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Pop Culture Showdown: Babs vs. Kelly

Today, we celebrate the birthdays of two women who changed American music in different ways: Barbra Streisand and Kelly Clarkson. One is 32, the other is 72. I’ll let you guess which is which.

So it’s time for another round of…

Pop Culture Showdown

Episode 2: Babs vs. Kelly

Born:

Barbra: Barbara Joan Streisand, in Brooklyn, NY.

Kelly: Kelly Brianne Clarkson, in Fort Worth, TX.

Got Her Start:

Barbra: Small audiences at gay bars.

Kelly: The highest rated reality television show of 1999.

Box Office Belly Flop:

BarbraThe Prince of Tides. Not a complete terror, but I read the book first and Ms. Streisand took an awful lot of artistic license. And on that license, there was two phrases: “organ donor” and “LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ME! I’M SUSAN LOWENSTEIN! LOOK AT ME!”

KellyFrom Justin to Kelly. One of the worst movies of all time. That’s talent right there.

Grammy Awards:

Barbra: 40 nominations, 10 wins.

Kelly: 10 nominations, 3 wins.

Media Faux Pas:

Barbra: Making a stink about her home being on Google Earth, causing the “Streisand effect.”

Kelly: Unsportsmanlike reaction upon losing World Idol to Kurt Nilsen, winner of Norway’s version of American Idol, on international TV. Later claimed to have been ill at the time. Granted, she was contractually obligated to participate in this meaningless conference of banality.

SNL Connection:

Barbra: Paid homage to in Mike Myers’ Coffee Talk with Linda Richman, on which she made one thirty-second cameo appearance. Has never hosted nor performed.

Kelly: Three gigs as musical guest.

Bacon Number:

Barbra: 2. The Mirror Has Two Faces (Babs & Jeff Bridges), R. I. P. D. (Bridges & Bacon).

Kelly: 2. From Justin To Kelly (Kelly & Marc Macauley), Wild Things (Macauley & Bacon). Hmm. Surprising.

Google Hits:

Barbra: 16,700,000

Kelly: 44,200,000

First Animated GIF Upon Searching Her Name:

Barbra:

Kelly:

Worst Album Cover Hairstyle

Barbra: Memories.

Two words: Oy gevalt.

Kelly: Breakaway.

Streisand’s got some great looks, but I pored through pictures of albums and singles by Clarkson, and there really isn’t one that stands out; she looks pretty similar in all of them and none have tragic ‘dos. I picked this one based on the fact that her face and hair are pretty, but I’m not exactly sure what she’s supposed to be doing here. Is she frustrated? Seductive? Bashful? Complicated? Actually, the more I look at this image, the weirder it looks. It’s like a Magic Eye.

GIF Of Her Giving a Compliment to Her Opponent

Barbra:

Hello Gorgeous GIF

Who isn’t charmed by that classic line? A very true statement, Babs.

Kelly:

Kelly - kelly-clarkson Fan Art

Kelly really hits the nail on the head with this one. I couldn’t agree more.

WINNER

It’s a tie!

Did you really think I’d pick one or the other? It’s like Sophie’s Choice, only with talented singers.

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Masterpiece YouTube: Linda Ronstadt/Amy Winehouse “You’re No Good/You Know I’m No Good” Remix

In honor of the brand new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, I thought it only appropriate to celebrate with a music video.

That’s So Jacob presents:

Masterpiece YouTube

Episode 12: Linda Ronstadt/Amy Winehouse “You’re No Good/You Know I’m No Good” Remix

Pop music has changed.

Not just the songs, but the images of the artists as well. What was once risque is now tame; I watched an early Britney Spears music video the other day and was like “so what’s the problem here?” Now you look at people like Miley Cyrus and wonder where the hell music went to. The only “pop” in pop music these days seems to come from Macklemore’s song where he “pops some tags” (and at first, I thought it was “popping some tabs,” like from soda cans or maybe a reference to MDA or some other sort of drug tablets). None of these songs have much of a shelf life. I mean, are we still going to be singing “Shots shots shots shots shots shots” or “You a stupid hoe (repeat)” twenty years from now? Ten? Five?

From the 1940s forward, pop music emerged out of a burgeoning youth culture in America and around the world. These were songs teens could dance along to and sing along with. Pop music has evolved over the years, spawning new genres (like bubblegum pop, country pop, dance pop, adult contemporary) and influenced other styles of music like rock, rap and R&B. Pure pop, however, came from the likes of folks like Linda Ronstadt. I believe that Linda Ronstadt is one of the most versatile performers of our time; her decades-long career has spawned albums in classic pop, contemporary pop, country/western, folk, rock and roll, and Latin, including setting the record for the best-selling non-English-language album in the USA. It shouldn’t have taken until 2014 to induct her into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but now she’s in a place which deserves her name. She just came out with a book, Simple Dreams, that I am dying to read.

Unfortunately, she has lost the ability to sing due to symptoms from Parkinson’s disease; other than that, she’s alive and healthy, and apparently, according to her Wikipedia page, single and never married. (Linda – if you’re reading this, call me! 😉 )

She has some of the star qualities that are rarer and rarer to find in pop musicians these days. Every song of hers is distinct and has a different sound to it; you know it’s her because her name is on the CD cover, but even if you didn’t know who she was, you’d appreciate the song and the voice. Her songs were catchy, punchy, and had fun lyrics that were easy to remember, actually made some sense, and had a message in them. Her image wasn’t necessarily squeaky-clean, but that didn’t matter as much in those days; keeping your body covered was in, and songs with provocative lyrics didn’t receive much airtime. Frankly, the concept of “squeaky clean” image that we have today didn’t really exist back then; singers just performed, and the innuendo was what the listener made of it.

21st century music, while it has plenty of exceptions, has seen the proliferation of the “adult” factor, especially in teenagers and young twenty-somethings. Drugs, alcohol, and sex, once a subculture, have now hit the mainstream now more than ever. And they’re all so young. Consider Amy Winehouse. Her life was like a side show of addiction that resulted in an unfortunate death at the age of 27, just a year older than I am right now. And ironic, considering one of her breakout hits, “Rehab,” where she sings about not wanting to go there, and very adamantly at that. Fans seem to consider her some sort of musical martyr, but I don’t see it that way. People make choices in their lives, and she made some pretty bad ones and paid the ultimate price. This is by no means to speak ill of the dead, because she could have had a long, fruitful career ahead of her; just look at how Ozzy Osbourne turned out. Okay, maybe not the best example, but you get the picture.

But back to the video. We start off with the Amy Winehouse part, where she sings about drinking while lying in a bathtub and smoking at the bar, telling all the world “You Know I’m No Good.” Basically, a typical Amy Winehouse day. Her outfits are pretty darn revealing, and I don’t even think she’s trying to be all that sexy. After an awesome transition, we tune into a 1970s episode of Midnight Special, with Linda Ronstadt, two backup singers (who have incredible hairstyles, by the way), and a live band belting out “You’re No Good,” with long-haired Linda rocking the mic in her floral patterned Oxford and bellbottoms, and shaking a tambourine and her long brown hair like she just don’t care. The backups have interesting leisure-suit type outfits on, very 70s, especially the one who appears to be in gold lame. We transition back to Amy doing things with her tongue and half-naked boyfriend (not at the same time), with an awesome tambourine clap from Linda in the middle, before transitioning back again to Linda and co., who bring us out on a high note.

Now, what’s the take away here? I’ll start with the imagery. I love both ladies’ looks in this video, but it really shows just how much music has changed. In the 1970s, Linda’s outfit would be considered trendy, fashionable, and maybe even sexy with the tight fitting waist and legs, but today, you’d find that outfit (or a similar variation) at Ann Taylor or H&M. Amy’s outfit isn’t entirely inappropriate, more like club wear, but shows more cleavage than most 1970s pop divas would dare to bare. Their makeup and body language communicate their characters. Linda’s natural look and slight swish of the hips does more to implicate anything sexual than actually do anything sexual, whereas Amy’s heavy makeup, body tattoos, and (implied) nudity in the bubble bath make more of a show out of her, detracting from the voice and the song. The songs themselves go together nicely in one video, but are very different in style and tone: “You’re No Good” is less specific and contains relatively harmless lyrics about a relationship, where “You Know I’m No Good” refers to alcohol, having affairs, and sleeping around. Unfortunately, the original six-minute video has been taken down by YouTube, but this three-minute version packs the same punch.

This video is a masterpiece because not only does it feature two amazing singers, but it shows some of the stark contrasts between pop music from this century and the last.

Congratulations to Linda as well as Nirvana, Cat Stevens, KISS, Peter Gabriel, and Hall & Oates for their incredibly well-deserved achievement. And also to the nation of Taiwan and the Northwest Territories of Canada for showing up at That’s So Jacob for the first time. Give yourselves a round of applause.

But seriously, Ms. Ronstadt, if you’re ever in the Madison, Wisconsin area, let’s have dinner and drinks. Please?

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Care (Igan) for a Glass of (Lowder) Milk?

Today, for the first time, I looked upon these two faces through my computer screen, although I have been listening to what they’ve had to say for years.

So just who are this cheeky couple?

These are Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk. Most likely wonderfully fabulous alone, as a duo they are the stick of dynamite, the force that is…Kerrigan & Lowdermilk. (Oh, and by the way, Kerrigan’s on the right and Lowdermilk’s on the left. In case you were confused.

What do they do?

They write songs. Good songs. Great songs. Wonderful songs. Amazing songs.

Every generation has its pure pop songwriter duo. For my grandparents’ generation, it was Betty Comden and Adolph Green who set the trend from the musical theater angle, coming up with the music and lyrics for one of America’s most beloved musical films, Singin’ In The Rain, and one of the most underrated, On the Town. The sixties and seventies launched Gerry Goffin and Carole King, who are responsible for “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman” and other songs whose original versions are solid gold classics, and are probably known to most of my generation as the songs most butchered by contestants on American Idol. And before you say that pure pop classics written by boy/girl songwriting are so last century, look who just won an Oscar: Kristen Anderson-Lopez and her partner/husband/newest EGOT-club member Robert Lopez, whose “Let it Go” from the popular Disney film Frozen beat out U2, Karen O, and Pharrell Williams for the coveted Best Original Song. Which brings me back around to my original topic.

I first became aware of the Kerrigan-Lowdermilk songbook in Israel, when a friend of mine decided to sing a song from a little musical called Henry and Mudge entitled “My Party Dress.” The fact that my friend was perfect for the role notwithstanding, the song was intriguing in its music and hilarious in it’s lyrics. I haven’t found a version on YouTube that I like, but basically it’s about a girl who talks and talks and talks, with unintentional humor, so much so that you often forget what the song is about (hint: it’s in the title). Of course, I set about memorizing the lyrics, which I still know, four years later; in fact, I performed it one night to some friends just for fun.

Then I realized…could there be more where this came from?

And the answer: yes.

K & L have not only written musicals about awkward children’s books I barely remember, but also original musicals for contemporary audiences, with songs that could easily top the Billboard charts if given to someone like Demi Lovato or Lorde or Michael Buble as a single. There’s The Unauthorized Biography of Samantha Brown, which I don’t know that much about other than its basic plot structure, but that I realize I need to learn more of, as one song from it keeps coming back into my mind: “Say the Word.” It’s a lovely ballad that is just as easy to understand out of context as in, and also works great for either gender and really just about any age. I wouldn’t put it in its own Masterpiece YouTube segment or anything, because there’s not really a music video for it, but you should hear it any way.

If I didn’t have a million things due by tomorrow, I would walk you through their website, their karaoke page, or their YouTube channel. But you should do that, and then leave a comment on this page telling me which song or theirs is your favorite, or which one makes you smile, or simply which one gives you the feels. Because, undoubtedly, one of them will.

Do it. Do it right now.

Then come back and tell me how it was, so the next time my head is not full of papers-cake-dinner-proposals-dramaturgy-life, we can share the magic together.

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There’s Nothing from the Twenty-First Century

Yes, this is the line that Anna Kendrick says in Pitch Perfect after she looks at the Barden Bellas’ set list. I never thought I’d agree with that assessment, but I’m coming around to the idea.

 Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect Movie  Image #5

The twentieth century brought us Frank Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, the Supremes, and basically most of what we consider pop music today. As a child of the twentieth century who is growing increasingly scared of some of the strange music of the past 13 years, I’m tempted to just shake my cane at the whole industry. As I’ve started going to this ballroom dance class, I can’t help but imagine some contemporary pop songs as background music. “Somebody I Used to Know” would be a lovely contemporary accompaniment for the quickstep, and you could do a fantastic jive to “Cowboy Casanova.”

So, here’s a quick countdown of 10 songs from the 21st century that capture the essence of “contemporary,” “pop,” and “music,” and what makes them so great.

2003: Eminem, “Lose Yourself”

I wasn’t really aware of this song when it came out, but what I also wasn’t aware of was that this was the dawning of 2000s Eminem, vs. 1990s Eminem. 1990s Eminem was an angry, sadistic man, but in the 2000s, he started manning up, coming into his own as an artist and as a person. “Lose Yourself” was the first step, written and released for the movie 8 Mile in late 2002 but skyrocketed to popularity in 2003, coasting all the way to the 2004 Oscars and winning, the first rap song to achieve this feat. Before “Lose Yourself,” I was one of those “anything but country and rap” people but this song exemplifies R-A-P (rhythm and poetry) in its cascading verses and positive message.

What dance it would accompany: Solo – club jam or jazz. For a couple – not many, maybe a Viennese waltz or a reaaaaally energetic foxtrot? If I were to ever go into boxing, martial arts, bungee jumping, or gain superpowers, this would be my theme.

2004: Dido, “White Flag”

Dido’s been around for awhile, but “White Flag,” I feel, gained her a lot of mainstream fans up against the likes of Christina Aguilera (whom she lost out on the Grammy Awards to for “Beautiful,” another heartfelt slow song but a bit hackneyed and obvious) and Avril Lavigne (whose “I’m With You” was also nominated that year, but sounds better when anyone but Avril Lavigne sings it…there’s a Josh Groban version out there which is spellbinding). It has echoes of Sinead O’Connor’s classic angst anthem “Nothing Compares 2 U” but with less of a fatalistic outlook; its message is one of strength and resilience. The haunting cello makes an excellent counterpoint to the higher notes, and Dido’s voice is just angelic.

What dance it would accompany: Solo – ballet, modern. For a couple – perfect for a rumba or a waltz, but a tango would be intriguing. When I hear this song, for some reason, I think of a commercial for a jewelry line or a perfume or something with a lot of white and possibly fur.

2005: Shakira, “La Tortura”

At this point in her career, Shakira’s had some major English-language hits like “Whenever, Wherever” (which would make for a hot samba number) and “Underneath Your Clothes” (…yeah, I’ve got nothing) but “La Tortura,” a collab. with Alejandro Sanz, is the epitome of sexy and provocative Latino music but not quite Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights provocative. I’ve heard both the English and Spanish versions, and though the English version received more buzz, I’m more partial to Shakira singing in her native language. (Speaking of Spanish, bienvenidos to my first visitors from Peru, Chile, and El Salvador!) With “La Tortura,” Shakira provided a stepping stone for other Latino/a artists to break into mainstream American music, adding some much needed flavor, as most bubble-gum brands lose over time. Good job building bridges Shakira!

What dance it could accompany: Solo – jazz, belly dancing, flamenco. For a couple – what couldn’t it accompany? Salsa, cha-cha, samba, quickstep, an energetic waltz even. Definitely one of the sexier songs of the decade.

2006: Natasha Bedingfield, “Unwritten”

Ah, “Unwritten.” The song that I loved so much I made it part of my screen name. Both the American and UK music videos are amazing, and this song is just the most uplifting, stereo-over-the-head, positive songs I’ve ever heard. It’s not too difficiult to sing and makes a rather banal karaoke choice, but it just fills me with sunshine. I used to have a rule that if the song comes on the radio while I’m driving, I couldn’t change the station, and if it comes on my iPod, I couldn’t skip it. Those days are gone now, but it’s a replica of a simpler time, a better time. Wait – that was freshman year of college for me, so maybe I’m better in the present.

What dance it could accompany: This is the only song on the list that isn’t really a song to dance to, other than maybe the gospel side-to-side clap.

2007: Justin Timberlake, “LoveStoned”

“The One That Got Away” is a Katy Perry song, but it could probably be about Justin Timberlake. He is indeed the one that got away…from the 1990s boy band scene. Pretty much every mainstream 1990s group was yesterday’s news when the 21st century hit; N*SYNC, 98 Degrees, O-Town, Backstreet Boys, Hanson, and the Spice Girls just missed the boat, among many other smaller, forgotten groups, but other than Posh Spice (who only retained her fame by marrying David Beckham and just being generally gorgeous 24/7), only Justin Timberlake seems to have emerged unscathed. In fact, his career is getting better and better. No longer is he Britney’s ex with the awful hair; he’s a sex symbol, viral video star, and is a better actor/comedian than half the current SNL cast. Seriously, Lorne Michaels, just put him on the payroll. “LoveStoned” is not his biggest hit, and maybe not even his best hit, but it took him off the Bar Mitzvah circuit and onto the 21-and-over nightclub floor. The instrumentals plus Justin’s massive octave range blurs the line between teen heartthrob and dashing gentleman, two qualities that have made Justin Timberlake the star he is today.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – club jam, hip hop, breaking, something a la Fosse jazz. For a couple – salsa and cha-cha, most def., but could work for a quickstep, a foxtrot, or a tango.

2008: Leona Lewis, “Better in Time”

While we were suffering through country boys on American Idol, Simon Cowell was churning out stars across the pond, and Leona Lewis was one of them. Most people thought she’d be a flash in the pan, and in truth…she kinda was, and sounding very similar to Jordin Sparks didn’t help her case, but she had several hits, most of them severely overplayed (yes, I’m talking to you, “Bleeding Love”). “Better in Time” was an after-thought and underrated, a subtle response to “Bleeding Love,” in fact, I wasn’t even aware of it until much later. But it’s living proof that the torch song still reigns, and every time I hear it, I think the same thing: it does get better in time.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – nothing really, maybe some Martha Graham-esque modern. For a couple – anything slow, like waltz, rumba, or even quickstep. Apropos, Ms. Lewis has amazing hair.

2009: Jay-Z & Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind”

This unlikely but fantastic pairing set 2009 (and 2010) on fire with “Empire State of Mind (Part 1)” which some said was a response to Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” – or maybe the other way around. If this song had been around seven years earlier, I think it might’ve replaced the national anthem. This late-night tune celebrates the Big Apple, Jay-Z’s sometimes nonsensical rapping notwithstanding, but Alicia Keys provides killer vocals and the music video is stunning. Let’s hear it for New York!

What dance it could accompany: Solo – modern, or a slow club jam. For a couple – much like the previous entry, anything slow (waltz, rumba, quickstep). This song will always remind me of getting off the Chinatown bus on a solo trip to Manhattan (it was randomly playing on the bus’ radio at the time), and even more of the end of that trip, where my aunt got stuck in Midtown traffic and in order to make my bus back, I had to jump out of her car with my backpack and rolling suitcase, and run several blocks, including through Times Square, at sunset, and seeing the lights of Broadway brighten as I ran. I was out of breath, but managed to watch the remainder of the sunset from the bus window.

2010: Lena Meyer-Landrut, “Satellite”

2010’s hit is another trip over the Atlantic, but this time to Germany. Well, actually Oslo, Norway, aka the location of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2010. Long-described as a “musical trainwreck,” not many have made it out of Eurovision and enjoyed a lively career, with the obvious exceptions of ABBA, Katrina and the Waves, and Celine Dion. But 2010’s winner, German teenager Lena Meyer-Landrut (now known as just Lena) provided a refreshing pop treat with her rendition of “Satellite.” At first, I was disappointed, due to her winning over some of my personal favorites, Albania (Juliana Pasha, “It’s All About You”), Armenia (Eva Rivas, “Apricot Stone”), and of course Israel (Harel Skaat, “Milim”), but once I actually listened to the song, I was like…this is just precious. It straddles the line between adorable and obsessive, and is one of my favorites to do karaoke. It’s fun and bouncy and just so lovable. Surprisingly, even with her follow-up hit “Taken By A Stranger” (which got her close to winning Eurovision again the next year) and her cover of En Vogue’s “What A Man,” Lena hasn’t taken off here in America, and not even that much outside of Germany and its neighbors. Guess it takes a lot to overcome the Eurovision Curse.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – club jam, dance-around-in-your-underwear. For a couple – an energetic cha-cha, or a fun jive. I love you Lena, but you really need better PR people. If Ylvis, PSY, and One Direction could cross over, surely you can?

2011: Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”

Another song that kind of annoyed me when it first came out but then grew on me to the point where I will sing it in the shower at the gym (the acoustics of the tiles make it fill the space very nicely) and will not give you the pleasure of judging me. I’m too old for that, screw you, I do what I want when I want and it’s not hurting nobody. The previous year, Adele had begun her world takeover with “Chasing Pavements,” another song that kind of annoyed me, but like “Rolling in the Deep,” it grew on me. Even though she hasn’t released much new material other than “Rumor Has It,” “Someone Like You,” and “Skyfall,” what makes her fresh in my mind is her versatility. Her young voice has so much old-school soul, yet “Rolling in the Deep,”  “Skyfall,” and “Rumor Has It” are so different that it could very well be three different but equally talented singers. (sidenote – when I heard “Rumor Has It” for the first time, I did not know who sang it, but said “Adele would make an awesome cover of that one”…and then I found out that it was Adele. Whoops.) Adele is, as Christina Bianco correctly puts it, “the reigning British queen,” and many, like me, are anxiously awaiting her forthcoming album. Take that, Kate Middleton!

What dance it could accompany: Solo – not sure, I’ll go with modern. For a couple – something standard, like a quickstep or a Viennese waltz. Yeah, not much of a dance track, but there is never not a good time for this song.

2012: Kelly Clarkson, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”

The waitress from small-town Texas turned American Idol has arguably had the most successful career among her fellow alumni, along with Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson. She suffered some career hiccups with the epic disaster of From Justin to Kelly and the poorly-chosen (but still popular) lineup for My December but came back to her sometimes lovable, sometimes frightening self with hits like “All I Ever Wanted” and “My Life Would Suck Without You.” “Stronger” has a rough,tough rock-n-roll appeal but also could be the soundtrack to an exercise class for moms. It defines “power anthem” without being too “girl power!” and that’s what makes it all the stronger. Good on you, Kelly.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – um, club jam, hip hop. For a couple – a fun salsa or cha-cha. Plus, the music video’s pretty neat and it’s just such an empowering song.

2013: Ariana Grande, “The Way”

Ariana Grande has been on my radar screen since 2010, when I was working on 13 The Musical in Israel, and had the soundtrack imprinted into my brain, a soundtrack that included vocals from a young and practically unknown Ariana Grande. After spending her teens with the gang at Hollywood Arts on Nickelodeon’s Victorious, Ariana spread her wings to fly solo. Not every baby bird can fly right off the bat, and she fell flat with the jokingly lame “Put Your Hearts Up,” which even she herself admitted should have never happened. But she got right back up with “The Way,” and with comparisons to Mariah Carey, took to the sky as more than a pop star wannabe but a vocalist with style and gymnastic ability not heard since the days of…well, Mariah Carey. The video ruffled some feathers for its not-so-squeaky-clean content, including a kiss, but in the grand scheme of music these days, it was relatively tame. I predict a long and successful career for Ariana Grande even if she is kind of annoying on Sam & Cat, her new Nick series which lacks the fun of Victorious and the maturity of iCarly.

What dance it could accompany: Solo – hip hop club jam, any day of the week. As a couple – seriously, just about anything fun and fast: salsa, cha-cha, rumba, samba, even a lively waltz.

I just spent about two and a half hours writing this. I clearly have my priorities in the right place.