#QuickListen Review: “Make Me Like You” – Gwen Stefani

The Queen of “Cool” brings out the summery sunshine early this year

 

Continuing her autobiographical journey out and into new love, Gwen Stefani just released her bouncy ode to her new beau Blake Shelton. Although written by Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels, you’d probably think it was penned by Gwen herself; as this song plays out like a real-time update on her love life.

 

The song begins with Gwen cooing a sigh of pleasure; a stretch from the painfully emotional previous single, “Used To Love You.” Perfect for Valentine’s day, Gwen sings over bubbly pop melodies and ska-inspired guitar and drum beats. This song is such a great summer-ready love song — if it doesn’t make you wanna text your crush, lover, friend, coworker or really ANYONE about how much you are in love with them or yourself than you just really don’t deserve to feel this enamored alongside me and Gwen Stefani.

 

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“Make Me Like You” is the perfect song to display Gwen Stefani’s talent as one of the most fun, positive and lovely pop vets around.

 

The track is from Gwen Stefani’s forthcoming album, “This Is What The Truth Feels Like.” Pre-Order the album right here before it’s March 18th release.

 

 

What were your first #QuickListen reactions to this song? Check out The Pop Pyro on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

#QuickListen Review: ‘Confident’ – Demi Lovato

(Originally blogged: October 16, 2015)

I approached this album with the thought of ‘Confident’ being Demi Lovato’s bid for her first Grammy nomination. The bar was set pretty high. Do I believe this is a Grammy-worthy collection of tracks? No, but I wouldn’t write-off this album entirely. Though few and far in-between, there are a few shining moments.

Album Cover for 'Confident'Album Cover for ‘Confident’

Expectations for this album were pretty high because she introduced it as her most “confident” and “best” album to date. I’m doubtful it took much confidence to produce an album that is a near-complete rehash of melodies and sounds from her previous albums. Nor are there any new lyrical themes to aid and intrigue to the vulnerability she’s also attempting to express. And if she’s not repeating herself, she borrows Iggy Azalea to give a Demi-version of “Black Widow” with their collaboration “Kingdom Come”.

Demi Lovato hits the triumphant mark she’s (always) aiming for with the standout mid-tempo track “Lionheart”, which has all the optimism and energy you’d expect from her. Few tracks like “Old Ways” and “Waiting for You” seem to benefit from an urban/trap influence under her Disney-rocker vocals. The album ends with “Father”, a well-written song about her late father, which really didn’t deserve that overzealous and overstated gospel production it was given.

‘Confident’ is hardly a departure from her previous albums. Lovatics should still be pleased with the offerings of this album. Although I wouldn’t bet a penny on her getting an album nomination at the Grammys, hopefully there’s a pot of gold or a genie lamp she can wish upon to have “Cool for the Summer” nominated in a pop category.

#QuickListen Review: ‘Revival’ – Selena Gomez

(Originally blogged: October 10, 2015)

Selena Gomez has the arduous task of proving to everyone that she can be taken seriously as a mainstream pop star.

After her successful 4-album stint as a teen pop sensation, she’s left Disney’s Hollywood Records and signed to a proper music label, Interscope. ‘Revival’ is not as exciting nor has a fraction of the energy ‘Stars Dance’ had but it offers all the sensuality and depth its predecessor lacked.

Album Cover for 'Revival'Album Cover for ‘Revival’

Coming off the energy of ‘Stars Dance’, ‘Revival’ is like coming home after few drinks with your friends and finding your home lit only by candles with a trail of rose petals leading up to your bedroom. At first, you’re thrown off by the change of energy. But the curiosity moves you slowly through the candlelit foyer to the sensual vibes of tracks like “Same Old Love” and “Sober” before making it to the hallway. This is where Selena reminisces of previous relationships and offers the mysterious sounds of “Good For You” and “Camouflage”. Here, she proclaims she has, “so much shit to say.” You finally reach the bedroom to find it empty. The climax is not a lover but actually yourself with self-empowering tracks like “Survivors” and the finale track “Rise”.

The album takes your mind outside of the “schoolyard crushes” and “intro to house parties” environments that her previous teen albums seemed to have taken place. And this successfully allows Selena to tell her story as an empowered and mature young woman. Though mostly a sensual #BedroomMusic vibe through the entire album, tracks like “Body Heat” and “Me and the Rhythm” give a spark of fire to keep the album interesting and fun.

Overall, I think Selena Gomez perfectly executed her emancipation (in her own way) from the teen image she once had and offers a cohesive album for the more experienced listener.

#QuickListen Review: ‘Unbreakable’ – Janet Jackson

(Originally blogged: October 5, 2015)

Album Cover for 'Unbreakable'Album Cover for ‘Unbreakable’

Basically this is the new veteran standard: Release an understated album to support a major tour. This album honestly gives me familiar feelings. She’s made a retrospective album with a lot of sounds similar to some of her previous work. The album’s theme is like getting a grateful hug from Queen Janet! So cheesy, but if you love Janet it is worth the commitment it takes to listen to the 17-track album. Janet has nothing to prove anymore. It’s almost like this album is asking you to prove something to yourself. Inspirations by Janet.

#QuickListen Review: ‘Calling All Lovers’ – Tamar Braxton

(Originally blogged: October 5, 2015)

You see, the thing about this album is that it’s TOO GOOD. The vocals are TOO GOOD. The productions are TOO GOOD. The feeling you get after listening to this album is TOO. DAMN. GOOD!

Album cover for 'Calling All Lovers'Album cover for ‘Calling All Lovers’

The album is an eclectic mix of vocal and musical styling but entirely cohesive with its set theme of relationships. It is literally the musical manifestation of the old beat up shoe box in the darkest corner of your closet that collects memorabilia of all of your different past relationships (know what I’m talking about?). She’s got that young-sneakers-just-got-your-first-car-throwback kind of love with her song “Catfish”. The soulful-gotta-jump-and-profess-to-the-congregation kind of love with “Simple Things”. I could praise each individual song but I’ll conclude with her finale track “KING”. It’s got that Diane Warren/David Foster vibe to perfectly summarize the album. And she THOROUGHLY ANNIHILATES her execution of the vocals and love she has for her “King”.

Her last album was very polarizing with the juxtaposition of ratchet twerk anthems over solid power R&B ballads. But with this album she’s really settled into a mature sound that still allows her to have a few youthful moments to snap to. I’m just Tamar’s biggest cheerleader. Can you tell?

Diva of the Year: Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez is the current reigning “Queen of Showbiz” and it is about time someone said it.

Jennifer Lopez from her Complex Magazine Photoshoot for its March issue.
Before the “Swifties” and “B-Army” grab their torches and pitchforks, I have plenty of reasons and receipts. And I hope that you all read this and give me a chance to prove that 2015 was THE year to praise the one and only, J. Lo. (And don’t worry #Barmy, Britney’s got a competitive itinerary for 2016)

No other pop superstar was as versatile and hard-working as Jennifer Lopez in 2015.

I’m trying to commend more than just the music with “Diva of the Year” by really congratulating someone who had an EPIC YEAR. But possibly the most important message I would like to accomplish is to prove to you, the reader, that Jennifer Lopez is grossly underrated and unappreciated by pop fans.
There’s been a glass-ceiling for J.Lo since the mid 2000’s. She’s just never seemed to break that threshold that would pair her with the likes of Madonna, Britney Spears and Janet Jackson. She definitely has the hits, chart performance, sales and talent to sit her beside the pop legends. But she is just never quite mentioned as often in that way even though she’s proven herself time and time again.
Is it possible that she’s just involved in too many different aspects of entertainment? And since she’s doing extremely well at them all, it’s hard to box her in to one single role? Well, it’s curious to think that maybe if she wasn’t all of these things (Producer, A-list actor, respected fashion icon, etc.) that maybe she’d be identified solely as a POP SUPERSTAR.

Jennifer Lopez took her first steps of 2015 ONSTAGE in Las Vegas during a NYE show.
Nonetheless, if you hold Jennifer Lopez beside any other pop titan…. She can arguably be considered as successful and talented, if not MORE. And where she lacks she makes up for in many other ways the others can’t. (Example: She single-handedly opened the doors for every other modern pop star’s perfume and clothing lines)
Alas, in my perspective, Jennifer Lopez’s year had so many moments to make a little boy of pop music, like myself, blush with gratitude. She juggled an unthinkable amount of jobs in 2015 and will be calling Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino her home this year when she begins her Las Vegas residency, “Jennifer Lopez: All I Have.” I mentioned that I had receipts to prove she had the best year. And I won’t be stingy with them any longer. Here’s a rundown of some of her highlights this year…..

She starred in and produced the hit movie “The Boy Next Door” and followed it with THREE other acting projects in 2015:

Jennifer Lopez’s acting lineup for 2015
Jennifer Lopez is not one to skimp on promotion and she spent a lot of time in 2015 doing press for three films (“The Boy Next Door,” “Home” and “Lila & Eve”) as well as begin filming her lead role in the primetime police drama (Shades of Blue). For most actresses, that is a full-plate of work. But for Jennifer, it almost seemed as if it is a side job. And just to toot her acting horn a minute, she SLAYED her sex scene with Ryan Guzman in “The Boy Next Door.”

With promotion comes MAGAZINE COVERS. And Jenny from the block had ICONIC covers this year:

My favorite magazine covers that Jennifer Lopez graced in 2015.
When Jennifer Lopez’s cover for Complex was unveiled, it dropped the jaws of every person that graced their eyes upon it. The cover is one of the best of 2015. So as far as magazine covers go, Jennifer tops the list here as well. My other favorite spreads by her are for: Latina Magazine and papermag.

Jennifer Lopez is a Red Carpet LEGEND. Period.

Only a few of Jennifer Lopez’s winning red carpet looks of 2015.
When Jennifer Lopez arrived at the Golden Globe Awards this past year, it was no questions that she was the best-dressed of the night; She was the best-dressed OF THE YEAR! She attended her 45th birthday party in a extremely sexy cutout dress that had everyone’s tongues wagging while sending the worldwide web into a frenzy. Ignore the last dress (bottom right) from the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards, she looked so good there that it felt fresh in my mind and I completely forgot it was over a year old.

Through all of her hard work this year, she still had time to fit in TWO music videos:

Jennifer Lopez released two music videos this year.
Don’t forget that we are talking about a POP SUPERSTAR’s year. Jennifer Lopez did not forget to feed those that are hungry for more iconic music videos from her. She released and amazing music video for the song “Feel The Light” from the original soundtrack to her movie “Home.” Next, she was featured in Prince Royce’s hit music video for “Back It Up.” Where she found the time? No one will know. But we will always be grateful.

American Idol:

Jennifer Lopez judged and performed three times this year on American Idol.
American Idol is a pretty demanding gig. And it also ends with two months of live shows. Jennifer Lopez was heavily promoting two movies (“The Boy Next Door” and “Home”) during “Idol” and even performed three times on the show. And I will get into the performances more in a second. But we can’t forget that the industry’s hardest working woman never missed a show!

In the name of the almighty POP DIVAS, Jennifer Lopez performed at over TEN separate events this year!

Just a few shots of Jennifer Lopez performing in 2015.
The most important thing that Jennifer Lopez did for pop music this year is: PERFORM. And she performed EVERYWHERE. Whether it was on “Idol,” a talk show or an awards ceremony, she took the opportunity to showcase her talent on a live stage. There were three performances that really stand out for me.
  1. “Feel The Light” Performed on American Idol She didn’t even dance for this one! Jennifer wore a white gown with images and clips from her movie displayed on it. It was captivating! Watch it: Click Here
  2. Selena Quintanilla Tribute MedleyPerformed at the Billboard Latin Music Awards 20 years after the death of Selena, Jennifer Lopez finally took the stage to perform a proper tribute medley in honor of the icon that she portrayed in the role that launched her to superstardom. Even thought Jennifer had an extremely busy schedule this year, the hard work and effort for this tribute was apparent. Watch it: Click Here
  3. 2015 Hits Dance MedleyPerformed at the American Music Awards There really was no other way for Jennifer Lopez to end her huge year. She HOSTED the American Music Awards in November and not only killed her 11 outfit changes, she MURDERED the stage with a 8-minute performance! I’ve had to have proven my point by now that she’s an unstoppable talent. Watch it: Click Here

Can you find a woman (or man!?) in pop music that had a year half as eventful as Jennifer Lopez’s this year?

Good luck. And if you did, I highly doubt they are as legendary as J.Lo. She’s nearing her 20th anniversary in the pop music industry and has no signs of slowing down. Jennifer Lopez is one of the most well-rounded talents that entertainment is currently offering and for that, she is my pick for the “Diva of the Year” 2015.
The Pop Pyro’s pick for “Diva of the Year” 2015.

Song of the Year: “High By The Beach”

Lana Del Rey hypnotizes her listeners again with “High By The Beach”

Choosing a single song for “Song of the Year” was the toughest category to do. So many songs this year were great. It seemed impossible to cut it down to one song. But after a lot of back and forth, I decided that Lana Del Rey’s song, “High By The Beach” is worthy of that trophy.
I’ve devoted most of the other categories to the most proper female pop artists. Lana Del Rey can’t necessarily be labeled a pop starlet by any means. But “High By The Beach” is possibly as mainstream pop as we will get from her. So after juggling a few songs, I chose the song from the one we most likely won’t see very often on any “pop songs” lists.

Promotional shot for Lana Del Rey’s “High By The Beach”
“High By The Beach” opens with a haunting melody that immediately changes the environment of your mindset. And when the light-trap beats are introduced in the chorus it catches you off guard and permanently commits you to the remainder of the song. Many songs are effortless and follow you as you continue living your life. But this song grabs your attention and transports you to the scene that it’s living in; controlling you. It’s rare that a song can do that. It’s familiar territory for Lana Del Rey, considering it’s kind of “her thing.” So that’s one reason that this song excels in a place other pop songs fail.
The music video for “High By The Beach” was equally tantalizing and captivating. The video is not obvious of its purpose when it begins. It follows Lana Del Rey through a beach house as she seems to be avoiding something. It ends up being a paparazzi taking pictures from a helicopter. This gave the video a scene with a wind effect that surely had Beyonce dialing every contact, in jealousy, to try and recreate later. And then with a fantasy finale, she grabs a huge sci-fi gun to shoot down the helicopter.

Another promotional shot for Lana Del Rey’s “High By The Beach”
The song has the right amount of pretentiousness while still being a win for the girls of pop music. Lana Del Rey continues to mesmerize the music industry with her unique music and vocals. For that, I picked “High By The Beach” for The Pop Pyro’s “Song of the Year.”

The Pop Pyro’s pick for “Song of the Year”

Other Top-Picked Songs This Year:

More Top-Picked songs from The Pop Pyro

In No Order:

  • Demi Lovato – “Cool For The Summer” Easily this summer’s anthem. Demi killed it.
  • Zedd ft. Selena Gomez – “I Want You To Know” Selena had a great second half of the year, but she had one of Spring’s best tracks.
  • JoJo – “Save My Soul” The only ballad on top of the list, and rightfully so. JoJo is one of the best balladeers of the girls in pop music.
  • Marina and the Diamonds – “Blue” The pre-chorus to this song, “give me love; give me dreams…” is the best of the year.
  • Rihanna – “Bitch Better Have My Money” If you don’t sing along to this song when it’s played, you’re a robot. Anthem.
  • Selena Gomez – “Good For You” Selena was just doing a lot of great things this year.

Other mention-ables (I can’t Stop):

Madonna“Joan of Arc” and “Ghosttown”
Tamar Braxton“Angels & Demons” and “KING”
Hilary Duff“Confetti” and “Sparks”

Album of the Year: ‘Revival’

There’s a new Queen to add to team #BedroomMusic.

Selena Gomez has had a steady progression with her musical career. She solidified herself as a pop heavyweight after she released 2013’s “Come and Get It” (from her album ‘Stars Dance’) then gave it one of my favorite music videos of all time. ‘Revival’ proves that she is still a pop superstar but also an artistic risk-taker with her music.

Shot from Selena Gomez’s music video for “Hands to Myself”
Selena Gomez could have easily had a successful album by making the expected dance teen pop album that she had been boxed into with her previous albums. But she took a HUGE risk and made a mid-tempo album with breathy vocals and intimate tones. I go into further detail about the album and my reactions, after its first play, with my #QuickListen review that was posted here on The Pop Pyro earlier this year. Read my review: Click Here

Deluxe Album Cover for Selena Gomez’s ‘Revival’
Selena Gomez unraveled this album better than most pop stars can these days. Every single, performance and promotion for ‘Revival’ painted the perfect picture for what this album is. And upon listening there were no surprises except good music. “Good For You” was the perfect lead single. The song was extremely successful on the Billboard Hot 100 and has over 200 million streams on Spotify alone. The success continued with her second single “Same Old Love” also topping the charts. She is currently promoting her latest single “Hands to Myself” with performances at the iHeartRadio Jingle Ball and Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. She just released her sexiest video yet with its video as well.

Selena Gomez performing at the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show
‘Revival’ reveals an entirely new facet of Selena Gomez. It’s cohesive; it’s sensual; it’s insightful; and it’s just an all-around GOOD ALBUM. It debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and topped many critic’s end-of-year album lists. For all of these reasons, I picked ‘Revival’ as The Pop Pyro’s “Album of the Year.”

The Pop Pyro’s pick for “Album of the Year”

Other Top-Picked Albums This Year:

Four more picks for The Pop Pyro’s “Album of the Year”

In No Order:

  • Hilary Duff’s – “Breathe In Breathe Out” One of the most all-encompassing and pure pop albums of the year. Standout tracks: “Confetti,” “My Kind,” and “One In A Million.”
  • Dumblonde’s – “dumblonde” My favorite debut of the year. This album is great from start to finish. Standout tracks: “dreamsicle,” “love blind,” and “you got me.”
  • Lana Del Rey’s – “Honeymoon” She released another flawless addition to her catalog. If you love Lana; you love this album. Standout tracks: “Music To Watch Boys To,” “Art Deco” and “Religion.”
  • Tamar Braxton-Herbert’s – “Calling All Lovers” It’s mostly an R&B album, but Tamar uses the album to prove the versatility she and her voice have. Standout tracks: “KING,” “Angels and Demons” and “Coming Home.”

Music Video of the Year: “Sparks”

When fans demand that a music video get its proper treatment, that must mean something.

I ran this by a few friends before posting and their unanimous reactions were, “Is this an April Fool’s joke?”
It’s not, and I’m completely serious, but hear me out… To me, a music video’s first job is to create the visual counterpart to a song. With that said, just like a musical playlist or album, I want my music VIDEOS to easily blend in succession of each other. Have you ever made a playlist of music videos and when a 6-minute video plays it completely breaks the mood and you’ve had to get up and fast forward the video three minutes to reach the performance segment of the videos. Yeah, I’m not entirely excited to live like that, okay? What I love about Hilary Duff’s “Sparks” video is that you can play it in between “Toxic” and “Womanizer” and all three videos smoothly play together.

Cover photo for Hilary Duff’s single “Sparks”
My favorite thing about “Sparks” is that it is a visually appetizing video from start to finish. This video is a complete sugar-induced stomach ache of candy colors and visual geometrics. Hilary Duff looks the best she’s ever looked in a music video. Her video is completely pointless leaving out any need to follow a “story” or some kind of difficult imagery to take away from the song itself. It’s the direct companion piece for the music that adds the visual (delightfully over-) stimulation to the greatness that is “Sparks.”

One of the amazing, and simple, monochromatic retro shots from Hilary Duff’s music video for “Sparks”
Another fascinating thing about this video, and probably the first thought my friends had when they asked if this was a joke, is that this video was actually immediately panned by everyone. Fans complained and expressed their hatred of its original cut that included scenes of Hilary Duff going on Tinder dates. I hated it too. So fans DEMANDED the Tinder scenes be removed to reveal the full-potential and perfection that lied behind those terrible pedestrian clips of her at the bowling alley. To me, if her performance shots were just as bland as the tinder clips, the video would never had fans rallying for the tinder-less version. It has to take a lot of humility in admitting that the fans, for once, have a song’s best interest at heart. Removing the Tinder clips to reveal a truly passively/effortlessly-overstimulating (can that be a thing?) music video proves that they really don’t need all the overly ambitious “distractions” that weighs them down. Thank you for listening to the fans, Hilary Duff!!!

Close-up shot of Hilary Duff in her music video for “Sparks”
Just like any other huge Hilary Duff fan, I loved her beachy and chill singles (“Chasing the Sun” and “All About You”) from 2014 that had her singing scaled-back tunes. But Hilary is a bonafide pop superstar, and veteran at this point. Fans have confidence that she can produce pop-perfect singles. Fast forward to this year and she reemerges with an exciting dance pop song, “Sparks.” The song is amazing! And when she posted a wig-snatching and colorful 10-second clip of the (tinder-less) video on her Facebook leading up to its premiere, fans (and myself) were expecting greatness when the song premiered. We’ve gotta follow our first-gut feeling and for “Sparks” (even though it was clouded with criticism upon release) it was that this video is absolutely amazing, stunning and fun in all aspects. The video is GREAT; Perfect in my opinion.
For it being fantastically aimless and ambitiously colorful and sparkly, I picked Hilary Duff’s “Sparks” as The Pop Pyro’s “Music Video of the Year.”

The Pop Pyro’s pick for “Music Video of the Year”

Other Top-Picked Music Videos This Year:

Four more of The Pop Pyro’s picks for videos of the year.

In No Order:

  • Demi Lovato’s “Cool For the Summer” This is Demi’s best video, period. Probably the only contender to replace “Sparks” as my favorite video this year.
  • Ariana Grande’s “Focus” She really worked that high-kick and lavender hair. When she released this video it was one of the more exciting nights this year.
  • MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS“Froot” This song is unique in itself and the noir-style it’s filmed in created a fantasy for me that I really appreciated while watching. And can we all just applaud all of her glamour-shots?
  • Madonna’s“Ghosttown” This is probably the best cinematic-style music video out this year. It helps that this song is one of the most underrated songs of the year. Madonna’s video is exceptional.

Group of the Year: Fifth Harmony

Although they were nearly the sole girl group this year, Fifth Harmony still had a big year in large part to their massive hit “Worth It.”

There’s no way you went the entire year without hearing “Worth It” on the radio or elsewhere. I almost gave up on Fifth Harmony after the lukewarm response of their first two singles (“BO$$” and “Sledgehammer”) from their debut album, ‘Reflection.’ But “Worth It” became a huge success and is possible the year’s catchiest song. They premiered their video after the release of their album and the song began climbing the charts. Fifth Harmony saw the opportunity and took it; They began performing the song any chance they could get. This made the song relevant for the better chunk of this year.

Performance shot of Fifth Harmony in their music video for “Worth It”
Their music video featured all five girls taking Wall St. on a creative spin through the club and various flirty solo setups for each of the girls. It was fabulous; it was messy; it was basically a lot of tacky fun. But it was the constant performances and appearances that grabbed my attention and respect. Fifth Harmony was performing everywhere including Latin markets. They began performing the single’s spanglish remix, “Dame Esta Noche.” The group even took the stage as a surprise guest during Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’ tour this year.

Fifth Harmony onstage with Taylor Swift during her ‘1989’ tour.
These girls literally WORKED, BITCH! Proving that the group is definitely “Worth It.” For their exhausting work ethic and successful chart performance this year, I picked Fifth Harmony as the “Group of the Year.”

The Pop Pyro’s pick for the “Group of the Year”

Honorable Mention: dumblonde

Fifth harmony was busy slaying the charts and mainstream, but another group was rebuilding their brand from the ashes of Danity Kane, introducing: dumblonde
Dumblonde is the product of a heated and physically explosive girl group dismantling from 2014. Aubrey O’Day and Shannon Bex hung up their urban pop wigs of Danity Kane, to snatch the wigs of the edm underground pop sound. And I’ve gotta say, they definitely SNATCHED WIGS (literally, check out their album cover below; they snatched their own wigs). Their album is one of the best hidden gems 2015 had to offer. So give them a listen and introduce yourself to the bubbly debut of dumblonde’s self-titled album. Check out their video for “dreamsicle”: Click Here

Cover for dumblonde’s debut self-titled album.

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