The Week In Pop: From Diana Ross To Ariana Grande, A Pop History Of “I’m Coming Out”
Ariana Grande’s sophomore set My Everything, out this week, is part of at least two long legacies. The more obvious of those is the tradition of children’s TV stars stepping into the industry machine and walking out pop stars on the other side. The album is exceptional for what it is — a compendium of conservative yet youthful takes on a wide range of styles with a relatively hip slate of guests including the Weeknd, Big Sean, and Childish Gambino. As the stylistic gulf between the sassy, brassy “Problem” and the EDM-poppy “Break Free” hinted at, Grande and her team cover a lot of ground on this record in the horizontal sense. There’s some trad ballads, some hip-hop-oriented tracks, a few that skew toward EDM without going all-in like “Break Free” — and what could have been an unlistenable jumble is instead a smooth ride. The album should help Grande cover a lot of territory in the vertical climb-to-stardom sense too. Although My Everything’s songs scan as slightly anonymous, as professional grade radio jams they range from good to great; anything on My Everything could work as a single. And even if Grande is still struggling to project a compelling persona on screen and in the vocal booth, My Everything succeeds as a transitional step on the path from teeny-bopper to genuine pop star. The record suggests commercial safety for now and opens the door to further mature exploration down the road. Despite obviously following in the footsteps of Mariah Carey, it embodies that sentiment Britney Spears expressed with “Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman,” only with songs Grande could still feel respectable singing 20 years from now assuming her career lasts that long.
My Everything’s other legacy is subtler but goes back even farther. “Break Your Heart Right Back,” one of Grande’s groovier, hip-hop-inflected tracks, is the latest in a long line of songs to unfold in the wake of the classic Diana Ross single “I’m Coming Out.” What follows is a brief history of the song’s reach in pop culture.
Diana Ross – “I’m Coming Out” (1980)
Ross was at the end of her contract with Motown and looking to modernize her sound after scoring a hit with 1979’s comeback album The Boss. After taking her daughters to see Chic in concert, Ross recruited Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers to write for diana. Ross’ post-Supremes disco career had rendered her a gay icon, and Edwards saw a number of drag queens dressed as Ross in the New York club called the GG Barnum Room, so he got the idea to craft “I’m Coming Out” as a gay anthem. The subject matter was always intended to have more than one meaning, though: For Ross, it was a declaration of independence from Berry Gordy and Motown Records.
The Notorious B.I.G. – “Mo Money, Mo Problems” (Feat. Puff Daddy & Ma$e) (1997)
By far the most prominent song to sample or cover “I’m Coming Out” is “Mo Money, Mo Problems” from Biggie’s posthumous Life After Death. Producer Stevie J, who was crafting hits for just about every hip-hop and R&B star in the mid-to-late ’90s, continued the lucrative approach (see also: Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You” and “Been Around The World”) of heavily sampling an old hit for an entirely different kind of song without substantially changing the music. Although “I’m Coming Out” is a celebratory track about declaring independence, “Mo Money, Mo Problems” is a cautionary tale about the perils of ballin’. It’s become arguably even more influential than “I’m Coming Out,” with the title phrase becoming a pop cultural truism both inside and outside hip-hop. Notably, Kelly Price, who sang the chorus, went on to star on the reality series R&B Divas L.A. If there was controversy at the time regarding the rappers sampling a gay anthem — either from the gay community or the homophobic factions of the rap scene — it isn’t immediately apparent online.
Hella Von Sinnen – “Mein Coming Out” (1997)
The same year “Mo Money, Mo Problems” dropped, German comedian Von Sinnen reclaimed “I’m Coming Out” as a gay-pride jam with a slightly techno-fied remake that doubled as her way of actually coming out of the closet. Not very satisfying from a purely musical perspective, though.
Amerie – “I’m Coming Out” (2003)
Although Amerie’s version of “I’m Coming Out,” recorded for the Maid In Manhattan soundtrack, is more or less a straight cover of the Ross original, its drums are very much a product of 2003. For that reason alone, nobody would mistake this for “Mo Money, Mo Problems” nor the original “I’m Coming Out.” Unfortunately, it’s also not as much fun as either of those tracks.
Drake – “Worst Behavior” (2013)
Whereas “Mo Money, Mo Problems” lifted Chic’s music from “I’m Coming Out,” “Worst Behavior” lifted Ma$e’s lyrics from “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” Drake pushes the limits of tribute, directly quoting several bars from the 1997 hip-hop hit. As former Stereogum staffer Claire Lobenfeld once put it, he was indeed on his worst behavior. (Drake also referenced “Mo Money, Mo Problems” in 2011 on Take Care closer “The Ride.”)
The Notorious B.I.G. – “Mo Money, Mo Problems (The Bolivian Marching Affair Remix)” (2013)
Actually, this remix represents far worse behavior than anything Drake did.
Keyshia Cole – “I’m Coming Out” (Feat. Iggy Azalea) (2014)
This one further blurs the already blurry line between “I’m Coming Out” and “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” Recorded for the soundtrack to The Other Woman, it’s ostensibly a cover of the Ross song, but the inclusion of a verse by Azalea makes it seem more like a modern-day remake of the Biggie song. So it’s not just inessential, it’s also confused.
Ariana Grande – “Break Your Heart Right Back” (Feat. Childish Gambino) (2014)
Grande’s song is probably the most clever use of “I’m Coming Out,” and it represents a further bleeding of the song’s legacy with that of “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” Producers Andrew “Pop” Wansel and Warren “Oak” Felder ripped the spine out of the maximal original “I’m Coming Out,” setting the distinctive elements — bass line, percussive guitar chords, and the classic line “I’m comin’!” — against skeletal snaps and pops. The lyrical content, about an ex-boyfriend who cheated on Grande with another man, nods at the history behind “I’m Coming Out,” while Gambino directly quotes from the “Mo Money, Mo Problems” lyrics. It’s as if they tied the complete history of this music up in a neat little bow — not unlike something Grande might wear in her hair.
Haters are in fact gonna hate, but that didn’t stop Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” from debuting at #1 on the Hot 100 this week, her first #1 debut and second #1 overall after “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” “Shake It Off” generated 544,000 downloads in its first week, the best figure of the year and fourth-best all time after Flo Rida’s “Right Round” (636,000), Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” (623,000), and Katy Perry’s “Roar” (557,000). Billboard notes that “Shake It Off” is the sixth song with the word “shake” in the title to hit #1, following Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” (2013), Nelly/Diddy/Murphy Lee’s “Shake Ya Tailfeather” (2003), Bob Seger’s “Shakedown” (1987), Gregory Abbott’s “Shake You Down” (1987), and KC And The Sunshine Band’s “(Shake Shake Shake) Shake Your Booty” (1976). Also, this seems impossible, but “Shake It Off” marks Swift’s 60th Hot 100 hit in just eight years. Even if you hate “Shake It Off,” certainly you can appreciate that MAGIC!’s six-week reign is over. In fact, “Rude” slides all the way down to #5 this week, which is quite a tumble compared to the slow descent of other #1s this year.
If she hadn’t been up against Swift, Nicki Minaj would probably have claimed #1 with “Anaconda” this week; the song shot up from #39 to #2 on the strength of record traffic for its colorfully ass-centric video. In any case, she nets her highest-ever chart position (“Super Bass” and a remix of Britney Spears’ “Till The World Ends” each hit #3 in 2011) and surpasses another colorfully ass-centric track, Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” which is down from #2 to #3 this week. Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” is at #4, followed by MAGIC! as previously mentioned. The bottom half of the top 10 comprises Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora’s “Black Widow,” Ariana Grande and Zedd’s “Break Free,” Sia’s “Chandelier,” the Jessie J/Grande/Minaj jam “Bang Bang,” and Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong.”
Wiz Khalifa tops the album chart by selling 90,000 copies of Blacc Hollywood, his first-ever chart-topper. That bumps the Guardians Of The Galaxy soundtrack down to #2; it sold 64,000. Country singer (and former Survivor contestant!) Chase Rice debuts at #3 with Ignite The Night (44,000), followed by Now 51 (33,000) and the country compilation Nashville Outlaws: A Tribute To Motley Crue (31,000), which features the likes of Rascall Flatts, Brantley Gilbert, and Justin Moore covering Crue songs. The Frozen soundtrack is hanging in there at #6 with 29,000 sold. Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour is at #7 with just over 24,000, followed closely by 5 Seconds Of Summer’s self-titled album at #8. Kiss veteran Ace Frehley sold 19,000 copies of Space Invader, which was somehow good enough to debut at #9. And at #10 it’s Ed Sheeran’s x, which sold 16,000.
If those numbers didn’t tip you off, this week marked the lowest overall album sales in SoundScan history, with just under 4 million albums sold. Shit, Eminem and N*SYNC used to move millions in the first week! It might not be time for music execs to freak out just yet; Q4 allegedly will bring new LPs from T-Swift, Adele, Lil Wayne, One Direction, and Kendrick Lamar, all of whom have proven to move big numbers even in this dire time for album sales. And if Kanye West’s new record really is a move back toward pop, maybe he’ll sell well too.
Jessie J – “Bang Bang” (Feat. Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj)
We posted this song outside the pop column when it first premiered, so now that the video is out, here’s my chance to weigh in on it. Alas, my boss already said it all:
Stop trying to make Jessie J happen.
— Scott Lapatine (@scottgum) August 25, 2014
Catey Shaw – “Human Contact”
Shaw is the singer behind the much-maligned “Brooklyn Girls,” but “Human Contact” is actually pretty good. Perhaps this one should have been the lead single. On the other hand, would we be hearing “Human Contact” at all if she hadn’t first grabbed our attention one way or another?
Usher – “Believe Me”
Usher’s still searching for a “Climax”-quality single from his upcoming Everything You Can Imagine, and this ain’t it. Not that “Believe Me” will do poorly at radio — I imagine it will be a hit, actually — it’s just so average by Usher’s standards and Mike Will Made It’s. They seem to be either trying too hard or not trying hard enough with this one, and the result is as middling as “Good Kisser” and “She Came To Give It To You” before it. Maybe the as-yet-unreleased Diplo collab will be lightning striking twice?
Chris Brown – “X” (Prod. Diplo)
On the other hand, Diplo’s work here with former Usher clone and pop public enemy Brown isn’t on par with “Climax” either. The dynamics are impressive here, and Brown’s voice is excellent as usually, but the drop feels like it should be a lot more momentous than it is, and Brown’s personality remains tough to stomach. Still, “X” is growing on me.
Lee Brice – “That Don’t Sound Like You”
Brice has the country power ballad on lock right now. Although I liked his recent “I Don’t Dance,” it went a little too far with the saccharine sentimentality of last year’s great “I Drive Your Truck.” With this one, he pretty much nails it again.
Jason Derulo – “Bubblegum” (Feat. Tyga)
As “Wiggle” was a slight step down from “Talk Dirty,” “Bubblegum” is a slight step down from “Wiggle.” That’s at least in part because according to 2014 power rankings, 2 Chainz > Snoop Dogg > Tyga. Still, hard to imagine turning this off when it comes on the radio. Derulo’s got his singles game on lock. At this point, even the utterly corny “Trumpets” will probably get some traction at radio.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Matthew Knowles, father of Beyoncé and Solange, claims the elevator brawl was staged to raise Solange’s profile and boost ticket sales for the On The Run tour. [Idolator]
- LMFAO’s Redfoo suffered wounds when someone threw a glass bottle at him during a DJ set in Sydney, where he’s judging the Australian version of X Factor. [Daily Telegraph]
- Some English boy band called McBusted (McBusted!) are working with members of American pop-punk royalty blink-182 and All Time Low on new music. (McBusted!) [Popjustice]
- Is the world ready for a Zedd remix of MAGIC!’s “Rude”? Will it ever be? [Radio.com]
- What about Maroon 5 covering “Sex And Candy”? Is the world ready for that? [Idolator]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
LADIES…AS LONG AS I HAVE THIS FACE…Y'ALL HAVE SOMEWHERE TO SIT…. LOVE, ST FROM ATL pic.twitter.com/D730xMT2u9
— Steven Tyler (@IamStevenT) August 28, 2014