Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Burning Questions (the July Edition): Did Alicia Keys Misplace Her Identity? -- and More!

Speaking of motherhood (in the previous Adele post) and how it can change a pop star, is "New Day" representative of what we can expect from Alicia Keys in the future? When her last album, 2009's The Element of Freedom, included a duet with Beyonce ("Put It in a Love Song") that sounded more like Beyonce than Keys, I shook my ass Beyonce-style and thought, Patience! -- at least it's good. But why would a singer-songwriter with Keys' prodigious musical talent and distinguished sound hire her husband and babyfather (to son Egypt, who turns 2 in October), producer Swizz Beats, to make her sound like Beyonce impersonating Rihanna on her new song, "New Day," the first offering from her upcoming fifth album? 

Speaking of Rihanna, if she had never become a superstar, would everybody still love Ciara? As Rihanna's hits grew bigger in the mid to late '00s, Ciara's grew smaller, as if the charts couldn't handle more than one gorgeous black surname-free diva with a three-syllable, three-vowel (I-A-A) first name at a time. It's a shame, really. Ciara's 2009 third album, Fantasy Ride, remains as essential to my iPod as Rihanna's 2009 opus, Rated R, and in a Rihanna-free pop world, "Work" may have done for Ciara featuring Missy Elliott what "Umbrella" did for Rihanna featuring Jay-Z. 

Still speaking of Rihanna, am I the only one who would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Drake (or someone in Drake's entourage, depending on which side of the story you believe) kicked Chris Brown's ass over Rihanna? I'm perfectly willing to accept that perhaps Rihanna wasn't always the cowering victim of Brown's physical abuse during the course of their relationship and even may have instigated that fateful bust-up in Februrary of 2009, but the gash on Brown's chin, courtesy of the June 14 altercation with Drake in New York City, isn't even partial payback for what he did to Rihanna's face.

Alas, it may end up working in Brown's favor. The Drake beat down and the free publicity it spawned arrived just in time to boost the projected fortunes of Fortune, Brown's fifth studio album, out today in the U.S. (Interesting facts: Brown's first release post-Rihannagate was "Turntables," a duet with Ciara that appeared on Fantasy Ride, and his first headlining single after the incident was "I Can Transform Ya," produced by, co-written with and featuring the man Alicia Keys calls her hubby.) 

If Lady Gaga is going to crib shamelessly from her fellow pop stars (in this case, Madonna, though she's hardly the sole focus of Gaga's "reductive" proclivities), shouldn't she learn to take constructive -- or catty -- criticism because of it? When Madonna did a mash-up of "Express Yourself" and "Born This Way" during rehearsals for her current tour, adding insult to the injury of publicly calling Gaga's music "reductive," Gaga responded with "It sometimes makes people feel better about themselves, to put other people down, or make fun of them, or maybe make mockery of their work, and that doesn’t make me feel good at all."

Of course, she's going to pretend to take the high road, casting herself as the martyr who suffers for her "art" (so early '90s Madonna) while lobbing a passive-aggressive retort. But presumably, she's heard "Born This Way," and she knows Madonna is dead right. Sometimes the best defense is no defense, especially when you don't have much of one.

Another interesting fact: According to Ray of Light producer and occasional Madonna collaborator William Orbit (whose days in Her Madjesty's service pool might be numbered), the best tracks written for MDNA ended up on Chris Brown's Fortune, which would make Madonna's work, if not exactly reductive, not particularly custom-made either. One beat, apparently, fits all!

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