Live Pop Stars

We live in a pop-star renaissance, and while some have made albums that are deep, varied, and enjoyable, there are others in both pop (and hip-hop) that seem to just be tracking out product with pablum and predictability. Unlike the past, there doesn’t seem to be a unifying theme except trying for as many radio hits – using multiple producers, musicians, and co-writers.

I mean, this stuff isn’t BAD, but is it something we’ll be remembering later on, or will these artists be shuffled off to retrospective comp-land like many pop acts of days gone by? I may have already reviewed some record by these folks, and some true pop icons of today (Taylor Swift, Katy Perry) are already in the main catalog.

For the record, if they’re on here, they don’t have a good compilation, and their regular records are way too spotty and full of filler (DRAKE!). They have SOMETHING and I have a few tracks, but not enough to grab the entire album. Make some compilations folks!

112 – Nice harmonies, but the songs and production are something to be desired. Pretty voices aren’t congruent to pretty good records.

AJR – They’re a little more than radio fodder, but there’s not a lot of substance under the glossy hooks. Bonus points for DIY. I’d like to see them explore outside of the pop realm.

Akon – Maybe you remember “Smack That” or “I Wanna Love You”. Maybe you remember Eminem and Snoop more than Akon? He was on everyone’s records too so maybe you remember them?  What I’m saying is that it was a long time ago that he was relevant unless you have a jones for 2006.

Avicii – RIP for one. For two, he’s a collaborator and aside from his beats, etc. the best collaborations are with the best collaborators (not the G_D Imagine Dragons)>

A$AP Rocky – His records, to my ears, are uneven. He’s trying, but for me he’s best in spots.

Iggy Azalea – I could ignore her altogether if it wasn’t for the damn “Fancy” track, and that’s all because of Charli XCX. Her best tracks (save one) feature someone else. That’s about right. The less of her, the better!

Natasha Bedingfield – The timeline from ‘it’ to ‘not it’ can be short and sharp. Moving from pop songs about empowerment to mushy ballads could be a factor, but there was too much sheen and gloss on everything, and the records wound up disposable. A collection may be what she needs before she totally goes off grid.

Regina Belle – Duets with Peabo Bryson notwithstanding, she’s a generic 80’s R&B singer.

Aloe Blacc – I think “The Man” being way oversaturated a few years ago hurt his career as much as helped him.

Tamar Braxton – She went away, and came back thanks to Reality TV. Sentimental R&B ballads broken up by the occasional up-tempo tune. In 10 years she’ll need another jolt of Reality TV to become relevant again.

BTS – I’m definitely not in their target demo, but ya know, the songs are good to great.

Camila Cabello – Eye candy? Ear candy? She’s like one of those peppermints I used to get at Stuckey’s, which were all puffed up and sweet but had no substance inside.

Alessia Cara – She had a good turn with a single from Moana. But she’s not broke out of the teen-pop-diva pack, mainly because the material sounds like everyone else’s.

Ciara – While she’s in the press now as a model and the wife of Russell Wilson now, she had a viable career earlier that had a few hits but not very deep for the most part. She really needs a good compilation that covers her whole careers, including her last few albums past 2012.

Colbie Calliat – She’s a pleasant sounding singer-songwriter that gained fame on…wait for it…MySpace. Her music seems constructed to offer the most vanilla product imaginable. There’s no hot fudge, nor sprinkles or nuts. Her singles sound good on both Pop and Adult Contemporary radio, which perhaps is damning with faint praise.

Aaron Carter – Part of me is seduced by the hooks of “Aaron’s Party (Come Get It)”, then I came to my senses.

The Chainsmokers – There’s a lot of backlash here, and yeah, some of it’s deserved. But they do make earworms you hate-listen to. Minus 1,000 points for F-N Coldplay (which doesn’t help their case in any way shape or form).

Charli XCX – She’s got some great, hooky, tracks, and some that just meander a bit. Still, I’m impressed by her when she’s on.

Chromeo – Fun in short doses. Singles are the best way to consume them. Comps are a dying thing, so make your own!

Chvrches – Somehow this sounds recycled to me. It’s disco pop songs, and we’ve been there before, right?

Deborah Cox – Generic R&B can come from Canada as well.

Creeper – A UK sensation. They totally changed direction from semi-charged up ‘punk’ to ‘gothic’ type rock. The latter seems to work better, kinda. I don’t trust ’em though.

Taio Cruz – You know, that one song? Yeah, “Dynamite”. It’s lasted a lot longer on people’s minds than the #1 single he had with Ludacris. He also did one with Ke$ha about sending dirty pictures that hasn’t aged well, really.

The Crystal Method – They were at the forefront of the EDM movement, but over a long course of time they’re not as interesting or deep as the other pioneers.

Cut Copy – These Aussie purveyors of electro-pop have a few hooks, a few flashes, but mostly it’s empty calories when all is said and done.

Miley Cyrus – Yeah, I’m plopping her here until she makes a consistent record or has a greatest hits album so you can pick the good stuff and leave the dross. To be honest, she’s more of a follower than a leader – and I think she wavers between wanting to be Madonna or Taylor Swift.

DaBaby – He’s put out a lot of product as a the credited artist, or the featured artist, or a collaborator. Quality control is the issue.

Daya – A nice, quirky voice and a hooky pop song doesn’t make a long term career, or even a memorable record. She’s probably going to be best remembered as a singer on DJ’s songs.

Gavin DeGraw – A hat with some songwriting chops but his production puts every song square in the “Adult Alternative” area with some pop crossover. He also tries to be too witty for his own good. (Though I have that issue as well…)

Lana Del Rey – Life’s too short to be this sad and mopey.

Jason Derulo – Nice voice, and bland material. Not even Snoop helped him cross the finish line in my ears.

Dido – A fortunate sample can go a long way…

DIspatch – They’re a DJ duo that uses hired guns for singers. “Latch” is the one you know, with Sam Smith. Worth  finding the tracks you like, but not an albums’ worth.

DJ Khaled – Hey, you don’t have to be a damn DJ on your own records. We know who the hell you are.

DMA’s – Aussie trio wants to be Oasis, or Blur, or the Stone Roses, or maybe…

Doja Cat – Her songs grow on you, in a good way. I’m not sold on her for a full album, but for pop it’s fine for now.

Drake – My goodness, he’s prolific, and wordy, and needs an edit / purge function. He’s not QUITE the Guided By Voices of pop / hip-hop, but it’s close. Now, the trend is NOT to do a compilation, so I guess I’m going to have to do one myself. It’s just a lot of stuff right now to plow through and 20+ tracks per record and playlist and mixtape.

George Ezra – He’s a big deal in the UK and bettar than Ed Sheeran, that’s for sure. But aside from “Budapest” and “Shotgun” I haven’t heard something that hooks my attention in a special way. I’m watching him for later progress.

Fetty Wap – The term “One Hit Wonder” may have to change in this environment of streaming and digital singles. He had three Top 10 singles from his debut, but nothing else has hit pop. In this time of mixtapes and studio albums and guest tracks, there are a lot more chances for someone to get another hit, even accidentally. “Trap Queen” is what we’ll know him for.

Fifth Harmony – Sweeter than saccharine, and probably as cancerous. Goddamn, though, “Worth It” is a freakin’ earworm, though.

Foster the People – “Pumped Up Kicks” seem like a long long time ago, doesn’t it.

G-Eazy – There are some good beats, but he’s a one trick pony to my ears in regards to delivery and flow and style. The radio will suffice.

Jess Glynne – She does well when teamed with Clean Bandit. That’s something there. Otherwise, it’s rather forgettable.

Selena Gomez – With or without the Scene, she comes across as a ‘dabbler’ in pop music. All of the songwriting and production machinery is behind her, but I’ll be damned if I can recall one of her hit singles right now. This includes her latest ones.

Gotye – His big song has an apt title, since we haven’t heard hide nor hair from him since.

Ellie Goulding – She had a decent run in the early 2010’s, but seemingly lost her mojo and then got anxiety in the studio. Here’s hoping she’s better.

Ariana Grande – Her first three efforts were run-of-the-mill candy pop, but she’s outgrown that a bit and a couple of albums deserve full looks unless a compilation comes around.

Grimes – Critics (and Elon Musk) love her, but I haven’t been moved by her oddities yet.

Halestorm – Nothing bores me more than mediocre hard rock / heavy metal. You can’t make fun of it, and it’s too generic to really jam to. Moments, they have a few, but not enough.

Calvin Harris – He seems to pull more out of his artists than most producer – DJ types, but it’s still a spotty hit-or-miss thing.

Adina Howard – “Freak Like Me” was a statement, of sorts, but she kept saying the same thing over and over and over…

Hozier – Just listening to “Take Me to Church” and you had this feeling he’d be a one-hit wonder. He had another Top 20 in the UK, but nothing else here. The second album debuted at #1 but now that means people streamed it when it came out.

Imagine Dragons – They sound better one off on the radio than all together on a record. There’s only so many uplifting pompous choruses you can handle in a stretch.

Iron & Wine – I’ll put him (them) here since a record hit #2 in the charts, but I’m just not a fan of this hipster-campfire-folkie stuff. He’s less insufferable than to Bon Iver, though, and I may keep one record if it moves me more than his (their) other stuff.

Jagged Edge – Three #1s, a #2, and a #3 on the R&B chart, but empty calories for the most part. Their albums still chart pretty well on the R&B albums chart, so they have a fan base, but nothing has struck the singles charts’ fancy lately.

Carly Rae Jepsen – A few catchy tracks every three years was her pattern, but her 2019 release may have converted me somewhat. We’ll see when I dive in.

Joe – Still plugging away, but the only song that moved me was the one with Mystikal yelling on it.

Juvenile – He had a #1 hit in 2004, and a #1 album in 2006, but “Back That Azz Up” is his legacy. And a fine legacy that is!

Karmin – From You-Tube stars to an unfortunate SNL appearance to…Qveen Herby? Oooof. Some people shouldn’t rap…

Mat Kearney – Nice hat(s).

Kimbra – She sang on Gotye’s big hit. She moves albums in New Zealand and Australia. Her stuff has some interesting twists and turns, but is still rather slight.

Kungs – He gave Cookin’ on 3 Burners more ears, which is fantastic. But he’s more of a DJ or producer or studio dabbler.

Adam Lambert – He’s flamboyant with a good voice, and good on him for being cast as Freddie Mercury by the remnants of the band Queen. Yet, his stuff sounds manufactured and at times soulless, good for the radio on the odd occasion or nostalgic sing-alongs to American Idol reruns.

Lenka – If Zooey Deschanel was Czech, played a little keyboard, and made songs for commercials. After “The Show” was used in a commerical, it became a hit, and since the commercial isn’t on the air anymore, it’s safe to listen to.

Demi Lovato – I think her second (third?) act is one watching, as her later albums are strong and she’s an advocate for herself now.

Lykke Li – Swedish pop-chameleon hasn’t broken through here or in the UK. Upon listening, it’s not for lack of trying. It’s just…meh.

Magic! – Points off for the unnecessary punctuation, given that their sound neuters both reggae and The Police.

Bruno Mars – Hooks with no substance. Beats with no soul. He does it all, but it all seems plastic. Catchy as heck, though, and he’s attractive to teens, tweens, and their moms. That may not be always a good thing.

Meek Mill – He’s selling (or streaming) a lot of product, and has released a lot of mix tapes and EPs besides his albums since 2008, but that volume has diluted his work I feel. That product may be due to his legal issues, which have been going on with the same judge since 2008. I’m giving his 2017 record a chance to prove me wrong.

Shawn Mendes – He seems like a nice, Canadian boy. He needs to move beyond that and write more diverse songs that don’t feel like they’re from a song factory. Also, add some grit, or maybe a smidge of testosterone.

Mims – A one-hit wonder that makes you feel better about streaming instead of buying entire CDs.

Kylie Minogue – My gosh, she’s 50, and has been working since the mid-80’s. Good on her. She’s moved past being a pop-tart to a more serious dance artist, which is great. Still, she’s not on my radar, despite loving that BMX Bandits song.

Mis-Teeq – “Scandalous” is an earworm, I’ll give them that. Aside from that, they never really caught fire here in the US, and were just kind of lumped in with other groups of similar ilk.

Mandy Moore – You heard what she did to XTC, right? You heard that, didn’t you?

Next – Well, record buyers said that as soon as “Wifey” left the charts.

Oh Land – Danish disperser of dance-pop made a small impact over here in the US. Except for her slight accent, it’s pretty much indistinguishable from anything over here.

Rita Ora – The controversy over “Girls” found it an audience. But there’s nothing really here to sustain said audience.

Owl City – “Fireflies” was kind of out of the blue when it hit, and it’s a catchy, twee pop track. “Good Time” was catchy and had Carly Rae Jepsen when she was hot. Yet his records are inconsistent and you probably should stick to the radio singles if you really want to hear him again.

Phantogram – I didn’t know where to put them, really. They sound ‘nice’ but don’t excite me and they suffer from same-ism. They sell records, though, I’ll give ’em that.

Post Malone – It seems like someone should wake him up, since he raps like he’s about nodded out. I guess they did, because in 2019 he started to be understood and made his bones.

Kelly Price – She won the lottery by singing the hook on “Mo Money Mo Problems” but nothing else roused me.

Corinne Bailey Rae – Nice neo-soul singer has moments of excellence, and then slips into auto-pilot at times. She needs a really good collection.

Dawn Richards – Much better than you’d think someone from Danity Kane would be. She hasn’t had a breakthrough yet, and maybe she never will.

Kelly Rowland – The Denny Laine to Beyonce’s Paul McCartney.

Shakira – Right now, she’s more famous for being famous. The Voice will do that to you. In her time, she had a couple o’ good rump shakers, and her influence in Latin America is still strong.

Ed Sheeran – He of the red hair, half-raps, and mathematical symbols for album titles. I mean, he’s trying to diversify, but the formula’s the same in my ears. I can take or leave his stuff. It’s just radio pablum and when he breaks into semi-raps it gets a bit trying.

Sir Mix-A-Lot – There’s no compilation streaming, and his albums are spotty at best. You know the song to have, and there may be a couple others lurking about.

Jordin Sparks – While American Idol has produced more hit records than any other talent show, the staying power of most of the winners (I SAID MOST) is short, and their catalog scanty. She’s only here because of her tribute / rip of “Let the Music Play” and a couple other minor tracks.

The Spice Girls – Really catchy tunes and pumped up production hide a lot of flaws. But for a band that was kind of meant to be disposable they have a lot of staying power.

Vince Staples – I’m holding full judgement here. “Big Fish” was OK, but I didn’t hear anything else that popped out at me, and his latest had no radio tracks per se. However, he could move off this list soon enough. Others have. Sorry, Ed Sheeran.

SWV – The production screams the 90’s. They weren’t as memorable, or catchy, as En Vogue. Dated and mediocre – not a good combo.

Tinashe – As of this writing, she’s a one hit wonder with “2 On”, though her albums seem to place well in the R&B chart. She’s just going to be radio fodder unless something drastic changes. It’s a living.

2 Chainz – His albums sell, but his singles don’t chart anymore. I think he may be stuck in a rut.

Ty Dollar $ – Lots of guest artists, which is OK. But I think they disguise his weaknesses more than enhance his strengths.

Walk The Moon – “Shut Up and Dance” was all over the place a few years back. Nothing more has stuck, and they released an album in 2018 to crickets. It’s almost time to call them a one-hit wonder. Almost.

Paul Wall – Remember him? The grill? And…that’s all you remember, right?

The WeekndTrilogy is, well, long and unfocused at times (since it comes from three projects, it doesn’t cohere as much as it could). Kiss Land is shorter, and focused, but that focus isn’t as palatable as many would like. The hooks came later…but not the consistency. Nice voice, though.

Wiz Khalifa – Another artist with lots of product, big hits, but inconsistent records. His mixtapes and guest artistry at times overwhelms someone trying to follow his career. He definitely needs a good retrospective package.