Hustlers women interact feels like a special crossover event you never knew you needed: Cardi plays, well, Cardi, and tends to steal all her scenes by being, well, Cardi. Seeing her grind on J.Lo as they teach Constance how to properly deliver a lapdance? Glee-inducing. The backstage riffing about boys and sex while getting ready, from Lizzo playing her flute to Cardi wielding a dildo? Heartwarming. I want to be them - only, not entirely.

You see, seducing men for their money - and, eventually, hatching a plan to effectively start a girl gang (or cult, kinda!), fish for vulnerable sugar daddies and max out their credit cards - isn't all fun and games. The shit eventually hits the fan, and their lavish lifestyle abruptly comes to an end. Paired with tense, emotional flash-forward interviews with a buttoned-up 10 Things I Hate About You queen Julia Stiles, whose character is modeled after the author of the original article, we're told early on that the fun won't last long.

As Keke Palmer said in her WSJ interview about representing the lifestyle of sex workers: "I liked that it was balanced because it either goes one of two ways. Either it’s like super, super sad, sad, sad or overly glamorized. When I read this, I felt like it was a balance of both."

HUSTLERS Movie

Hustlers makes a case for most of the characters' various moral dilemmas: of having the cards stacked against you, by being kicked out or being abandoned, wanting to provide for yourself and your loved ones, and being presented with a less-than-legal quick fix ("a shortcut") of a way out. As a result, no one's necessarily painted as heroic, although you can't help but anxiously root for the girls as they score and scam their way to Louboutins and chinchilla fur coats - until the operation starts to become too sloppy, anyway.

The movie was directed by a woman, Lorene Scafaria, starring an entirely all-woman cast of main characters, and primarily produced by women, including Jennifer - and it absolutely shows in its lack of male gaze-iness. Of course the men are pigs in the movie, but one of the things that particularly stuck out was how tastefully the camera danced around the dirtier moments, both onstage and in the private rooms. Yes, there's toplessness and suggestive girl-on-girl action, but for the most part, it felt less exploitative and more about storytelling - just enough to get the point that, yes, these are strippers. But when it was overtly sexual, the women were always in control, and the men were merely the means to an end.

"Lorene was really serious with the DP on getting those specific shots, those specific angles that you only see men have. It was just like, 'Man, girl, thank you for those details. Not only does the script have heart and soul, but visually you’re going for this, you’re giving us a cinematic look. You’re making these women look cool!” That was all specific to show us in powerful positions," Keke said in that same interview.

"Not even sexy, but powerful. It’s not a slow-motion strut starting from the heels going up, showing the body. It’s the women themselves," added Riverdale star Lili Reinhart, who manages to surprisingly be a bit of a comic relief of her own as a perpetually anxiety-induced vomiter. Physical humor!

At the same time, there's a scene involving an unconscious rich dude, and a fleeting shot of his soft dick as he's carted off to the hospital. Pathetic, passed out dick! On screen! In fact, men are almost exclusively painted as weak idiots throughout Hustlers - easily seduced, drunk and dumb on their perceived power, fearful to confess after being duped - which I can wholeheartedly say is accurate to the male experience. More women should be telling the stories of men.

"This film says something about the inequality that we've been yelling and screaming about for a while now and kind of making some headway. And I hate saying that so broadly because I love men and there are so many great, supportive beautiful men in the world. But there is this thing that exists that we can't deny," said Jennifer in a recent interview.

Hustlers Movie

The movie is refreshingly free of girl-against-girl wars over handsome idiots, or catty competitions to become The Best Dancer in the club. Almost immediately, the Queen Bee herself Ramona is assisting newbie Destiny to make her a better stripper. Granted, once the recession hits and the club starts bringing in Russian models, the atmosphere gets a little less friendly. But even after a betrayal of loyalty at the very end as everything unravels (more moral dilemmas!), that underlying love never dies - even years later, after their opulent dreams abruptly did.

Hustlers is, as expected from a movie about strippers, fun and sexy and scandalous. But for the most part, the real thrill is watching a diverse cast of powerful women team up, both in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes, make their own rules and get their way in a man's world.

Come for the soundtrack and the stripping. Stay for the sisterhood. And yes, of course, give Jennifer that Oscar.

Hustlers hits theaters on Friday (September 13).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUG2U-IxPx0

Photo credit: Alison Cohen Rosa / Barbara Nitke / STX Films / EPK.tv


Grimes Violence Video

'Violence': Grimes, of All People, Is Giving Us Choreography

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9SGYBHY0qs

"Baby, it's violence..."

It's, uh, difficult to predict what Grimes is going to do next, especially as of late: one minute she's accompanying a multi-billionaire to the Met Gala wearing a Tesla choker, stanning LOOΠΔ and duking it out with Azealia Banks via text, the next she's pledging allegiance to robots and metal with "We Appreciate Power," detailing her scream-session-and-sword-fighting-filled workout routine and starring in an Adidas campaign.

But, you know what? It's been fun trying to keep up with the Art Angels cyborg-pixie-warrior formerly known as Claire Elise Boucher, who apparently also thinks that amazing last album was "crap."

The latest unexpected move from the 31-year-old Canadian songsmith? Choreography.

To be fair, dancing is not actually that much of a surprise coming from a former ballet trainee. But still: to see Main Pop Girl energy coming from one of today's leading "alt-pop" pioneers is still something of a shocker. In a great way, obviously. Have we come to the point where choreography is subversive? I'll take it.

The song, "Violence," produced alongside Garrett Lockhart (i_o), is remarkably, accessibly pop as well: gone are the whining guitars and vicious noise of her more recent musical experiments. It is, if anything, a return to the ethereal realm of "Kill v Maim" and "Flesh without Blood" - and even earlier to the "Oblivion" days, really, with a sleek synth beat that is downright danceable.

Granted, "Violence" is still certainly Grimes-level weird.

"You wanna, make me bad, make me bad / And I like it like that, and I like it like that..."

Genius annotators seem to think the song is "from the perspective of the Earth and personifies the relationship between humans and climate change as an abusive one, a relationship the Earth seems to love even at her own expense." I happen to think it's like a cover of Willa Ford's "I Wanna Be Bad" from the year 2983. The truth lies somewhere in between the two.

As an H&M basics queen, I couldn't tell you exactly what in the Grecian-meets-Eastern-military-meets-pop girl futuristic fantasy is going on from a fashion standpoint, but luckily, Vogue can, and the finer details only enhance the overall experience:

The video which was directed by Grimes herself and styled by her frequent fashion collaborator Turner, finds the artist in a holy setting, sitting atop a white stone church pedestal, reading ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu’s treatise The Art of War. It’s only once she sets down her tactical reading material that you get a good look at the stunning Iris van Herpen gown, undoubtedly the centerpiece of the entire clip. The ethereal dress is a suminagashi-inspired piece from the designer's recent Fall 2019 couture collection. Suminagashi is an ancient Japanese ink-on-water marbling art, but Herpen’s technique is naturally a tad more futuristic: lines of dyed silk are laser cut then heat bonded to Mylar before being transposed onto gossamer tulle. Of course, Grimes managed to pull off the intricate design with otherworldly ease.

It's probably also safe to say "Violence" is the first music video to include Sun Tzu's The Art of War and what appear to be...Sony robot dogs?

Grimes Robot Dogs

"Did u guys watch the Violence video yet ? My first choreo 😣 eek Hahahahahaha I’m so in love! With life! Bless y’all for all the nice things y’all have been saying - we’ve been working so hard to get all this together Hahahaha," Grimes wrote on her Instagram, along with a lovely photo of herself in icy goth fairy mode, eyes blackened and hand raised in Little Monster paw pose. Good to see she's back to feeling like her old self again.

And I like it like that, and I like it like that.

"Violence" is featured on the MuuTunes Spotify playlist. Subscribe!

You can also subscribe to MuuTunes on Apple Music.


Lana Del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell

'Norman Fucking Rockwell!': Lana Del Rey (Album Review)

"So this is the American dream, right now. This is where we’re at—Norman fucking Rockwell. We’re going to go to Mars, and [Donald] Trump is president, all right. Me and Jack [Antonoff], we just joke around constantly about all the random headlines we might see that week, so it’s a slight cultural reference. But it’s not a cynical thing, really. To me, it’s hopeful, to see everything as a little bit funnier. The chaos of the culture is interesting, and I’m hopeful that there’s room for there to be some movement and excitement within it." - Lana Del Rey, Vanity Fair

At this point, you either feel the Lana Del Fantasy or you don't.

There's the "every song sounds the same, I don't get it, she's boring" camp. There are the ones who like her for that one "Summertime Sadness" remix and The Great Gatsby's "Young & Beautiful." And then there are those that have sat back and enjoyed the ride from 2012's Born To Die onward, finding meaning (and selfie captions) in every lyric and feeling the nostalgia in every note.

Born of grainy homemade videos, viral memes, blogger hype, Saturday Night Live mockeries and "industry plant" allegations, Lana Del Rey was supposed to fall as quickly as she started. She didn't, nor did she even slightly falter by the time 2014's stormy, black-and-blue masterpiece Ultraviolence rolled in. The darkness lifted (sort of), as she escaped the world by getting high by the beach, watching the boys and dreaming of space on Honeymoon a year later. But a gnarly political climate kept her spaceship grounded, and she became the unlikely ambassador of hope instead, providing (realistic) optimism and romantic reassurance with the socially conscious Lust For Life in 2017.

Two years later, there's nothing left for Lana to do but take a cue from the sign hanging in your aunt's kitchen and Live, Love, Laugh her way through the ludicrousness of the modern world - with a healthy dose of dark humor and, almost impossibly, hope.

To her dissenters' credit, Lana Del Rey does have a signature sound: somber piano melodies, swelling strings made for movie soundtracks, surf guitar and psych-rock detours. Her lyrical toolkit is packed with well worn Americana imagery, geographical references stretching from the Hamptons to Laurel Canyon, and pop culture icons aplenty, from Old Hollywood stars to rock 'n' roll legends.

In short: we already have a vague sense of what we're getting into when it comes to a Lana Del Rey album, sonically speaking. For those holding out hope that the 34-year-old singer-songwriter is going trance, or reggaeton, or klezmer - don't hold your breath. (But then, you never know. She's just done a song for the Charlie's Angels soundtrack with Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande, after all.)

Lana Del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell

This time, Lana teamed up almost solely with one of pop's most in-demand producers Jack Antonoff who, a week prior, co-produced Taylor Swift's pop culture-dominating Lover.

Both albums are a testament to Jack's talent as a collaborator: they don't sound anything alike for the most part - although Taylor's clearly found inspiration in Lana before. That said, both artists do have an easter egg-style approach to their songwriting: like Swifties, Lana fans will hungrily trace back terms like "cinnamon" and "blue" to older songs and dozens of leaked demos to find connections. It's like any great work of art: you can take a Lana Del Rey song at face value, or dig deeper and find a universe of alternative interpretations and meanings.

Even if the production style hasn't changed too drastically in nearly a decade, the artist's outlook on life certainly has. In fact, it's kind of funny to compare the opening line of Norman Fucking Rockwell!, released on Friday (August 30), to that of her 2011 major label debut single, "Video Games."

"Swinging in the backyard, pull up in your fast car, whistling my name / Open up a beer, and you say 'get over here,' and play a video game," she swooned all those years ago, dutifully doting on her bad baby.

Cut to the opening track and namesake of her sixth studio album: "Goddamn, man-child / You fucked me so good that I almost said 'I love you' / You're fun and you’re wild, but you don't know the half of the shit that you put me through / Your poetry's bad and you blame the news, but I can’t change that and I can't change your mood."

Once putty in her man's hands, Lana's now a foul-mouthed savage, equipped with a kind of Fiona Apple snarl and a fucklessness that could only develop after years of being fucked over. Find a line this year that stings as bad as "Why wait for the best when I could have you?" Lana is hardened.

That's not to say she isn't still woozily, woefully enamored throughout Norman Fucking Rockwell!, a start-to-finish standout in an already sturdy discography. But our girlfriend's back, and she's cooler, and more cutting, than ever.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qg3DxELVPj4

With just a handful of collaborators on this record compared to her more crowded full-length two years ago, Lana seemingly found more room to move on Norman Fucking Rockwell!. Then again, she knows she can get away with pretty much anything at this point, including her selfie-style single art submitted last minute via text, which she says pisses off her management...much to her delight.

The dreamy and sensual "Venice Bitch," for instance, ousts "Cruel World" as her longest, most meandering song to date, clocking in at a casual 9:37 minutes in length. The track owes much of its runtime to a hazy instrumental break that sputters and whines as Lana moans in and out - "crimson and clover, honey" - providing an ideal soundtrack to an end-of-summer backseat make-out session.

"Oh God, miss you on my lips / It's me, your little Venice bitch," she lusts. It's easily one of her horniest moments to date.

Speaking of backseat fun, Lana finds herself in the back of a car in one of Norman's purest moments: "Love song." True to the advertising in the title, there hasn't been a more quintessential Lana Del Rey love song in years - fast cars, party dresses, pleas for forever. It's so captivating, and the melody is so classic - written in "about a half hour," she revealed - that by the time the first utterance of "oh, be my once in a lifetime" arrives, you might be well past the point of choked up. A wedding song candidate? Quite possibly.

"It was one of those moments, kind of like when you meet a boyfriend, and you're like 'Oh my gosh, there's something really good here.' We should definitely keep working," Lana said of writing the song with Jack, which led to their continued collaborations.

Those dreams of an eternal love are short-lived, of course. They had to be. It wouldn't be a Lana Del Record without an excess of emotional turbulence. These men and their vices will always light her up and, inevitably, let her down.

The Neil Young title-sharing "Cinnamon Girl," which perhaps doubles as a nod to one of Lana's earliest works ("now my life is sweet like cinnamon" she once sang on "Radio"), sees our jazz singer sadly, hopefully yearning for the affection of a distant, pill-popping partner.

"If you hold me without hurting me, you'll be the first who ever did," she hesitantly coos. The fragile song turns into an un-Lana-like beast in its final moments, as ominous frequencies bubble up in the background, overtaking the strings with dooming beats, as if illustrating how their two souls clash.

Over and over again, Lana surrenders to the inevitability of disappointment in exchange for a fleeting rush of romance, even to the point of morbidity, if not slight gallows humor.

"If he's a serial killer, then what's the worst that can happen to a girl who's already hurt?" she innocently wonders on another tender highlight, "Happiness is a butterfly," a piano-led ode to an ephemeral love.

"All of the guys tell me lies but you don't / You just crack another beer and pretend that you're still here," she sings to a love named John on the sauntering "How to disappear," who, despite not being a liar, apparently can't show up for Lana full-time. Then there's Jim in the second verse, who's too busy getting cut up from fighting and getting high with his friends. All of these boys keep slipping away. Can't the girl just catch a break?

"I'm always going to be right here / No one's going anywhere," she calmly declares in the song's final moments, only to reiterate the sentiment one song later on the lurching "California."

"You don't ever have to be stronger than you really are / When you're lying in my arms," she pledges. And if anything, that's the underlying message of Norman Fucking Rockwell!: of all these pretentious, insecure, depressed men, Lana is the anchor that holds them down...or tries to, anyway.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uFv9Ts7Sdw

Be it pop culture figures or past flames, Lana recognizes that men are a high volume, low value commodity, which is why, to no surprise, she steps in to wear the Blue Jeans and do the job herself.

"You're lost at sea, then I'll command your boat to me again / Don't look too far, right where you are, that's where I am / I'm your man," she declares on "Mariners Apartment Complex," inspired by a particularly disappointing exchange with a former fling. The Norman Fucking Rockwell! album cover feels like an illustration of this song in particular, as Lana holds out a hand to us while holding down Jack Nicholson's grandson, Duke.

She's our man.

Lana also assumes the role of the man in her endlessly cool cover of "Doin' Time," one of the Songs of Summer '19 recorded for the soundtrack of an upcoming Sublime documentary film produced by Interscope. It makes sense in a Norman Fucking Rockwell! context as well, as though from the perspective of the guys she's singing about. After all, it's not as if we ever get to hear from the other party in these doomed relationships.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qolmz4FlnZ0

The accompanying music video for "Doin' Time" is an unexpected, cheeky homage to Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Giant Lana exacts revenge on a cheater, hammering home the fact that, for as predictable as Lana's music is sometimes criticized as being, she still has surprises tucked in the sleeves of her party dress to keep things spicy.

As displayed in "High by the Beach," another one of her wonderfully WTF music video moments, Lana Del Rey isn't very keen on sharing details of her love life beyond what she shares with her audience in her music, so paparazzi culture doesn't exactly jive with her lifestyle. And so, she's taking matters into her own hands to protect her personal life.

"I bought me a truck in the middle of the night / It'll buy me a year if I play my cards right / Photo-free exits from baby's bedside / 'Cause they don't know what car I drive / I'm just tryna keep my love alive with my bartender," she sings on the tender, stuttering piano ballad "Bartender" ("Bar-t-t-tender..."), created with longtime collaborator Rick Nowels. Of course, now the cameramen will be on the lookout for a truck, Lana. Oh, well. It was a good idea while it lasted.

Of all the songs on Norman Fucking Rockwell!, there's only one I take issue with - which, unfortunately, was one of my most anticipated tracks. (To be fair, it's my own fault.)

In its demo form, initially thought to be the title track of Lust for Life years ago, "The Next Best American Record" is a sad, damning condemnation of a lover who got lost in his obsession with fame while writing his music. ("You did it all for fame, tell me how it treats you now," she sings.)

In the new version, the rewritten chorus shifts the perspective, and the blame, to the both of them: "you were so obsessed" becomes "we were so obsessed."

"Whatever’s on tonight‚ I just wanna party with you / Topanga's hot tonight‚ I'm taking off my bathing suit / You make me feel like there's something that I never knew I wanted," she swoons. It's a slightly devastating revision that strays from the theme of the album, although the song itself is still a stunner, from the subtle "Video Games" homage ("It's you..."), to the Born To Die-esque production and yelps in the background, to the sick shattered glass in the bridge.

Then again, Lana isn't perfect! Maybe she was as obsessed with writing that next best American record, and the revised lyrics are an accurate representation of their doomed situation. Who knows? We know too much about the song, unfortunately. Demoitis is a dangerous thing to have.

And so is hope, for that matter. In one of the most revelatory songs on the album - "hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have - but i have it" - Lana echoes the sentiment of Lust for Life's "Get Free" and provides a realistic, live-through-this empowerment anthem while tearing around in her "fucking nightgown," name-dropping Sylvia Plath and serving up quotable, endlessly relatable line after line: "Don't ask if I'm happy, you know that I'm not / But at best, I can say I'm not sad."

Any time Lana mentions modern technology in her music, it somehow underscores the silliness of how we communicate these days: "Hello, it's the most famous woman you know on the iPad," she deadpans.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rY2LUmLw_DQ

As we enter into this Brave New World of TikTok stars and Instagram Lives, Lana's become understandably burned out in trying to keep up with the culture. Who hasn't? One of the album's grandest moments, suitably titled "The greatest," is a swelling tribute to what we've become and what we'll never get back - and doubles, potentially, as Lana Del Rey's swan song.

"The culture is lit and if this is it, I had a ball / I guess that I'm burned out after all," she declares on the arena-ready anthem.

It's funny: I never want anything to do with a bunch of dudes playing guitars at a bar, but the ache in Lana's voice as she sings "I miss New York, and I miss the music / me and my friends, we miss rock 'n' roll" feels personally devastating. Me too, Lana. That's the magic of Lana's music: making complete strangers long for experiences they've never even experienced in the first place. Everyone's got something from long ago that made them feel more alive than they do right now.

"I want shit to feel just like it used to." God. Same, Lana. Same.

If Lana seems stuck on wistfully looking back, it's only because focusing on the present is so frequently bleak: "Hawaii just missed that fireball / L.A. is in flames‚ it's getting hot / Kanye West is blond and gone / 'Life on Mars' ain't just a song / I hope the live stream's almost on," she sighs in the final seconds of "The greatest."

That she's dragging Kanye West for his recent behavior is especially pointed, considering she once sang at his wedding. But then again, Lana isn't one to give a fuck - she won't not fuck you the fuck up, period, as we already know.

If "The greatest" is to be believed, is Norman Fucking Rockwell! the end of the ride? Is she indeed burned out and signing off, bang bang kiss kiss, to become an Instagram baddie? She did openly ponder quitting music years ago, after all. And if she were to do so, she'd be ending on a high note.

But no, of course, it's not over: in typical Lana fashion, she casually revealed during the Norman Fucking Rockwell! promo cycle that she's in the middle of a follow-up record, which already has a title: White Hot Forever. It's due in the next year or so - just in time to offer some solace in the middle of an inevitably ugly political battle next year.

Why? Because Lana Del Rey is nothing if not constant, chaotic good in a cruel world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrSX_OcpeJg

Over the weekend, I've seen publications proclaiming Norman Fucking Rockwell! to be one of her best albums - even her best. I don't disagree, although I also don't think Lana Del Rey has ever significantly faltered musically, either. It appears, at last, that she's being taken seriously as a songwriter by the same snobs who tried writing her off long ago.

If anything, Lana seems to have struck a cultural chord at a time of pre-2020 election angst and social media oversaturation, echoing the sentiments of an increasingly disillusioned, depressed generation more than ever.

Despite operating relatively outside of pop culture, and despite not being a pop star (even though she's treated like one by Stan Twitter), she has, all hyperbole aside, successfully paved a path entirely of her own and positioned herself as one of the defining voices of the modern American generation.

That sounds like a lot of pressure, but I honestly can't think of a better man for the job.

This album is featured on the MuuTunes Spotify playlist. Subscribe!

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Photo credit: Interscope Records


Hilary Duff

Will You Save Us, Hilary Duff?

As Hilary, as Lizzie, as Isabella...it doesn't matter who.

The Earth is on fire. Society has never been more polarized, as corrupt, self-serving political leaders drag us down a disgraceful path to irreversible ruin at breakneck speed. And Lizzie McGuire is officially getting a reboot on Disney+.

Life is a mixed bag, you know?

On Friday evening (August 23), news broke at Disney Plus's D23 Expo event that Hilary Erhard Duff will reprise her role as the titular Lizzie McGuire in a reboot of the original 2001-2004 Disney Channel series, Lizzie McGuire.

But this time, she's older and wiser.

"Lizzie has also grown up, she’s older, she’s wiser," Hilary declared at the event.

"She has a much bigger shoe budget. She has her dream job, the perfect life right now working as an apprentice to a fancy New York City decorator," adding that she also has “the perfect man, who owns a fancy restaurant. She’s getting ready to celebrate her 30th birthday.”

It sounds like Younger basically, although I haven't actually seen Younger. Or maybe a sexless Sex & The City. I'm just assuming.

Regardless! What this news actually means for us - aside from, yes, a brand new series to look forward to - is that Hilary will be thrust back into the spotlight with a role that not only provided us with The Lizzie McGuire Movie's signature song "What Dreams Are Made Of," but also served as the vehicle for her career as a Princess of Pop, beginning with 2002's chart-bottoming Santa Claus Lane all the way up to 2015's still better-than-you-remember Breathe In. Breathe Out., which possibly-maybe inspires Taylor Swift to this day. And, let us never forget, 2007's Dignity - otherwise known as baby Blackout.

As any Little Duffster would know, Hilary basically all but abandoned us after the short-lived success of Breathe In. Breathe Out. to pursue her acting dreams further with her successful TV Land series, as well as a brief, horrifying lapse in taste and judgment. She also got engaged...to her Breathe In. Breathe Out. collaborator Matthew Koma, which I can only assume was done specifically to taunt us.

Naturally, Hilary was hounded with questions about new music following the announcement. And, in typical Duff fashion, she swerved...hard. She didn't say yes. But she also didn't say no.

"I don't know. We haven't gone that far yet, but nothing's off the table...it could happen. Isabella could pop her wig on and come back into her life, I don't know," she gingerly tip-toed around the question with a smile.

It's hard to choose optimism in these trying times. But maybe, just maybe, this is the moment: maybe the nostalgia of being back at home at the Disney studios, and the wig department, and the good will and excitable fanfare surrounding this announcement, will reignite the sparks (REFERENCE) and remind her that it is her calling - nay, her destiny - to be a Main Pop Girl and Make Pop Great Again.

At least one soundtrack contribution? The theme song? Something?! Why not...take a crazy chance?

Hey now, hey now: this, if I remember correctly, is what dreams are made of.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVFe9GVwQPE

Photo credit: RCA Records


Lana Del Rey The Greatest Music Video

'Fuck It I Love You' & 'The Greatest' Video: Lana Del Rey Signs Off for Summer (And Maybe Forever)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrSX_OcpeJg&feature=youtu.be

And if this is it, she's had a ball.

Sorry, #HotGirlSummer: Sad Girl Fall is rapidly approaching.

Lana Del Rey might currently inhabit our world, but it doesn't feel like she actually belongs in it, like a depressed poet-turned-time-traveler with winged eyeliner who accidentally twirled her way into 2019.

And while there's always a heavy dose of nostalgia in her music - it's one of the signature characteristics of a Lana Del Record, like lyrical references to California, beaches, dresses and bad babies - there's a heavy sense of finality to the latest offerings from Norman Fucking Rockwell: "Fuck It I Love You" and, more specifically, "The Greatest," out on Thursday (August 22).

The first song was co-produced by Jack Antonoff, as well as collaborators Andrew Watt and Louis Bell, who've worked with everyone from Post Malone to Rita Ora. It's the trippier of the two, gliding across dreary guitars and tripping drums in the stormy vein of Ultraviolence (and some space-age Honeymoon vibes too), as she reminisces about her substance-fueled origin story and breathily longs for her lover.

"I like to light up the stage with a song / Do shit to keep me turned on / But one day I woke up like 'maybe I'll do it differently' / So I moved to California‚ but it's just a state of mind / It turns out everywhere you go‚ you take yourself‚ that's not a lie," Lana solemnly reflects. Basically, you can take the girl out of New York, but...

"And if I wasn't so fucked up, I think I'd fuck you all the time." Is there a more delightfully Lana Del Lyric than this? How has she managed to consistently keep her foot on my neck lyrically for the past near decade? That's just begging to be a selfie caption in the near future.

Oh, and speaking of selfies: Lana's had a lot of fun in this modern world - the culture is #lit, as you know - but she's burned out and signing off, after all.

Co-written solely with Jack, "The Greatest" is an immediate new favorite in her discography, as romantic and cinematic as the stuff of her debut, but less starry-eyed and vastly more worldweary than the girl she used to be.

This is the ultimate disillusionment anthem, essentially.

Ever the listless drifter, Lana wistfully looks back at the lives she lived before all this - back to New York, back with her friends, back at the bar where the Beach Boys would go. It's kind of the death knell of the pre-social media generation: "Me and my friends‚ we miss rock 'n' roll / I want shit to feel just like it used to," she murmurs.

"I'm facing the greatest / The greatest loss of them all..."

In the song's final moments, she rattles through just some of the insanity of the current State of Things: "Oh, I just missed a fireball / L.A. is in flames‚ it's getting hot / Kanye West is blond and gone / 'Life on Mars' ain't just a song / Oh, the livestream's almost on," she deadpans, alluding to social media oversaturation, David Bowie's ode to daydreaming about less depressing life elsewhere, delusional idol worship and global warming all in one go.

There's plenty more wrong with this country (she addressed gun violence on the fly one week before with "Looking For America"), and you can dwell further on that, or just surrender to getting lost in the song's beautiful piano outro instead. (I suggest the latter, personally.)

A glass half full outlook? Perhaps not - not nearly as much as parts of 2017's socially conscious Lust for Life like "Get Free," anyway. I've never turned to her music for a sunny outlook, anyway. And yet, there she is, all smiles throughout the slightly surreal, slightly campy Rich Lee-directed double video for the two Norman Fucking Rockwell songs.

Is she signing off, for real? Hopefully not. It's doubtful, anyway. She's threatened to do as much in the past. But if this is it, she'd be logging out on a high note.

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Cascada Like The Way I Do

'Like the Way I Do': Cascada Returns to Rescue the Dance Floor

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_sfIM0Y9mA

Cascada, the legendary "Everytime We Touch" troupe, is back.

When it comes to German chart-toppers stateside, there are, admittedly, not many that spring to mind. But that barely matters when there's one iconic dance trio that has allowed the nation to dominate on dance floors across the world for well over a decade. Of course, we're talking about Cascada.

Not every Eurodance act has a hit that epitomizes an era, but "Everytime We Touch" - it's a Pop Excellence fact that "every time" must be spelled as one word, just ask Britney - is exactly that: give it a listen, and you'll be transported right back to 2006. Maybe right after you discovered Kelly Osbourne's "One Word" - what a moment we're currently having for mid-'00s electro-pop justice.

If you're cultured, you'll already know that Cascada are far from one-hit wonders: they smashed again stateside years later with that "What Hurts the Most" cover, the heavily Lady Gaga-inspired "Evacuate the Dancefloor" and "Pyromania," and even represented Germany at Eurovision in 2013 with "Glorious."

Granted, their output has slowed considerably to about a single per year - but they've made it clear they're not going anywhere.

Case in point: Natalie Horler and company returned to us on Friday (August 16) with a brand new single, called "Like the Way I Do." And, in keeping with almost all things Cascada, they've only gone and done it again.

One of the genuinely impressive traits of the trio is that their sound has managed to shape-shift along with the musical soundscape at the moment, always sounding reliably on-trend - and then usually driving that sound into the ground. The cover art and music videos? Maybe not quite as impressive. But Queen Natalie still makes the most of a $15 budget, a fashion hat and a furry couch.

"Like the Way I Do" sounds nothing like "Everytime We Touch," nor is it much of a stretch to imagine it shuffled into any of the current Spotify Dance/House playlists. Natalie's voice also sounds as excellent as always, and the lyrics are deceivingly wistful - always a plus when it comes to a dance floor anthem.

We'd evacuated the dance floor for so long, we barely remembered why we were there in the first place. Thank you for returning to us, Cascada.

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Ava Max Torn

'Torn': Ava Max Has Another Dance-Pop Hit on Her Hands

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPyQRtd7hNU

Should Ava Max stay or should she go?

From her global chart-dominating 2018 breakout smash hit "Sweet But Psycho," to that half-bob hairdo, to her latest release, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: Miss Ava Max is one conflicted rising pop princess.

That said, it's working out for her.

With "Torn," her latest single released on Monday (August 19), Ava's delivered a winning disco-inspired anthem dedicated to the Great Angst of Indecision.

Equipped with a brief synth flourish unquestionably reminiscent of ABBA's iconic "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)," as sampled in Madonna's equally iconic Confessions On A Dance Floor anthem "Hung Up," the Cirkut-produced track serves up all the drama of a properly good pop song ("You set the rain on fire / I wish the lows were higher / Wish I could stop, stop, stop to save me") and, mercifully, a chorus.

Yes: a real chorus - a sing-along earworm ("Oh no!") - in the middle of this pop drought.

“Love and hate are two of the strongest emotions we feel in relationships. ‘Torn’ explores the struggle between them that everyone can relate to. I’m so excited to share my new single with the world! Keep your eyes peeled for the video coming soon," Ava says of the new song.

Give "Torn" a spin, then give it another: the only thing you won't be, ironically, is torn.

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Photo Credit: Atlantic Records / Lauren Dunn


Normani Motivation

'Motivation': Normani Provides Hope for the New Generation of Pop Stars

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKXSh14svlQ

Finally, the promise of a new pop supreme.

Just last week, I was leaning heavy into my Bitter Aging Gay feelings and bemoaning the demise of the Pop Spectacle - apart from a rare handful of standouts and rising stars, obviously.

Throw down your swords and shady tweets, because it doesn't matter where your allegiance(s) lies: Britney, Gaga, Beyonce, Rihanna, Madonna, Janet, whatever - we can still come together and agree they've all served up larger-than-life, genuinely iconic pop culture moments, which now feel unbelievably few and far between in a sea of #NewMusicFriday, Spotify algorithm-oriented sameness.

Normani has arrived, and she's providing a glimmer of hope for that Main Pop Girl glory of yesteryear.

Following a string of successful collaborations over the past year with acts like Khalid ("Love Lies") and Sam Smith ("Dancing With A Stranger") after breaking free from Fifth (Fourth) Harmony, "Motivation" is Normani's first actual, real solo moment, out on Friday (August 16) - and it does, in fact, feel like a moment. In 2019. Imagine.

More than the song (which we'll get into), the "Motivation" music video is a fiercely confident first statement - a defiant "I'm here, you bitches," while paying homage to the (now vintage) days of early '00s pop. Bey, Brit, J.Lo - you can feel their energy permeating throughout the video, directed by Dave Meyers, a music industry titan who's worked with almost all of our faves.

From the 106 & Park video premiere fantasy opening, to that "Crazy In Love"-esque opening strut, to the "...Baby One More Time"-meets-"Outrageous"-slash-Rolling Stone '99 shoot and "I'm Real" street/basketball court scenes (and that rain-drenched breakdown, of course, is clearly a nod to Legendtina's ahead-of-its-time "Not Myself Tonight"), Normani delivers a thrilling, genuinely impressive burst of choreography (praise be), showcasing her superb talent as a dancer while also providing a glorious tribute to the girls we idolize.

There are at least two memorably incredible moves in particular: That basketball butt bump? The cock-destroying split in the rain?

Normani Basketball GIF

Yes, and yes.

Normani Split GIF

The song itself is a fun and flirty, break-you-off bedroom romp, thematically similar to fellow girl group member-turned-solo star Kelandria Rowlegendary's own song of the same name from 2011. Oh, you didn't think this lifelong Rowland Stone would forget a K.Row reference, did you?

The track was produced by Ilya and co-written by her sweetener tour sis Ariana Grande, which would explain the Ari-ness of it all - and also co-written by Savan Kotecha and the Pop God himself, Max Martin.

I wouldn't say it's quite as massively hook-heavy and scream-singalong-worthy as I might have initially hoped coming from the likes of Max & Co. - but it does get increasingly better with each listen. More importantly - because this culture is visual-dominated, after all - the stellar music video thoroughly sells the song.

As she's already proven in the years leading up to this moment, especially with her awards show performances, Normani is unquestionably a star. That this is only the beginning for her is an incredibly exciting prospect at a time when pop's future was starting to feel a bit bleak.

Get on Normani's level, everybody else.

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Photo Credit: Dennis Leupold


Britney Spears Robyn Piece Of Me Demo

Robyn's Demo of Britney's 'Piece of Me' Surfaces Over a Decade Later

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rB-GktiMtZ4

Fun year to be a Britney Spears fan, right? So much fun. What a wonderful year for everybody all around. Are you having fun? Same. Definitely.

Uh, anyway.

Since basically nothing about the present is particularly joyous, despite B-Girl's own recent sage words of advice - live in the moment, baby - let's throw it back and dwell on the past instead...which is basically what Britney fans have been doing anyway for the past 1,000+ days since her last studio album, 2016's Glory. (Some even launched a podcast dedicated to everything she's done up until this year - I heard it was pretty good.)

Many (man on the) moons ago, in the year 2007, Britney released a really cool, indie, under-the-radar (REFERENCE) chilly dance record called Blackout at the height of paparazzi fever, during an era Britney scholars loosely refer to as "Rebellionney." (The formal name, of course, being the "rebellion-snippet.mp3" era.)

The world watched, and largely mocked, a once top-of-the-pops princess for her up-and-down (and-up-and-down-and-up-and...) lifestyle, marked by increasingly erratic behavior in the public eye - a Vegas "joke" wedding, an unglamorous, occasionally unflattering UPN reality TV show, two children, club nights with Paris Hilton, a divorce, late night drives to nowhere, British accents, lighters, barefoot gas station sprees, the M&Ms Tour, upskirt shots, a head shave, tattoos, an umbrella attack, photo shoot meltdowns, rehab, streams of consciousness, Remembrances of Who She Is, going to the light and seeing Jesus, and everything in between.

We've seen and heard all that, and - unless you're one of the teens with a Twitter account just joining us on this journey - we all lived through that, too. (Have a listen to the "2007" episode of It's Britney, Bitch! while you're at it for a refresher, anyway.)

At the time, Britney bit back with a still-fierce, still-relevant electro-pop anthem called "Piece Of Me," a musical middle finger to the tabloids, and the public, for criticizing her appearance and her behavior.

What we didn't have until this very moment was the bare bones of the track: the demo, produced by Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg (otherwise known as Bloodshy & Avant) and Klas Ahlund, featuring the Honey-ed guide vocals by none other than the legendary Queen of Swede-Pop herself, Robyn.

While any stan worth their weight in French-only "Anticipating" CD singles knows that Robyn can clearly be heard in the heavily manipulated chorus of the song as-is, we'd never heard the much-rumored Robyn version of the song...until now.

Likely due to the Indefinite Work Hiatus drought, Robyn's "Piece of Me" demo surfaced on Tuesday (August 13).

There aren't any lyrical or vocal surprises to be found here: it's Robyn delivering reliably Robyn-esque vocals for a song which feels like a cross between Robyn's own ahead-of-its-time 2005 record Robyn and the early DNA of what would become her own 2010 opus Body Talk, especially the sassiest of songs, like "Fembot" and "Criminal Intent." At the same time, it's clear that "Piece of Me" was never meant for Robyn: the Britney-related lyrics remain untouched in the demo, including "Oh my God, that Britney's shameless." (She also didn't write the song.)

While the odds of new Britney anything in the next God-knows-how-long seem slim to say the least (nor am I expecting to hear anything from her soon...or possibly ever again, honestly), hearing how "Piece of Me" sounded at its starting point in Sweden before being given the Britney treatment and polished to perfection is still enough of a nostalgic thrill.

Photo credit: Clare Shilland / RCA Records