Thursday, July 10, 2014

An American's Guide to The X Factor UK: Part I

Look, they're pointing at your ignorance.

It has come to my attention that there is a problem with America's education system. It seems that the vast majority of this country does not know the intricate details behind the monumental sensation of one of the greatest reality television singing competitions in the entire world: The X Factor UK. That's right, the television show that brought you such hits (!!!) as

is actually also responsible for some of the most amazing talent in music.

Just a brief rundown, the X Factor UK was created by our dear friend Simon Cowell as a replacement for Pop Idol (basically the original version of American Idol). Talented young musicians come to try out in front of the accredited (It's all about Cheryl Cole) musical judges for a chance for superstardom. After making it past auditions, bootcamp, and Judges' house, the real competition can begin. The show does a very good job of actually finding artists with that X Factor that keeps you coming back to their music for more. As anyone can see in the United States, we kind of lost that magic in our Idol winners and the Voice is more about the competition rather than the actual singers themselves. Plus, the X Factor gives groups an opportunity to show their stuff and singers that don't even make it very far can end up creating fruitful careers in pop music.

So here we are. After 10 seasons of the X Factor UK, we have amassed quite the army of amazing pop acts that have (mostly) been consistent in delivering show-stopping music and entertaining us one way or another. In order to give Americans most of the info they need to get excited for the upcoming season of the X Factor (which will see the return of Simon Cowell & Queen Chezza and the addition of BLOODY SCARY SPICE MEL B), I have decided to give a brief rundown on the major pop entities that were formed on, supported by, and some who ultimately overshadowed the X Factor. Because there are so many, I will only do the first 5 series, but stay tuned for the second installment to come soon.

The Dolly Rockers

The Dolly Rockers managed to make it to Judges' House on Series 3 of the X Factor before being booted. Props for singing "Round Round" by the Sugababes though girls. Since then, they suffered some minor setbacks including a member's departure, fights with other girl bands, a not so spectacular single ("North vs. South" if you're curious), and their lost member returning after seeing how amazing girl group life must be. Don't let this put you off though, these girls managed to create some damn good music such as "Boys Will Be Boys" and my personal favorite "Gold Digger." Unfortunately, the whole project seemed to be a train wreck behind the scenes, resulting in another audition for the 10th series of the X Factor. After being rejected (again), I guess the girls had had it and decided to call it quits. Still, we managed to get "Gold Digger" though!

Leona Lewis

The first two seasons of the X Factor were all well and good but Season 3 gave us something that we never expected and yet realized we need more than ever: a winner who possessed a god given voice that could make an angel cry and the star power to make fans faint with one look. That person was Leona Lewis. Yes, the singer of classics like "Bleeding Love" and "Collide (feat. Avicii)" actually came from the X Factor. Admittedly, she had a lot of things going for her. First off, THAT VOICE DOOOOOOOOOE. Secondly, she is drop dead gorgeous and could look amazing wearing a garbage bag full of trash. Thirdly, she had attended the BRIT school, a songwriter's paradise in London that essentially give you the tools to become a superstar (other alumni include Amy Winehouse, Adele, Katy B, and Jessie J). And lastly, she had the expert managerial power of her X Factor mentor Simon Cowell to propel her to international stardom. Her recent Christmas album is certifiably brilliant. And come on, if you were alive in 2008, you couldn't escape "Bleeding Love." She has never failed to give us that amazing OMG WTF moment in every performance.

Same Difference

You don't see brother-sister duos doing so well in music these days so when Same Difference came onto the scene in the fourth series of the X Factor, people thought that they would get axed first along with a brutal criticism from Simon. But, surprise surprise, they turned out to be both fan and judge favorites, making it all the way to 3rd place despite their admittedly cheesy and Disney-ish performances. But it was after the Factor that the duo managed to get a real career, essentially becoming the poster children for upbeat happy kid pop that we all know and love. Their second album Rest Is History is basically what every 10 year old wants in a pop album and includes a lamazing duet with Alcazar called "Karma Karma." After taking a break from music to start a Popstar Academy for children, the duo split up to pursue solo careers. Fortunately, it appears that they have come back together this year so new music should be on the horizon and maybe they'll have a Miley Cyrus makeover to become "edgy" as the kids say.

Alexandra Burke

Here we have another diva who anyone can see immediately has the total package. Alexandra Burke has got the looks, the moves, and the voice to make any performance show stopping. And damn can this girl SANG. The girl managed to sing all of my favorite songs by pop deities like Whitney, Britney, and Rihanna. It was no wonder she won the 5th series of the Factor with a little help from her mentor Cheryl (and the Beyonce duet didn't hurt either). After winning, Burke had an extremely amazing career which included the signature "Bad Boys", the insane "Elephant", and the anthemic "All Night Long". She is also extremely charismatic and managed to be a brilliant judge during auditions for later series of the X Factor. Though she appears to be in album limbo right now, Alexandra decided to go full circle and is starring in a stage adaptation of Whitney Houston's The Bodyguard. All in all, she really knows this whole popstar game.


Yes tween girls, it's a boy band. JLS (Jack the Lad Swing, whatever the hell that means) came into the competition in series 5 and immediately cemented themselves as the best band the X Factor had ever seen. The two notable members are Marvin Humes (aka Rochelle from the Saturdays husband) and Aston (who is clearly the Justin of this group). They came in second to Miss Alexandra but don't you worry, they have a string of number one hits to prove that everyone loves it when hot boys sing and dance together wearing all white. With a prolific career that has included the hits "Beat Again" and "She Makes Me Wanna," JLS have been a national treasure for the past 5 years. It was in 2013 that the group decided it was time to end JLS but not without an amazing Greatest hits album and a money raking arena tour mind you. While they may have ended their singles career rather poorly, JLS really were excellent popstars and hopefully we get one or two solo deals out of all this huh boys?

Diana Vickers

We now come to my favorite X Factor contestant EVER, Diana Vickers. Diana came into the 5th season's competition and was immediately noted as a hippie weirdo by Louis Walsh. However, that breathy voice mixed with the Cinderella looks and adorable quirkiness (she had the claw before Lorde thank you very much) made her the immediate fan favorite. But as with every reality TV show, Diana was eliminated too early and finished in fourth place. After losing (#JusticeforVickers), Diana decided to team up with all star pop deities Cathy Dennis, Ellie Goulding, Starsmith, and Eg White among others to release 2009's Songs From The Tainted Cherry Tree, which contained the ridiculously amazing "Once" and "The Boy Who Murdered Love." After all the first album hype settled down, Ms. Vickers decided to go to the next level of pop amazingness and teamed up with the legendary Miranda Cooper (responsible for all sorts of Girls Aloud amazingness) and enigmatic Norwegian electro band Donkeyboy to create one of the best albums of 2013 Music to Make Boys Cry, whose title track and song "Better In French" are almost too breathtaking to describe. I don't say this lightly: Diana is the most underrated X Factor alum and will forever be the little hippie that stole our hearts.

Well that's the best of the first 5 series. You're excited for Part II now aren't you?

Song of The Day: "Peanut Butter (Moon Boots Remix)" by Alison Valentine

This song holds a special place in my heart as it was the first song I discovered through my favorite music blog, Popjustice. Since then, "Peanut Butter" has been a staple in every playlist I make and after listening to it once, you can see why. Alison Valentine succeeded in making a uniquely exotic pop song for the summer that uses auto tune in the least annoying way possible. Not only that, Ms. Valentine has a very similar past to myself. We both went to boarding school, currently attend NYU (where I randomly met her on the streets and proceeded to freak out) and share a love of dreamy French house music.

Alison has released a couple of cool, seasonal pop songs that are pleasant enough to listen to but they never quite reach the height that "Peanut Butter" has set for the budding "trop-pop" singer. However, Valentine's impeccable taste in music makes me believe that her best is yet to come and this Moon Boots remix shows exactly what vein of disco-stomping summer anthems Alison should continue creating. A promising producer in his own right, Moon Boots and Alison are a dream team sent from heaven. And for some reason the metaphor of spreading "love like peanut butter" is very appealing (I wonder if Alison likes it smooth or crunchy?)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Blast From The Past: "All Night Long (Touch Me)" by Cathy Dennis

Cathy Dennis has been a treasure in the music industry for a REALLY long time. She casually decided to become a pop superstar in both her native UK as well as the US in the 90's with her unique brand of disco-tinged pop that threw you back to days that, at the time, weren't that far behind us. "All Night Long" really shows what her whole artistry was about and thank god people took notice. Her first album released before I was born in 1991 is a classic and she also became a pop idol in the taste making nation of Japan as well.

Unfortunately, as effortlessly as she came onto the music scene, Cathy decided to screw us over by ending her singing career and shifting her focus to songwriting for other artists. But it wasn't all bad. She had a hand in creating such modern classics as "I Kissed A Girl" by Katy Perry and "Once" by my favorite X Factor contestant Diana Vickers. But let's not stop there everyone. She only bloody went and wrote "Toxic" by BRITNEY FUCKING SPEARS and "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" by QUEEN KYLIE MINOGUE! What do you have on your resume there?! Currently, there are rumors she has worked with Charli XCX for her second album (!!!) and hopefully she can create a new anthem that will be most played on my iPod for a good 5 years. Until then, let's just listen to "All Night Long" and wistfully contemplate a world where Cathy Dennis never stopped singing.

Song of The Day: "Heart On Fire" by Indiana

Nottingham-born singer Indiana has been on my radar for about a year now but never really made an impression with her dark alternative electropop. Charli XCX kind of corners the whole cool dark pop princess thing and it was always a hard market to crack. However, Indiana did the best thing any person making music can do. She decided to release that single that made everyone go, "What the hell is this? I don't like this. Why won't it leave my head? Oh, because it's brilliant and ingenious. Did I say I don't like this? JK LOL."

Since Solo Dancing decided to become my nightly mantra for months, Indiana has been busy readying her debut album No Romeo and today, she dropped the video for "Heart on Fire," the first song by her that I believe will kill the mainstream market. Atop steady and delicate synths, Indiana laments over a love lost and feeling that burn in that special place we all know as "the heart." It could have easily been an amazing Robyn single but something about Indiana's hypnotic vocal draws you in and makes the song special, something I hope she keeps forever (maybe she could go into hypnotism as a aside job?). As we wait for that album to drop, let's be happy that pop noir is starting to finally find its place in the world (yes, Saroj we get it, you called this like 3 years ago, shut up now.)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Future Smash Alert: Are You Ready for "Trouble" by Neon Jungle?

Let's not beat around the bush (did you catch that jungle reference?). We are in a severe girl group shortage at the moment and pop can never really be amazing unless one is going about somewhere making amaze balls music. In 2013, we saw the end of Girls Aloud (WE WILL NEVER FORGET) and Sugababes 2.0, which really could have ended after that last forgettable single they released. Meanwhile, the Origibabes, aka Mutya Keisha Siobhan, came back with a brilliant single and decided to go away into obscurity for a while, as all major artists do. Currently, The Saturdays are readying a Greatest Hits album only, Little Mix is nearing the end of their album campaign for Salute and Danity Kane was cut down to a trio before the release of their comeback single (Fifth Harmony who?).

Indeed, it looked as if we may have entered a dark age where girl groups died out and desolation could be heard from every corner. We may as well have gone through another ice age that killed all the dinosaurs, that's how cold life felt.

Then, out of nowhere, Neon Jungle decided to casually go about saving the world as we know it and reinvigorating life into the cliché idea of what a girl group should sound like. In summer 2013, "Trouble" by the Jungle came out and signaled the arrival of a hurricane sized force in pop. Who were these four stunning modelesque beauties trashing this house while playing with puppies? Well they happened to be Jess Plummer, Asami Zdrenka, Shereen Cutkelvin, and Amira McCarthey. With "Trouble" being their debut single, Neon Jungle cemented their position as the new girl group in town. 

The song's revolutionary ability to set itself apart from the rest of mainstream radio is thanks to its writers, the amazing pop entities known as Cocknbullkid and Fear of Tigers (those names alone deserve a Grammy).With enough swagger and badassery to earn themselves a place on Bad Girls Club, the high energy Icona Pop-like catchiness of "Trouble" will not get out of your head for at least 72 hours and this is coming from a premed student so you know it's true.  Not only did it give the girls their first top 20 chart hit in the UK and become one of the best songs of 2013, it gave them enough traction to cross the pond and perform at last year's Victoria's Secret Fashion Show alongside pop juggernauts like Taylor Swift and Fall Out Boy.

The girls kept the momentum going by releasing 2 more top 10 hit singles "Braveheart" and "Welcome to the Jungle" which was essentially their way of saying, "Remember 'Spice Up Your Life'? Yeah, we're Neon Jungle, bitches!" The reckless clubby feel of these songs fit along with their debut single and their album set to be released at the end of July is sure to be among one of 2014's finest.

The best part about the band is that they know they're awesome. So awesome that they release covers of other amazing music, thereby compiling the collective amazingness into one performance. So awesome that the girls regularly show how much they love their fans through different media. And so awesome that the UK can't possibly contain their amazingness and they have decided to release "Trouble" in America THIS SUMMER! If that doesn't become a smash hit in the States, I will have lost all faith in college girls in the club who would eat this song up. But in the meantime, I'll be bouncing up and down to this song until the 72 hour rush it gives me dies away, which will probably never happen. And all I have to say to that is...

Song Of The Day: "Little White Lies" by Florrie

Dear god, this is amazing. Florrie has given us a new song after just releasing her brilliant Sirens EP and it's one that we have all been waiting for. After teasing all her fans with 4 EPs worth of amaze balls music, Florrie appears to finally be readying her debut album and if it comes out this year, it definitely has the potential to be the best album of the decade, let alone year.

"Little White Lies" is one of Florrie's hardest hitting singles. Beginning with a Girls Aloudian guitar-synth intro, Florrie sings of a love that she really isn't that into and hopes to justify her #littlewhitelies throughout the rest of the song. That chorus gives us what Florrie has never really done before, a catchy yet hard-hitting cut that keeps us entranced and coming back for more (once again, thanks Xenomania!). If you don't know Florrie by now, you better stop and take a look because she could be pop's savior in the near future. 

Stay tuned for an Artist Retrospective on her soon as she is one of my favorite popstars.