Category Archives: Music

Go Away, Justin: Carly Rae Jepsen, “I Really Like You,” and the Business of Bieber

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In January, Scooter Braun—the head of Schoolboy Records and manager to Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, among others—gave us our first indication of how Carly Rae Jepsen would be following up “Call Me Maybe.”

True, she followed it up with a really great pop album that got unfairly ignored, but this is different. This is the follow up to a song of the summer, an earworm on a scale we rarely see from a “debut” artist (the quotation marks referring to her previous success in Canada, typically erased in her media narrative following her breakout success). And as Braun’s comments to Billboard indicate, there was pressure on Jepsen to recapture the success that started it all:

“Her new single is coming in March. I told her that she couldn’t come out with anything unless it was on the level of “Call Me Maybe.” And, now we have a new one that is on that level.”

That’s a lot of pressure for a new single, and I would argue that “I Really Like You” delivered as best it could: it’s not “Call Me Maybe,” but nothing can recreate the sense of discovery that came with that song. The narrative of an unsung artist being elevated to the status of sudden stardom through the help of some famous friends was not just about Justin Bieber/Selena Gomez lipdubs—it was that the song was something people discovered, and then shared, and then acted out themselves and shared again. It became, for lack of a better term, a “cultural phenomenon” in a way we rarely see, and in a way that makes creating something on the same scale nearly impossible.

“I Really Like You” succeeds in being catchy, and got the type of attention it deserved: lots of headlines debating whether or not it lives up to “Call Me Maybe,” with none of them being able to definitively claim the single lacks the same DNA musically. The issue is that there’s no way to recreate a cultural phenomenon, which is a big part of why my personal interest in Jepsen’s followup has more to do with the album—packed to the gills with interesting producers and collaborators—than with the single, which based on Braun’s comments is engineered to tap into a vein that I would argue was a product of a specific time and a specific set of circumstances.

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Come and Stream Your Songs?: The Jukebox Soundtrack in the YouTube/Spotify Era


When this week’s final Billboard Hot 200 album chart is released, either the 51st installment of the Now That’s What I Call Music! series or Awesome Mix Vol. 1, the soundtrack to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, will be the best-selling album in the United States. If Awesome Mix Vol. 1 makes it to the summit, it will be the first soundtrack from a summer film to reach No. 1 since Mamma Mia! in 2008, and the first for a non-musical since Bad Boys II in 2003.

This would be a significant accomplishment with or without No. 1, particularly given the fact that the various songs that make up Awesome Mix Vol. 1 are readily available to stream on services like Spotify, or on YouTube. There is no single to drive sales of the album, as the film’s jukebox-style soundtrack relies entirely on songs from the 1970s. And while some Twitter conversation among colleagues made a connection back to K-tel—and we could think about Time Life as well—in regards to the album’s appeal to a nostalgia for music of this period, there’s also a wide audience of younger audiences who may not be familiar with some of the songs used in the film. But those audiences are often imagined as those who stream music on YouTube or Spotify, and who could simply create their own playlists featuring the songs from the film without needing to pay out for the album.

Given this, the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack offers an interesting case study of how these platforms are being activated by labels like Hollywood Records, and how this jukebox soundtrack is being branded—if not “sold”—in spaces that won’t be counted by Billboard’s album chart.

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2 Channels of Discovery: YouTube, Stardom, and 5 Seconds of Summer


Around two years ago, America was meeting One Direction.

Pop music moves quickly: since then, One Direction has released three albums and a feature documentary/concert film, and is preparing for a U.S. stadium tour later this year. Building on my initial consideration of the band’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, the band and its fanbase have been a point of interest for me during this period. There was the time their fans threatened The Who on Twitter, the time they fought back against restrictive definitions of fandom reinforced by Ubisoft in a YouTube ad, and the time when Larry Stylinson shippers were shamed by promotions for a documentary airing in the U.K. And that’s only scratching the surface of a band and fanbase that remain at the epicenter of contemporary notions of stardom both on the Internet and within the music industry (where the band continues to function in a marginalized yet lucrative corner different from the “success” of the boy bands of my own youth).

Within this context, my brother Ryan—who, if you’re unaware, writes about music as I write about television—reached out for my thoughts on One Direction’s opener on their upcoming stadium tour, 5 Seconds of Summer, who are currently embarking on a similar American tour. His interest was in thinking about the function of genre, as the Australian foursome functions as what he calls “the next logical evolution of One Direction” through their direct engagement with rock music. Whereas One Direction’s expansion into the rock space was part of a gradual evolution (and a clear claim at legitimation relative to the bubblegum pop of their “youth”), 5 Seconds of Summer is starting from a place of playing their own instruments, writing their own songs, and resisting the label of “boy band” despite being a group of four teenagers with carefully cultivated haircuts.

The band raises many interesting questions, and considering the relationship between the two bands—who are not coincidentally managed by the same company—offers lots of broader considerations of the way we can understand “boy bands” as a construct that can cross generic lines in our contemporary musical moment. Musically, “She Looks So Perfect” looks set to make a run as a potential summer anthem, and the EP of the same name sold 143,000 copies in its debut (which is not far off from the 176,000 copies One Direction sold of their first LP in 2012).

But what I’m interested in exploring is what I discovered when I was prompted to consider the band more carefully. Searching for the band on Spotify turned up She Looks So Perfect and its four carefully curated pop songs, designed to break the band into the American market after previous success in the U.K. and their native Australia. However, what I found on YouTube was something entirely different, an extensive back catalog of original material and video content. The discovery has me thinking about the narrative of “discovery” as a form of branding, and the ways the band’s launch shows an interest in maintaining that narrative as the primary lens through which the band is to be viewed.

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It Came In Like a [Carefully Calculated] “Wrecking Ball”

Earlier this year, Billboard announced that it would be including YouTube streaming in its calculations for its Hot 100 chart. The same week, “Harlem Shake” became the number one song in America based on thirty seconds of it being used in thousands of viral videos.

Billboard chose to implement its new rules that week because it saw an opportunity to draw headlines, furthering their relevance while damaging their legitimacy (see the elder McNutt on that particular subject). They could have implemented them a week earlier, or a week later, but I’d bet money on them waiting for a moment to debut the metric when they could claim a song debuted at #1 because of their new streaming numbers that put Billboard on the pulse of how people are listening to music (Billboard’s Silvio Pietroluongo suggests it just happened to be that week, but I call shenanigans).

The impact of streaming has been less dramatic in the weeks since Harlem Shake’s five-week run atop the Billboard charts: One Direction’s “Best Song Ever” broke a Vevo record for most views in its first 24 hours and debuted at No. 2, but the single failed to gain traction and plummeted out of the Top 10 the following week (to No. 15). “Breaking the Vevo record” has become a new way for fans to support an artist, as Miley Cyrus set a record with “We Can’t Stop” (unseating Justin Bieber, who had unseated One Direction, who had unseated Justin Bieber), which was broken by One Direction, then tested—with some controversy—by Lady Gaga, before being claimed again by Cyrus with “Wrecking Ball.”

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Resisting This Kiss: A Carly Rae Jepsen Followup

Earlier this year, I offered some thoughts on the transnational nature of Carly Rae Jepsen’s meteoric rise on the pop charts, before “Call Me Maybe” become the song of the summer and before its memeification spread to the outer reaches of the solar system. Since that point, the meme has threatened to swallow the artist, which Katherine St. Asaph focuses on in a recent MTV Hive article, “How the Internet Killed Carly Rae Jepsen.”

It’s an interesting piece that highlights the low sales for Jepsen’s album Kiss, which has sold under 100,000 copies. St. Asaph makes the case that Jepsen’s attempt to establish herself as an artist has been impossible in the wake of her unprecedented success:

This sounds counterintuitive; shouldn’t it help Jepsen for thousands of people to remix, recreate and otherwise rejoice over her song? But the meme’s not about Jepsen; it’s about her song, and she is secondary…This is the problem Carly Rae Jepsen’s facing: loving “Call Me Maybe” as a meme hasn’t made people invested in her as a musician. To be fair, she’s at a few disadvantages. She’s 26, making music most people would call teenpop. She’s best associated with Justin Bieber, someone who’s still a moptop preteen in the non-fan imagination. Her 2008 debut, Tug of War, inexplicably remained Canadian-only. And she isn’t the type to flaunt the outsize personalities that bring success in U.S. pop. She’s just charming, to the point of being demure.

The article features some good analysis of how recent changes to the Billboard charts have changed the nature of pop hits, taking new metrics into account, but it doesn’t ask a question that has been on my mind—and that I’ve talked about with my brother Ryan, whose beat I’m encroaching on talking about this—since the album debuted: why was this album released when it was?

Answering this question does not dramatically change Jepsen or the album’s fate, but it does offer some different context for the logics Jepsen’s career is operating under at this moment.

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Group Writing Project Update: Day 4 Highlights

So, as you may have noticed, I had a Top 5 yesterday for ProBlogger’s Group Writing Project. And, since it’s a “Group” writing project, there’s over a thousand entries. I featured six of them yesterday, and there’s another five today I think are worth some time.

First, Jason Griffin at TVAholic runs down the 5 “bubble shows” which he wants to see renewed this week, which is conveniently timed to my Upfront Extravaganza. I agree with some of his choices, and one has even already been renewed, but the fact remains that everything is still up in the air.

At Toon Brew, meanwhile, Neal runs down his Five Favourite Comic Book Characters. His #1 is okay with me, but the rest of the list makes me feel bad for remaining so very disconnected from comic strips outside of my core three. Expanding that horizon might be a project for when I’m really bored at some point, and perhaps some further comic book purchases are in order.

On the music side of things, JesterTunes has a list of Five Songs That Make Jester Happy. I’ve added my own songs to their list in the comments section, and I think that happy music is something everyone should have. The most recent addition to my Happy playlist is John Lennon’s “Instant Karma.”

Meanwhile, Alan over at Big Ugly Couch runs down what everyone who has ever made a powerpoint needs to read right now. Seriously, people, I’ve sat through too many excruciating presentations to let you go on like this. Alan’s five suggestions are so bloody simple, and yet so categorically ignored. I’ll also add that, in my view, whether it’s a discussion class or not, I want to see a thesis for your argument or a summary of your point, not just random questions. *Shakes Fist*

ScribbleKing, meanwhile, has an interesting argument regarding why studios should stop making big-budget films. He’s right, on a lot of accounts, but I worry that it’s too idealist. I think that as long as an audience exists for and a studio-mentality supports such films, there really isn’t much of a chance of that trend ending any time soon.

For the rest of the entries, head over to ProBlogger. There’s some really interesting stuff there, entertainment-related or not.


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Talkin’ Junos: Live-Blogging Extravaganza

It’s time for the annual celebration of popular Canadian Music, no matter how counter-intuitive that statement may sound. I’ll be cutting in on occasion during the pre-show, but I’m quite likely to be ignoring Tanya Kim’s hair and eTalk @ The Junos.

7:00pm: Ben Mulroney informs us about something quite silly, and then Tanya Kim has some stars of Corner Gas…and Gabrielle Miller is wearing some sort of bizarre odd thing that is part shorts, part dress, and part…I don’t even know. Oh Gabrielle Miller.

7:03pm: Chris Murphy makes me mildly happy for existing, at this particular point, and his presence at the awards and the fact that the Rock Album award will be presented live bode well for his chances.

7:05pm: George Canyon and Carolyn Dawn Johnson…and Canyon makes a hockey reference, and gets an annoying cheap pop. His head is huge.

7:08pm: Tanya Kim most certainly just kind of let herself bhee mobbed for tickets by Grayson Williams, it was fairly entertaining. There was also JackSould in there, and now Colin James is there. This is supposed to be exciting? Continue reading

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