Did you know the reigning American Idol champion’s album is out this week? Maybe the better question is: Do you know who the reigning American Idol champion is? Candice Glover is quite alright, so I hope your answer is yes, but I suspect it’s no.
I’ve never been a regular American Idol viewer, but time was I could tell you all about a given season’s contestants. The media frenzy around the show was such that you almost couldn’t avoid knowing about it, at least once a season hit the home stretch and water cooler chatter went into overdrive. When the series debuted in 2002, it was an instant hit, and for eight straight seasons from 2003-04 to 2010-2011, it was TV’s #1 show. Idol truly was a national phenomenon, and many of its contestants went on to become stars. Not just the winners, either: Love them or hate them, the likes of Clay Aiken, Jennifer Hudson, Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler, Katharine McPhee, and Adam Lambert built lucrative careers as Idol also-rans — careers that far surpassed some of the winners, actually. (Shout out to season 5 silver fox Taylor Hicks still inexplicably holding it down, though.) Champions such as Phillip Phillips, Fantasia Barrino, Ruben Studdard, and Scotty McCreery built fervent fan bases, and of course Kelly Clarkson and (especially) Carrie Underwood became legitimate superstars.
Idol’s empire hasn’t exactly collapsed. It remains a top 10 finisher in the ratings, and recent champion Phillips is among the show’s most successful exports; his debut album went platinum thanks in large part to the zeitgeist-appropriate post-Mumford victory song “Home,” the best-selling song ever by an Idol contestant. But the show is not the dynamo it used to be; really, it hasn’t been since Simon Cowell departed in 2010 to start the American version of X Factor. This much is common knowledge: Even more than the feel-good stories and entertainment value of watching singers nail or desecrate classic songs, the chemistry among the judges is what keeps people coming back to these singing shows. And while the current crop of Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick Jr. is… interesting, as was last year’s Urban/Mariah Carey/Nicki Minaj panel, neither of those combos match the goofy adversarial charisma of original triad Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson. In recent years, The Voice, which surpassed Idol in the ratings last season, has assembled an equally charismatic bunch of celebrities, and the mere existence of other televised singing contests dilutes the monolithic impact Idol used to command.
That’s unfortunate for Glover, Idol’s most recent champ. With Music Speaks, she’s assembled a competent, slightly jumbled, occasionally fantastic debut. It’s definitely a see-what-sticks affair: The lead single and leadoff track is the gospel-tinged ballad “Cried,” but there’s also “Passenger,” a Mike WiLL Made It bass-cavern production, and “Die Without You,” a modern R&B cut that bears a strong resemblance to Usher’s “There Goes My Baby,” and an adult-contempo cover of the Cure’s “Love Song,” one of Glover’s signature numbers from her run on TV the show. None of these sound like R&B’s youthful zeitgeist — Mike WiLL’s track is tellingly stripped of the producer’s usual self-identifying tag, which would sound out of place here — but in traditionalist, grown-and-sexy terms, they all find varying degrees of success. The album’s finest moments are when Glover kicks her lovelorn laments into full-on church singer mode, as on the glorious, grooving soul steamroller “Same Kinda Man,” and the frustrated inspirational “Damn.” The latter will have you lifting your hands in solidarity if it doesn’t elicit LOLs because it reminds you of this this. Most of the deep cuts fail to stand out; the Shaggy-worthy reggae pastiche “In The Middle” stands out for the wrong reasons.
Music Speaks is not a stunner, but it might be good enough to cross over from its inevitable adult R&B audience to Top 40 success if Idol was still at its peak. Given the show’s continued ratings success, it’s safe to assume millions of people out there do in fact know Glover. She undoubtedly has way more fans in her corner than most of the critical darlings that populate this site ever will. But there was a time when Idol’s reach extended beyond its viewership to the point that even someone like me who was basically only listening to indie rock knew Clay Aiken songs. This was back when people were mad at indie rocker Liz Phair for making an album of half-cooked radio bait. Fast-forward to 2014: Poptimism is in full swing (see: this column on this site), yet Glover had been an American Idol winner for months before I ever became aware of her existence.
Maybe that ignorance just reflects on me, but I think it’s indicative of Idol’s waning cultural clout — and of the decreasing possibility of such clout. It’s not that surprising; only SNL has been able to remain more or less universally relevant for decades on end, and even that relevance waxes and wanes. The Tonight Show used to have the whole country’s attention — and maybe Jimmy Fallon can bring that back — but ever since Leno vs. Letterman sprung up in the wake of Johnny Carson’s retirement, the late-night landscape has undergone schism after schism. We’ve been hearing about splintering TV audiences since the dawn of cable, and you could fill libraries with all the literature about how the internet has contributed to the demise of the monoculture. At this point we get our news mostly from social media feeds, which are narrowing to the point that we mostly only encounter perspectives strikingly similar to our own. Against that tide, for almost a decade, Idol was the rare modern example of consensus — if not consensus of appreciation, consensus of awareness. Now it’s imminently escapable, a big fish turned big niche. In a world of infinite choice, even the most garish juggernaut’s wheels fall off eventually.
PHARRELL G I R L WISH LIST
Pharrell announced this week that his solo album G I R L is coming 3/3, less than two weeks from now — so, not quite Beyoncé surprise levels, but still a quick turnaround from announcement to release. That makes sense because the past year has essentially been one uninterrupted promo buildup for this record. Pharrell would be a fool not to seize this moment.
The Pharrellnaissance has been a thrill. After some years in the wilderness (or was it the bathroom?) Skateboard P reclaimed his cool-pop mastery and somehow surpassed his early aughts omnipresence to the point that not just music geeks but every sentient earthling now knows his name, and many know his hat. He has successfully completed his transition from the background of every rap video to the foreground of popular music, and I can’t wait to see what he does with his big moment. We already know G I R L features 10 songs including “Happy” and that another song from the album will appear in a Red Bull commercial, but that’s all we’re going to know until the album drops. Not even the tracklist is being revealed, which is only stoking the already feverish anticipation around Stereogum HQ. Here’s what else we’re crossing our fingers for:
- Clipse reunion.
- At least one epochal wedding jam the likes of “Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines.”
- Tyler and Earl.
- The Strokes.
- A Pharrell rap verse to surpass even his “Move That Dope” acrobatics.
- 2 Chainz.
- Stevie Wonder.
- A celebrity gang vocal a la Jay Z and Nas’s “BBC” featuring the voices of Chad Hugo, Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, and Thomas Bangalter.
- Frank Ocean.
- Posthumous Michael Jackson duet.
- Roscoe P. Coldchain.
- The absence of Robin Thicke.
- Kendrick/Macklemore duet.
- Future/Beck duet.
- The ghost of Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
If Sun Kil Moon hadn’t pushed back the exquisitely beautiful, heartrending obvious masterpiece Benji to last week, country badass Eric Church’s The Outsiders probably would have become Stereogum’s second ever mainstream country Album Of The Week. It would have been a worthy choice, too — rarely have I encountered such a fully conceived, playful, heartfelt, ballsy country LP. Alas, Church will have to settle for #1 on the albums chart; The Outsiders tops this week’s Billboard 200 with 288,000 copies sold. As Billboard notes, it’s Church’s second #1 LP following 2011’s Chief and by far his best sales week ever. That 288,000 is also the biggest figure since Beyoncé’s 311,000 in BEYONCÉ‘s second week last December and the largest country debut since Luke Bryan’s Crash My Party topped 528,000 last August.
Church thus unseats last week’s #1, the hits compilation NOW 49, which lands at #3 this week behind the ever-perseverant Frozen soundtrack. Nothing else debuted in the top 10 this week; the next-highest chart entry is the Glitch Mob’s Love Death Immortality at #13 with 22,000 sold. That means the rest of the top 10 is full of mainstays, albeit resurgent mainstays such as Valentine’s-Day-abetted Beyonce (#4), Super-Bowl-abetted Bruno Mars (#5), and iTunes-sale-abetted Miley Cyrus (#10).
Over on the Hot 100, Katy Perry and Juicy J’s “Dark Horse” remains the #1 single in the land for the fourth straight week, but Pharrell’s “Happy,” #2 again for a second straight week, is closing the gap. Jason DeRulo and 2 Chainz’s “Talk Dirty” and A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera’s “Say Something” hold steady at #3 and 4, respectively, and Beyoncé and Jay Z’s “Drunk In Love” is back up to #5, perhaps thanks in part to all the covers and remixes circulating. But the biggest news on the Hot 100 is Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive,” which, at #26, becomes the longest entry on the chart with its 77th consecutive week and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Billboard notes that “Radioactive” bests Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.” AWOLNATION’s “Sail,” meanwhile, ties Mraz’s record with its 76th consecutive week; it’s at #40 this week, so it should easily move into solitary possession of second place next week. Imagine Dragons and AWOLNATION: They’re the ‘roided-up Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa of annoying hit rock singles!
SAY HELLO TO KATY-PATRA
Speaking of “Dark Horse,” how about a video set in “Memphis, Egypt a crazy long time ago” featuring Perry on the throne (and the pole) and Juicy J as a pharaoh straight out the sarcophagus? Not sure what to make of everything going on here, but I’m glad somebody out there is still willing and able to make ridiculous big-budget videos.
Bleachers – “I Wanna Get Better”
This bright bit of retro-futuristic pop-rock comes from Fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff (aka Lena Dunham’s boyfriend), who must have started this project to fill time while Nate Ruess makes terrible duets with the likes of P!nk and Eminem. It’s just as well; “I Wanna Get Better” suggests Antonoff might be better off liberated from Ruess’ nasal bleating, and this is coming from someone who liked the Fun. album. Also, I appreciate Antonoff’s reference to “an 18-year-old who didn’t know what Lost was.”
Skrillex – “Because” (Feat. Ellie Goulding)
Ellie Goulding used to date Skrillex, and she tacked this old collab of theirs onto the end of a recent mix she did for BBC. It finds Skrillex in Burial-style brainy U.K. pirate radio dubstep mode rather than Skrillex’s own signature brostep bombast — in short, no bass drops, yes ghostly samples — and it’s rather pretty, though frankly I prefer both these artists in big, bold populist mode.
Betty Who – “Heartbreak Dreams”
If you told me this was the new Tegan And Sara song, I would buy that. If you told me it was the new Katy Perry song, I’d buy that too.
Mariah Carey – “You’re Mine (Eternal)”
Mariah’s Miguel duet “#Beautiful” was a major summer jam last year, and “You’re Mine (Eternal)” adds to the case that The Art Of Letting Go will be a formidable album when it finally arrives in May, even if the title track isn’t doing much for me right now. This latest low-key burner reminds me of Mariah’s ’90s heyday but with a slight Drake-era tweak. Opt for the unfettered original solo version over the cluttered Trey Songz remix.
Avicii – “Addicted To You”
The already wildly successful Avicii rose to a new plane of world domination last year with “Wake Me Up,” a song that managed to crossbreed this young decade’s two most potent commercial forces in music, EDM and Mumford folk. The chemistry behind “Addicted To You” is less radical, and the song itself as far less compelling. With “Wake Me Up,” you had to appreciate the shamelessly balls-out approach, at least. This one is just kind of there.
Jess Glynne – “Home”
Jess Glynne is apparently becoming a big deal in England right now, and the string-laden, bass-booming “Home” is clear indication of why. Everything about the production and the performance is top-notch here.
Galantis – “You”
We premiered Galantis’ gleefully sex-saturated “Smile” video last fall, and while “You” doesn’t arrive with NSFW visuals attached, it’s pretty orgasmic too.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Giorgio Moroder might be working with Lana Del Rey. [DigitalSpy]
- The absolutely tremendous “Partition” will be Beyoncé’s next single. [Hits Daily Double]
- 50 Cent has cut ties with Eminem’s label. [Hip Hop N More]
- Apparently the Bangerz Tour features Miley Cyrus touching herself a lot. [Popdust]
- Kristen Wiig dressed up as One Direction’s Harry Styles for her appearance on Fallon. [Hulu]
- Speaking of 1D, Simon Cowell thinks they’re working on a TV show. [Popjustice]
- George Michael is doing an album of standards backed by a symphony. [Idolator]
- JoJo released a Valentine’s Day mixtape called #LoveJo. [SoundCloud]
- I really, really don’t want to hear a Madonna/Drake duet, which is thankfully only hypothetical at this point. [The Canadian Press]
- However, Billy Ray Cyrus’ hip-hop “Achy Breaky Heart” sequel is, unfortunately, very real. [EW]