Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thoughts On The BRITS Critics' Choice

December is nearly upon us and that means we have an entire new year to get excited for. In order to optimize your musical experience for the new year, a bunch of music critics decide to tell you what artists are likely to become "successful" and force you to listen to them. One of the most credible sources of this type of judgment comes from the BRIT Awards. Essentially the British version of the American Music Awards, the BRITs are amazing and horrible at the same time. Performances are amazing, winners are horrible. So the perfect award show.

One of the awards given at the awards every year is the Critics' Choice award, which as you can tell, is given to the critics' favorite British act of the upcoming year. Starting in 2008, it started out as an intelligent discussion on who has the most talent to carry on the British tradition of great music, where any new act releasing their debut album the following year was eligible. Now, it has become the self-fulfilling prophecy to give the act of choice a guaranteed hit in England. Granted, most of the time they make good music so all's well that end's well. Let's take a look back at the past winners as well as this year's nominees and my take on who should win (I'VE BECOME ONE OF THEM!)

Winner For 2008: ADELE

This was a correct decision. Adele was a good choice for the first winner and she has taken this award in stride and been the premiere artist for sad blubbathons for the past 5 years. The other nominees Duffy (remember her?) and Foals have done all right for themselves but if anything, Adele's new album will probably slay 2015 and teach all future winners how to take over the world.

Winner For 2009: Florence + The Machine

For most people, 2009 was a golden age for music. The reinvigoration of new wave and disco-tinged pop thanks to artists like Ladyhawke, La Roux, Goldfrapp, and Lady Gaga made it one of the most magical times to be alive. Nonetheless, the award went to Florence and Her Machine, which in hindsight was probably the correct decision. Her debut album was the perfect antithesis to all the electro production going on but kept in line with strong and creative females taking over music. And if you weren't wailing to "Dog Days Are Over" that year, you and I can't be friends. Once again, the new album may be the best alternative album of 2015.

Winner For 2010: Ellie Goulding

This was a tough one. The three nominees this year were Ellie Goulding, Marina & The Diamonds, and Delphic. Clearly, everyone was rooting for Delphic (HAHAHAHA). But seriously, how can you choose between Ellie and Marina? It was the Sophie's Choice of music that year. Unfortunately it came down to who could sell more records and Ellie Goulding definitely had a more mainstream sound. If Marina had recorded "Starry Eyed," I don't know how they would have picked. Oh well, they both had #1 albums and since both are gearing up for round 3 of "Whose album is better this year in 2015?" we'll see whether Ellie can hold onto that title.

Winner For 2011: Jessie J

This was the first year where things started to get a little shady. At the time, Jessie J was probably the most exciting thing in pop music, especially when her competition was The Vaccines and James Blake (now I'm throwing shade) and her debut album did indeed go to number 1. And considering "Price Tag" may have been circulating, it seemed that Jessie probably had a unique point of view and a strong female voice to usher in 2011. Well, 3 albums later and now we can see that at best, Jessie J is a C list popstar that will most likely appear on the occasional hit every now and then but isn't capable of a "Bad Romance" or "I Love It" anytime soon (I still love you Jessie!).

Winner For 2012: Emeli Sandé

Emeli Sandé brought back some credibility to this award as her debut album remains a work of art. However, she did have some luck in terms of competition, with Michael Kiwanuka (who?) and Maverick Sabre (what?) making leaving a minimal impression. Also, the fact that she performed at every event in all of England, including the goddamn Olympics, seemed a little desperate. Nonetheless, Sandé has the talent, charisma, and songs to be a little more aloof and relaxed her second time around and I couldn't be more excited about the new material.

Winner For 2013: Tom Odell

It's a boy! Tom Odell seemed like a refreshing change to the constant barrage of female vocalists that seemed to conquer the charts last year. But his win proved two things about music: 1) you can never go wrong with a female vocalist 2) sad looking boys singing sad piano songs isn't as romantic and ethereal as it sounds. While Tom's first album did reach number 1, it was a rather dull affair. Plus, the runner ups included Laura Mvula, who seemed like a worthy alternative for soul music, and Alunageorge, for those who love pop music and therefore, DESERVED TO FUCKING WIN THAT YEAR. Oh well, Tom had a flash of genius with "Can't Pretend" so we'll see whether he can become the male Sandé or not.

Winner For 2014: Sam Smith

This was a better choice for a man. Sam Smith had been around for a while making some all right dance music before revealing that he likes singing sad songs too. At least he had the sense to add a gospel choir and his debut album, which seals the awards 100% number one rate, is the closest to a male Adele we've ever had. HOWEVER, as a pop blog, I have to interject and say both the runner ups would have made amazing winners. Chlöe Howl has been a favorite of NSOTP for a while and her debut album could be so astronomically amazing no one will know what planet they're on. The other, Ella Eyre, has the best hair in music at the moment and her newest single "Comeback" is in the running for song of the year. So while it was a tough choice, I suppose Sam was worthy for 2014.

Who Should Win The Award For 2014?

The nominees were announced on Thanksgiving and Surprise! They're all boys! I'm gonna give a quick introduction and let you know who I think should win. But as we all know, the public determine success so let me know who you think should win the award, even if they weren't nominated!

George The Poet

A "spoken word" artist I had never heard of before this nomination. I was hoping for a more positive Azealia Banks turn (the song is called "1,2,1,2" what else was I supposed to expect?) with George The Poet but from his one single it looks like he just likes repeating the same line over a vaguely danceable beat. I don't think he'll fare well considering the other two acts have a little more substance to them, sorry.

James Bay

A sad looking boy singing sad songs. Nothing that new except that James Bay plays a guitar. It's actually rather pleasant once the beat gets going, something to consider on all songs James. If the pattern is 5 female power vocalists then 5 sad boys, James will probably be the winner but let's not get too depressed because the next act is properly AMAZING

Years & Years

Pop band Years & Years popped up earlier this year with their single "Real" that seemed to have every blog buzzing, but never really made an impact on me. Since then, they have released an eclectic set of singles including electroreggae trop-pop single "Take Shelter", a cover of a Blu Cantrell song, and lead singer Olly Alexander's (he guest starred on "Skins" !!!!) vocals on this pretty amazing dance single by The Magician. Having notched up one top 10 hit already, the band just released their next single "Desire." Not only their best single to date, it looks to be a proper solo hit for the band reaching the top 20 on UK iTunes. While it's hard to picture what their debut will sound like, they are one of the most exciting things in pop nowadays and if I had my way, they would surely be the winners of the BRIT award next year. Good luck guys! 

Song Of The Day: "I Know" by Shift K3y

That dashing chap is young producer and occasional singer Shift K3Y, or to his best friends Lewis Jankel. The former is a much better popstar name. After spending a couple years remixing a shit ton of pretty great songs (this J. Lo refix is pretty amazing!), Mr. K3Y has decided to properly get going in 2014 after signing with Sony. He has mastered that whole deep house thing but managed to keep it from getting boring by throwing in video game beeps, upping the bpm, and even adding some funk and trappy bits to his songs to get them to stand out from the rest of this 90's takeover happening.

He first popped out his excellent single "Touch" at the beginning of the year, his own vocals being the high point of this song that accomplishes the rare feat of being a pop song that sounds like dance music and a dance song that sounds like pop music. It was so good that it managed to reach #3 on the charts with only a short window of promotion. Taking his time to follow it up, Shift K3Y doesn't disappoint with follow-up "I Know." Going a little deeper into house territory, the song solidifies Lewis's position as an edgier successor to Calvin Harris, and hopefully the international stardom will follow him as well.

Friday, November 28, 2014

9 Musical Reasons To Be Thankful For 2014

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, a holiday in America where we celebrate people getting fat before pillaging all the natural resources of the continent. But onto lighter and more pressing topics, it is a day to give thanks for all the amazing things to happen throughout the year. Good thing for you, most of those reasons happen to be music related! So here are 9 reasons why 2014 has been an amazing year in music, plus something extra to get excited for in 2015.

1. The 90's House Revival

While Disclosure and Duke Dumont had set the tone of this movement back in 2013, 90's house finally came back in full force during 2014. As we all know, the EDM movement has pretty much died out and house music was a great place to go to next. No other popstar embodies this amazing concept better than Kiesza. Since the very beginning, she set out to get people moving while setting an atmosphere of nightlife and mystery: pretty much the definition of what everyone needed in 2014. And she dances! What a woman. Up and coming pop artists like MNEK and Moko have followed suit in creating their own twist on this genre while Clean Bandit have managed to cross the shore and make this revival noticeable on the charts. While it may get tiresome by 2017, until then, we can rest assured that our local nightclubs will have us grooving to some deep house for a while.

2. Taylor Swift's "Blank Space" Music Video
Taylor Swift becoming a true bonafide popstar is reason enough to be grateful for this year (thank you Max Martin for showing her the light). 1989 is most likely going to end up album of the year even though I haven't heard it yet (getting it for Christmas though!). That's how much Taylor has owned 2014. But nothing compares to the music video for "Blank Space." Though it isn't the best song off the album, it pretty much sums up Taylor Swift in a catchy pop song. But the video! A hot man, seduction, cute playing around in a lavish mansion, animals in random places, Taylor literally going insane. IT HAS EVERYTHING. It mixes the anger of "Since You Been Gone" with the novelty of "Bad Romance" and yet, in 50 years, will remain a classic. I thought "Fancy" was going to end up as video of the year, Taylor blew us all away with this masterpiece. I dedicate the apple pie at dinner to you Tay Tay!

3. People Recognizing Terrible Music

While America has a ways to go in terms of understanding the difference between "good" and "shit" music, we have come to a point where legacies don't have such a hold on popular music. The most obvious case I can think of at the moment is Eminem, a homophobic, misogynistic waste of space in this industry we call music. Even though everyone went a little insane over that "Guts Over Fear" song, it is understandable as Sia had a part in it. However, from the new lyrics involving beating up Lana Del Rey and raping Iggy Azalea, the public at large is finally starting to see just how terrible he is and hopefully, his hold on rap can move to someone better deserving of his status aka Nicki Minaj. Furthermore, Robin Thicke, Mariah Carey, and Jennifer Lopez all had pretty bad albums this year AND the fans noticed too! This isn't meant to insult these artists, but rather encourage them to step up their game to deliver some legendary hits we know they can make. Good luck for the future you guys!

4. People Recognizing Amazing Music

In more positive news, 2014 has been the year I have been most proud to be an American pop fan! Seriously, so much good music has entered the charts this year and gone on to give immensely talented artists the recognition they deserve. From international dance groups to some of my favorite popstars, it was hard for me to find a time when the Top 10 didn't impress me. The following are some highlights of the past year that actually did pretty well on Billboard:

1. Ella Henderson - Ghost

Peak Chart Position: #75
Did It Deserve To Get Higher: Yes, very much so. But considering it just cracked the iTunes top 10 and Ella is still making the promo rounds, it's only a matter of time.

2. Sia - Chandelier

Peak Chart Position: #8
Did It Deserve To Get Higher: Yes, at least #1 for a week. Sia has been writing hits for the past 3 years and it was nice seeing her first single in a while do so well in America. Not to mention her album campaign has been PURE GENIUS and "Chandelier" will definitely be on the Best of 2014 list.

3. Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne - Rather Be

Peak Chart Position: #10
Did It Deserve To Get Higher: Maybe #5, but not more than that. Probably the biggest dance song of the year, AND it includes violins. Well done Clean Bandit.

4. Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX - Fancy

Peak Chart Position: #1 (all summer)
Did It Deserve To Get Higher: No, this did sufficiently well. Iggy may have become way more commercial, but unlike all the idiotic haters on the Internet, that has been a good thing. Stay Fancy hon.

5. Tove Lo - Habits (Stay High)

Peak Chart Position: #3
Did It Deserve To Get Higher: Very much so. Wouldn't it have been amazing if 2014 closed with Tove Lo #1 in the US? It would be a Q4 miracle. Tove is definitely the best singer-songwriter in Sweden and is probably my favorite new act of 2014, even if Habits did come out A YEAR AND A HALF AGO! But I'm ahead of my time, what else is new?

6. Charli XCX - Boom Clap

Peak Chart Position: #8
Did It Deserve To Get Higher. DEAR GOD YAAAAAASSSSSS. The only way 2014 could have been perfect is if Tove, Taylor, and Charli passed the #1 spot to each other for at least 75% of the year. 

5. Azealia Banks Released Her Album

SHE FINALLY FUCKING DID IT! Azealia Banks, full time Twitter beefer, part-time rapper, and occasional Illuminati aficionado, pulled a partial Beyonce & released her 2 and a half year delayed debut album Broke With Expensive Taste this past month! The release itself is a cause for celebration, forget the music. BUT WAIT, the music is actually really amazing too! I had thought that Azealia would be the person to have the best album of 2012 and if she had released this back then, it probably would have. But thanks to our little Ms. Banks, you can add the freshest most innovative rap album of the millennium to your collection.

6. One Direction Released A Good Album

It is a known fact that girl bands > boy bands. And having never been a huge One Direction, I wrote off this album as a sad ending before breaking up. However, I listened to it recently and here is my conclusion: it is very good.

7. Fleur East On The X Factor

The X Factor have made a wonderful return to form thanks in large part to Cheryl and Mel B acting as proper judges. Also, the singers have been pretty good as well, regardless of what Stevi Ritchie has made you think. Since the beginning, there were only two acts that could have become true sensations after the competition and one of them has already been eliminated (Only The Young for those who don't know). Thankfully, the one true popstar is still in the competition and her name is Fleur East. From the very beginning, Fleur embodied what music should be all about: style, choreography, diva-isms, signature look, iconic song choices, and most of all, a multi-talented vocalist that knows who she is. JUST LOOK AT THE ABOVE PERFORMANCE! If Fleur doesn't win the X Factor, we should all just give up and go home but hopefully, 2014 will bring the best winner of the show since the days of Leona Lewis and Joe McElderry.

8. Lorde's Hunger Games Soundtrack

Thank the Lorde! Movie soundtracks often contain one good song and a bunch of crap, as "Boom Clap" clearly demonstrated. However, in the hands of a true popstar and lover of music, they can actually be amazing collections that not only convey the themes of a film, but also sound like individual hits in their own right. Lorde's contributions are great themselves but roping in the likes of Stromae, HAIM, Ariana Grande, Major Lazer, Kanye West, CHVRCHES, Tinashe, XOV, Tove Lo, Charli XCX, and GRACE JONES? Simply legendary.


2014 has been a wild ride but the highs this year have severely outweighed the lows. Starting this blog has been one of the highlights of the year. It's gonna get a little sentimental but music has been one of those things that has saved my life time and time again by being my friend, supporter, confidante, and first real love. From hugging my favorite singer to speaking with dear friend to the blog YYZ, I am so happy to be able to give back to the industry that has given me so much. So let me just say that 2014 has been a blast and 2015 can only get better. Happy (day after) Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Apols For The Hiatus

Look at all that's happened since I've been away. At least 5 weeks of Q4 have passed and Taylor Swift has conquered the world, Selena Gomez has probably made the ballad of the year, and Queen of The Clouds Tove Lo reached #3 IN AMERICA! The world is truly an amazing place for music at the moment, regardless of the travesty that the X Factor has done by eliminating Only The Young.

If any of these issues confuse or perplex you, don't worry. NSOTPop IS BACK AND BETTER THAN EVER! Following in the footsteps of the great Girls Aloud, I have returned from my extended hiatus and I can understand how much I have been missed by my adoring fans (my mother is laughing in bed right now). Now that my life as a university student is back on track I can certainly give you everything you need to know about music. So get ready for some end of the year action and have a great Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Album Review: FOUR by One Direction

For all the young girls screaming about the new One Direction album, get ready to start crying because this is likely to be their VERY LAST ALBUM (until the reunion in 2020). Luckily for everyone, this one may be their best one to date! 

Since their early days on the X Factor, it was hard to see what kind of sound Harry, Liam, Zayn, Niall, and Louis would adopt considering none of them play instruments exceptionally well. They were 5 very adorable young men but the age of boy bands were long gone since the Jonas Brothers called it quits. Then "What Makes You Beautiful" came out and shut me right up. The high octane pop route certainly suits them well.

With each album since, the boys have really struggled with balancing their newfound wisdom and maturity with the boyish charm from their early singles. And frankly, that last Midnight Memories album was horrible, no matter what you children yell at me. I had pretty much given up on the lot (Neon Jungle was a safe alternative) until the first single came out.

"Steal My Girl" is a nuanced yet immense pop anthem that finally made me realize how amazing One Direction can be if they just focus and stop fucking around. Essentially, the song is a Take That song mixed with something youthful and clearly you shouldn't mess with the lads' girl. It did its job by reintroducing the band as young adults telling worthwhile stories versus teenagers trying to make you feel all fluttery inside and telling you that you're not ugly.

FOUR continues that upward trend by essentially showing 1D's ability at crafting stadium-sized pop rock music. There are influences of The Album We Shall Not Speak Of with an acoustic guitar on songs like "Ready To Run," "18", and "Fool's Gold" but they rush into breathtaking choruses that transform the songs into timeless classics. The timelessness continues with themes of young love, endless love, and even more LOVE, which will surely make you feel nostalgic at any age.

What's most surprising is that the majority of the album is exquisite balladry. "Spaces" is just as candid and introspective as it is massive. And second single "Night Changes" sounds like a modern day single off a 80's movie soundtrack. It goes without saying that it's the best song below 120 bpm the boys have done and the video could make any man, woman and child swoon. I dare you to look into those gorgeous eyes and not feel like the luckiest girl (or boy) in the world.

Perhaps being their fourth album in a relatively short amount of time, FOUR shows what they will sound like when they are all in their late 30's. There are definitely signs of Take That and The Beach Boys on "Fireproof", but it all has a nice 2010's feel to it, never feeling outdated at any point. 

There are moments when the light and shade of the production could have been better executed, especially on "Girl Almighty" which is just an old racket but what can you do. They are the closest thing to rock stars we have today without veering into Foo Fighters territory. The guitars on "Stockholm Syndrome" and "Clouds" rival fellow boy band 5 Seconds of Summer in terms of energy and amazement. However, that may just be that rambunctiousness that made them so fun to begin with.  In fact, the songs on FOUR represent each one of the members better than any of there prior albums had. Instead of the Harry and Zayn show, we get Louis's rather lovely tenor displaying some great emotional delivery, solidifying his role as the Nicola Roberts of the group. Liam's role in songwriting has not gone unnoticed and Niall can actually hold his own on verses. Who knew?!?!

Unfortunately for the world, the Directioners won't even hear the small details as they will just want to fawn over the boys' faces. The jauntiness of "Change Your Ticket" and the breeziness of "Illusion" will go right over their heads. But that nuance displays something special that many artists can't come close to obtaining. FOUR's foray into credible "adult" pop songs will surely bring them a new audience of fans that will hopefully teach these younger THOTs what music really is. The album is very boy band, it is very 2014, and it is very One Direction. 

Which is why their inevitable hiatus and/or split in 2015 makes it very sad that this was their crowning achievement. Well, from 3rd place on the X Factor, to world's biggest boy band, and ending with hopefully 5 very successful solo careers isn't the worst track record, is it?

Best Listened To: On a late night car ride along the shore with your high school sweetheart
Stand Out Songs: "Steal My Girl" "Night Changes" "Fireproof" "Clouds"
NSOTP Rating: 8/10