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Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Listen to this Playlist #7: Payola Superstars '05
Rhapsody Radish has a good post and playlist today in honor of music industry behemoth Sony BMG's settlement of payola charges against it.
Payola refers to payment in exchange for radio airplay or other promotion. Prevalent in the 1950's, it had been supposedly stamped out decades ago, although it has always existed in one form or another. By all accounts payola has run amok in the recording industry once again, with New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer calling it "pervasive" and "a major problem throughout the music industry"
It is tempting to say "nyah nyah" to the music industry. The industry shelled out big money to ram their artists down your throat, probably in every case at the expense of a more deserving artist who was pushed aside. Then, as their sales defiantly dropped in the face of this 'pervasive' payola, they started arresting teenagers who downloaded the crap instead of paying for it.
So: which of your favorite artists may have benefited from Sony's payola efforts? Here's a list of 13 performers whose names surfaced in the Sony BMG probe. To be fair to these artists, it is likely they were unaware of the efforts on their behalf by the promotion department. One would like to hope so, anyway.
1. Good Charlotte: Hold On iTunes
This Maryland punk quintet released its debut on Epic records, as major-label as you can get, which usually raises the suspicions of indie purists in an instant. Led by twins Joel Madden (vocals) and Benji Madden (guitar), the band was formed on a whim after the brothers caught a Beastie Boys show, despite the fact that neither brother had played music before. They play a mix of 70's-influenced neo-punk with ska-punk shades. They also specialize in power ballads. Appearing at WHFS radio's annual show in 1998 and 1999, they were given a big push and got their debut out in 2000. The twins subsequently scored a gig as VH1 veejays. Their 2002 album,
Young and Hopeless, from which "Hold On" is taken, peaked at #7 on the Billboard charts. "Hold On" itself didn't see chart action until 2004.
2. Jennifer Lopez: I'm Real iTunes
Singer/Actress Jennifer Lopez made her film debut at the age of 16 in the 1986 film Little Angels. A dry spell followed until she landed a dancing gig on the TV program In Living Color in 1989. She then had a recurring role on the early 90's series Second Chances, and had her breakthrough in 1995 with a big supporting role in the film The Money Train. More movie roles followed, as she became the highest paid Latina actress in Hollywood. In 1999, she began her recording career with On The 6. Musically, she's mainly standard urban and dance pop. "I'm Real" was a humongous crossover hit, reaching #1 on five different Billboard charts (top-10 on nine charts), including the Hot 100. From her equally massive selling 2001 album J. Lo. Tellingly, she claims "J. Lo" isn't her nickname, and disingenuously claims she doesn't know why the fans call her by it. It may well be due to the fact that her J. Lo album was inescabably promoted.
3. Celine Dion: I Drove All Night
The youngest of 14 children, Celine Dion didn't really rise from humble beginnings; however, she did come from a distant outpost from the pop music scene. Born in 1968 in Charlamagne, Quebec, the French-Canadian had the good fortune of belonging to a musical family that owned a piano bar. A prodigy, she was singing at the age of 5 and writing songs at 12. One song, "Ce N'etait Qu'un Reve" ("It Was Only a Dream") was sent by her parents to music producer Rene Angelil. Angelil took her under his wing and masterminded her career, first helping her become the first Canadian to have a gold record in France (when she was 15), and then helped her reshape her image when she was 18, to re-form her into a suitable star for the American market. He married her in 1994, despite their 26 year age difference. "My Heart WIll Go On" from the 1998 film Titanic became her signature song. "I Drove All Night", from her 2003 album One Heart, fell short of the top-40, peaking at #45, although it was a #1 in Canada.
4. Franz Ferdinand: Take Me Out iTunes
Franz Ferdinand, a quartet from Glasgow, Scotland, was formed in 2001. They gained local notice for rave-like happenings they held, which featured both music and art. Bassist Bob Hardy had graduated from the Glasgow School of Art, and drummer Paul Thomson had modeled there. Their debut album appeared on Epic in 2004 in America, and peaked at #32 on the Billboard 200; not bad for a brand new "indie" (in Scotland, anyway) art-pop band. "Take Me Out" peaked at #3 on the Modern Rock tracks album, #66 overall. Musically, they have a varied attack, with aggressive subcurrents and melodramatic lyrics; to their credit, they so far escape any easy pigeonhole. One of the more interesting artists on this playlist. Named after Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austro-Hungary, whose assassination set off World War I.
5. Jessica Simpson: These Boots Are Made For Walkin' iTunes
Born in Dallas, TX in 1980, Jessica Simpson began singing in the church choir at age 12. She was also an unsuccessful applicant for the Mickey Mouse Club. Her earliest professional recordings were for the Christian market, after her discovery by head of a small, Christian Contemporary label. The label went bankrupt before her album was finished, but her grandmother paid for a limited pressing. Her move to the secular market began in 1998 as support act for 98 Degrees, a late 90's boy band led by Nick Lachey, whom she married in 2002. She was picked up by Sony who released her major label debut Sweet Kisses in 1999. "The Boots Were Made For Walkin'" is the Nancy Sinatra kitsch-classic from 1967; it was included in the 2005 film The Dukes Of Hazzard, a remake of the old TV show.
6. John Mayer: Daughters iTunes
Adult alternative pop/rock star John Mayer is a musician more closely in the traditional singer/songwriter vein than anything else. Based in Atlanta, Mayer released his debut album in 1999 on the Aware label, a subsidiary of Columbia. The album was a mostly acoustic affair noteworthy for a Dave Matthews-like vibe running though it. The album reached #8, instantly making the 22-year-ols Mayer a star. His star has only climbed since then; his 2004 release, Heavier Things, which includes "Daughters", peaked at #1. "Daughters" reached #1 on the Adult top-40, #19 on the Hot 100. Despite a brief time spent at the presitigious Berklee College of Music, Mayer's music is remarkably simple in its chord structures, and fairly direct in its lyrical approach. They've grown somewhat more somber since his relatively playful debut.
7. Maroon 5: She Will Be Loved iTunes
Another act aimed towards the adult alternative pop/rock market is Maroon 5, formed in Los Angeles in 1999. Four of the members had comprised an earlier Los Angeles band Kara's Flowers and had been friends since high school. The addition of a fifth member and a label change (to Octone Recods), resulted in their name change. Their debut album, Songs About Jane, appeared in 2002 and slowly sold enough to go platinum in early 2004; in 2005 they received a Grammy as "Best New Artist", despite their prior existence as Kara's Flowers. "She Will Be Loved" was the third single from Songs About Jane, and it peaked at #5, giving them the extra needed momentum that pushed the album to #6, and probably earned them their Grammy. Lead singer Adam Levine resembles Colin Hay of Men At Work to a degree; their music has a slightly bluesy funk to it and slick production.
8. Switchfoot: Stars iTunes
Switchfoot is a band from San Diego, CA led by brothers Jonathan Foreman (vocals, guitar) and Tim Forman (bass). Their break came via Christian Contemporary singer/songwriter/producer Charlie Peacock, whose own re:Think label released their 1997 debut The Legend of Chin, a somewhat bizarre album marketed to the Christian market that had a mysterious theme of murder and/or suicide. Their sound was light post-grunge; they honed it enough over the course of three albums (and a well-placed single in a Mandy Moore film, A Walk To Remember, in 2002) that Columbia/RED Ink signed them and promoted them to both the secular and Christian markets, although Christian listeners made up most of their sales. "Stars" is the single from their upcoming album, Nothing Is Sound, due out on August 19, 2005 on Sony.
9. Audioslave: Be Yourself iTunes
Audioslave is the quasi-supergroup formed when radical-rhetoric Los Angeles rap-metal provacateurs Rage Against The Machine's frontman Zack de la Rocha left the band in 2000. The remaining members vowed to carry on, and rumers began circulating that Chris Cornell, former lead singer of grunge pioneers Soundgarden was working with them. In 2001, the rumors proved true, and the new band was rechristened Audioslave. Moving away from the rap and politics of Rage Against The Machine, the band specializes in a loud, metallic post-grunge sound. Their debut appeared on Epic in 2002 and peaked at #7 on the charts. "Be Yourself" is from their sophomore album, Out of Exile, released in May 2005. Out of Exile, released on Interscope, is actually not a bad album; it features a more organic group cohesion than their debut did.
10. Beyonce: Crazy In Love (featuring Jay-Z)
Contemporary R&B/dance-pop diva Beyonce Knowles is one of the biggest stars of the 00's. Born in Houston in 1981, she began performing at age seven; in 1990 she became part of the contemporary r&b trio Destiny's Child while she was just nine years old. The trio released five albums for Columbia and Sony from 1998-2004 and routinely scored hits; they're remembered for the sophistication of their recordings' productions and arrangements. "Crazy In Love" was her second solo single in 2003 (following "Work It Out" from the film Austin Powers: Goldmember, in which she co-starred); featuring guest star Jay-Z, it was a funky, soulful, psychedelic piece of dance pop, and a huge #1 crossover smash. It was included on her debut album, Dangerously In Love, which also went to #1.
11. Avril Lavigne: My Happy Ending iTunes
From Napagnee, Ontario, Avril Levigne was just 17 when her "Complicated" was a huge crossover debut single in 2002; reaching #2 on the Hot-100, and #1 on the Adult Top 40 and Top 40 Mainstream charts. Known for her energetic, almost hyperactive style and persona, her songs were jittery pieces of meaningless ear candy during the summer of 2002. "My Happy Ending" is from her 2004 sophomore album, Under My Skin, and went to #9. Famous for mispronouncing David Bowie's name at the Grammy Awards, she has always maintained an image of spoiled brat, she's also become something of a fashion trend setter. She does have more talent than many of her peers, but she has yet to escape the teen pop pigeonhole.
12. Britney Spears: Do Somethin' iTunes
Despite murmerings that she's washed up, particularly following several bizarre incidents, marriages, pronouncements, and appearances in recent years, Britney Spears has yet to release an album of new material and fail to reach #1. This perfect record extends back to her 1999 debut ...Baby One More Time, released when she was 18. The album made her a superstar, bigger than any of the teen pop bands or singers, and she still is an A-list name these days, despite the tabloid stories. She has been largely out of action since her last album, In The Zone, appeared in 2003 and hit #1. "Do Somethin'" was from her 2004 retrospective Greatest Hits: My Prerogative, one of two bonus tracks added as bait. The compilation actually was her only album that didn't go to #1, peaking at #4. "Do Somethin'" fared less well as a single. Her records appear on Jive records, a Sony subsidiary.
13. Gretchen Wilson: Here For The Party iTunes
Country-pop singer Gretchen Wilson released her debut album Here For The Party in May 2004, and quickly hit #1 on the country charts with "Redneck Woman"; the first #1 for a female singer in over two years. Her album reached #1 on the country chart and #2 on the pop chart, a remarkable crossover for a first time artist. Despite the pop leaning of her music, in comparison to many popular country artists of the 00's, she actually displays a considerable amount of rootsiness in her music as well, enough to keep semi-purists in their chairs. Her life was probably the least priviliged af anyone on this list; born to a 16-year-old mother, she was educated only through the 8th grade, and at 14 she worked as a cook and bartender at a club where her mother worked. She called a litany of trailer parks home. She began singing professionaly at the age of 20 in 1993; she spent nearly 10 years gigging before Epic offered her a deal in 2003.
Here's a list of Sony BMG labels: Arista Records/BMG Classics/BMG Heritage/BMG International Companies/Columbia Records/Epic Records/J Records/Jive Records/LaFace Records/Legacy Recordings/Provident Music Group/RCA Records/RCA Victor Group/RLG - Nashville/Sony Classical/Sony Music International/Sony Music Nashville/Sony Wonder/Sony Urban Music/So So Def Records/Verity Records