My Thoughts on Eurovision Part I

eurovision-2016-logo.jpg

Eurovision 2016 has already come and go. There were really exceptional acts, good acts, and worst ones. As there were 26 performers for the four hours final, it will take me a while to get through all the acts. So, if I can remind myself to do it, there will be a part two next week to cover the other performances.

There were so many good acts this year. Albeit that most of the acts today sing in primary English. 😦 (It’s not that I don’t oppose singing in English but I rather enjoy each country’s song in that country’s primary language).

The Great

Jamala – 1944

I linked the final performance of “1944” instead of the music video because it was incredible to watch.

If you didn’t read the backstory of the song on sites like Wikipedia or new sites, “1944” is a personal song about Jamala’s great-grandmother and her family getting deported from their homeland of Crimea and sent to live in Central Asia when Stalin was leader of the Soviet Union.[1] Jamala beautifully displays the raw emotions of sadness, despair, hurt, the feeling of being lost, and the emotional pain of being separated from a homeland. You can feel all of these emotions that Jamala passionately displays at the 2:20 mark when she sings in the mugham vocal style. At that moment, I feel like I wanted to cry with Jamala as I can feel the pain and hurt she emits from her singing.

The inclusion of the gorgeous mugham vocal style, the duduk (especially in the beginning), and the chorus in the beautiful Crimean Tatar language makes this a song a treat to those who like ethnic music. However, it’s still modern as it includes elements of house.

Many, including Russians, have argued that song should’ve been banned from Eurovision as the lyrics are an attack on Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea and is politically themed, which a big no-no in this contest. However, I believe that this song is more than a political statement, it’s a story. A story about a broken past of an ostracized ethnic group mixed in with hopes for “peace and love” in the future.[2]

The Good

Hovi Star – Made of Stars

Although Telegraph.co.uk has mentioned a verse from this song made their top 18 worsr and weirdest lyrics from this year’s Eurovision,  I thought most of the lyrics were pretty decent. It might’ve sounded like a generic love song to some, it might’ve been about two friends who are looking for a better future to others. I think it’s a mixture of both.

What I like about “Made of Star”  is Hovi’s impressive vocal range. There isn’t a lot of instrumentation with this song as it just a piano, briefly a guitar, some strings, briefly drums, and maybe a bass to make it seem like a pure mid-tempo pop ballad. However, Hovi’s vocals are warm, rock-oriented, not overbearing, and well-fitted for a song like this.

I really like the simplicity of the song the best. Songs like these ones tell you just need a really good vocalist, like Hovi, and a few basic instruments to make a pop masterpiece.

Gabriela Gunčíková – I Stand

I will admit, I might of placed this song in the good pile because I have a bias for any Czech singers (Go Team Czech Republic, my mother’s family is from there and her family takes lots of pride in their heritage). But, I mainly picked this song because of Gabriela’s incredible vocals. I love how Gabriela creates a mystic yet beautiful reverence when she sings a vocal run in the beginning of the chorus with “I”. Also, her vocals are well grounded with the song as they are rich, strong, and vibrant.

Like Hovi Star’s “Made of Stars”, “I Stand” uses a few instruments and a solid vocalist to create something beautiful.

Poli Genova – If Love Was A Crime

Instantly, the song starts on the right foot with the use of a high-pitched synthesized voice to produce those eerie vocal samples. Maybe I am just in love with them because American R&B and electronica trio King recently used them perfectly in my new favorite, “The Right One“. Besides that, I really like the chorus as Poli is able to seamlessly blend Bulgarian and English together with the melody to create something extremely catchy.  I swear I am going to be singing the chorus randomly at work this week, even if I can’t sing Bulgarian well.

I have to say that Poli’s costume is one of the best costumes from this year’s Eurovision. It took me a while to figure out that she was wearing a skin colored dress and she wasn’t just naked with some random leather and LED lights. The LED light pieces was a wonderful addition as it was cool to see Poli “light” up the stage like that.

The Ok

Dami Im – Sound Of Silence

This song isn’t really bad. In fact, it’s pretty decent as it showcases Dami’s incredible vocal skills. However, haven’t we heard something like this before from the likes of Taylor Swift, Adele, or Demi Lovato? I swear the melody could of been a part of a Taylor Swift or Adele song. As for Dami’s vocals, they sound like an alto version of Demi Lovato or some other female pop singer that I heard before but I can’t put a finger on.

Overall, it’s a mediocre song. I give props to Dami’s pipes. However, I am disappointing that it’s not original enough.

The Bad

Jamie-Lee – Ghost

There were a lot going wrong with Germany’s entry for Eurovision this year. The most blaring one was the costume. I understand that the decora kei style might be fashionable and cute to some, I just think it’s a weird mishmash of things that don’t relate to each other well, thus causing confusion. And, “confusion” is the word you would think of when you see Jamie-Lee’s headdress. It’s not cute nor goes well with the song! It’s so bizarre and unflattering to watch her sing in that. If she wanted to pick an appropriate Japanese street fashion to go along with the song, how about picking something with lolita or a kimono-style fashion?

I also think that Jamie-Lee wasn’t really ready for Eurovision. Sure, she is a talented singer however, she isn’t quite there yet with her current skill level as she seemed to be still working on getting her style. Throughout the song, her vocals sounded a little bumpy and her tone wavered. It didn’t make her sound totally off key but you could notice some tiny faltered notes here and there if you listen carefully. Also, at the 2:32 mark, she belts out in a way that seems to be lacking breathe support. I wonder if Jamie-Lee was nervous at all during these live performances?

I think Jamie-Lee should’ve polished her skills and waited a couple more years until she was definitely ready for Eurovision.

What did you think of this year’s Eurovision? What was your favorite acts? What were least favorite?


Source

[1]  “The Dark History Behind Eurovision’s Ukraine Entry.” Time. Time. Web. 15 May 2016. (http://time.com/4329061/eurovision-jamala-russian-ukraine-crimea/?xid=fbshare)

[2] Stephens, Heidi. “Eurovision 2016: Ukraine’s Jamala Wins with Politically Charged 1944.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2016. Web. 15 May 2016. (http://www.citationmachine.net/bibliographies/101376594?new=true)

A Hip Take on a Timeless R&B Classic: “Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin'”

innercity-whatchagonnadowithmylovin

As I travel deeper and deeper into the heart of my fanfiction for NaNoWriMo, it’s time to take a breather. During the endless marathons of typing away at plot changes and character developments, I have been listening to a ton of music on my music player, on video sites like Youtube, and from a couple of blogs. This post is inspired by one of my favorite blogs on WordPress, Mixed Tape Masterpiece. It’s a really neat site that features songs and radio snippets that were recorded on cassette about twenty years ago before the age of high-speed internet and iTunes. Please check it out if you have a chance!

At the beginning of the 1990s, it seemed like music was changing constantly.  New genres were added to Billboard’s Top 40 charts as previous established ones expanded their definitions. One group that dared to challenge musical genres in 1989 and helped throw “Detroit House” and “Detroit Techno” into the public’s eye was Inner City.

Inner City formed around the Detroit area in 1987 by accident. Kevin Saunderson, credited as a co-founder of techno and a member of the group Bellevue Three, was composing music with James Pennington one day at Pennington’s studio. One of the successes from this jam session was the creation of Inner City’s iconic “Big Fun“, which Saunderson described it as a song with “a chord, sampled, one note, spread through the keyboards and replayed, mixed down with a pad and a few other sounds”.[1] The duo continued to work on the song over the weeks, adding percussion done by Terry ‘Housemaster’ Baldwin and a keyboard solo by Art Forest. However, the song was missing something momentous.

James Pennington suggested Chicago-native Paris Grey to be the tune’s lead singer. Saunderson sent the track to Paris, who had the task to write the vocal melody and lyrics for song. She completed the job in one month and sang the finishing product to the producers, who fell in love with her voice and the song even more. That was when Inner City was born.

Over the span of the band’s initial run, they added two more members (including Saunderson’s wife Anne), released five albums, and a handful of singles. Their debut album, “Paradise” (renamed “Big Fun” in the United States), was a hit in UK where it reached number three on the charts. As Inner City rode on their moderate success, singer Paris Grey wanted to take a step back to raise her daughter around the mid-90s. The group took a pause after the release of “Do Me Right” in 1996, enabling Paris to take a break and Saunderson to go on to do more projects.

However, the group never really broke up as they gotten back together many times since their hiatus. They released two singles in 1999 and 2000. And another two in 2011 and 2014 with an updated techno sound.

As I continue to type countless words for my novel, I cannot stop listening to the Kevin McCord Club Mix of Inner City’s 1989 single ‘Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin'”. A cover of the 1979 Stephanie Mills’ song, Inner City updated it by adding jazz, a hint of R&B, and 80s’ house. The song captures anyone’s attention at the beginning when Paris starts off by singing the title with a blaring saxophone bit following it. I absolutely love how this horn instrument is used throughout the song, especially at the 6:08 mark. This particular instrument helps to paint a jazzy scenario with the disco-styled piano solos thanks to the Roland TR-909 (listen for an imperfect authentic cadence at around the 4:50 mark), the bluesy percussion beats, and the tone of the background vocals. But, listeners are reminded that this is still a (then) modern-day house and R&B song thanks to the funky bass synthesizer that serves as the backbone of the song.

Speaking of vocals, can we take a minute to talk about how amazing Paris Grey vocals are. Saunderson was right in a recent interview about how Grey’s vocals are “their own instrument”.  Her voice is warm, deep, and rich as she brings out each low note with a slight hold. She ends each line with style that embodies the texture of velvet, rich and silky, that leaves the listeners wanting more.  It doesn’t end at the chorus as she continues to sing in a soulful tone.

The Kevin McCord Club Mix of  “Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin'” is a tasteful mix of past and current musical genres. The tune is a spectacular blend of disco, R&B, soul, blues, jazz, and others. Anyone who is a fan of any type of musical genre will enjoy this musical gem.

If you enjoy to take things slow, you should listen to the original version. I find it too slow for my taste but still amazing.


References

[1] Saunderson, Kevin. “Kevin Saunderson, Inner City and the inside Story of ‘Big Fun’.” FACT Magazine Music News New Music. FACT Magazine, 2 Sept. 2014. Web. 7 Nov. 2015. (http://www.factmag.com/2014/09/02/kevin-saunderson-inner-city-and-the-inside-story-of-big-fun/)

“Dance trance all in a globe”: A Celebration of a Timeless Trio

globe-1998

One of the first Japanese pop groups I ever discovered was globe. A trio that included a legendary producer, a virtual unknown, and a up-and-coming rapper and VJ. This year marks their twentieth anniversary since their debut single. Since their debut, globe has changed the Japanese pop music scene in their own way.

After TM Network performed their final live concert TMN 4001 DAYS GROOVE in the spring of 1994, keyboardist Komuro Tetsuya decided to form a three-piece band with MTV VJ and DJ Marc Panther. Komuro was one of the hottest producers in the Japanese music scene by that time. Along with being a member of the mega-popular band TM Network, he was also producing hits after hits with artists like Mizuki Arisa, TRF, Watanabe Misato, and others. His most famous single, “Itoshisa to Setsunasa to Kokoro Tsuyosa to”, a collaboration with ex-Tokyo Performance Doll member Shinohara Ryoko, was released in the summer of 1994 and sold over two million copies. With all this prestige, Komuro was looking to create another super group.

But, what should it be? With whom?

The first member, which was mentioned above, was Marc Panther. He was going to be the rapper of the group while Komuro was going to be the producer, keyboardist, composer, and backing vocals. Komuro choose the band’s genre as eurodance. Which made Marc’s role easier to understand because a lot of dance music from the West incorporated rapping into their high-energy music. Nevertheless, all they needed was a lead vocalist, which Komuro would find in one his many talent auditions. He picked a then-unknown young adult from southern Japan named Yamada Keiko.

The group made their debut on August 9th, 1995 with the song “Feel Like dance”. At first, keiko’s face was obscured during TV and public appearances as the company thought it would be a neat idea to have a “ZARD-like”, mysterious member. The first single’s music video was actually all done in CGI. (Which would have another version later on with the member’s faces.) It wasn’t until the second single, “Joy to the love”, when we first saw the members.[1]

1996 proved to be a monumental year for the group. They released the wintry break-up song, “DEPARTURES”, in January with huge success. The single was the band’s first number single to chart on the Oricon charts and it sold over two million copies. Their self-debut album was more impressive as it sold over four million copies.

By the end of the decade, globe proven to be one of the top artists in Japan with all their singles charting in the top 10, many reaching the number one position. However, the group changed during the new millennium as they steered away from eurodance and got their hands dirty by experimenting with house and trance. One the best examples to describe globe’s trance sound is the 2002 album “Lights2”, especially with the instrumental piece “TRANSCONTINENTAL WAY”.

keiko and Komuro got married following the release of “Lights2”. Also, the group’s activities slow down tremendously by 2005 as keiko started her solo career, Marc was sort of continuing his, and Komuro was heavily involved with the restart of his old band TM Network.

However, the group has also been facing setbacks since mid-2000s. One of these setbacks happened in 2008 when Komuro was arrested and sentenced for fraud. The group was supposed to released their thirty-first single, a cover of TM Network’s signature song “GET WILD”, on November 26. However, it was shelved and later placed on a best album due Komuro’s arrest.

Another setback happened in 2011 when keiko was rushed to hospital after collapsing at home. It was later discovered that she suffered from subarachnoid haemorrhage and went to rehabilitation, which she is still primarily focusing on at the moment. Two years after the tragic incident,  Marc and Komuro decided to continue the group without keiko by releasing a series of remix albums; “globe EDM Sessions” (2013), “GDM” (2014), and “Remode 1” (2015). These new albums had past favorites updated as EDM-styled songs, which I haven’t had a chance to listen to yet. Although, I have seen Marc and Komuro recently doing nightclub tours to promote “Remode 1” and their 20th anniversary. It looks like the lives were a great success judging by the pictures and messages.

i first got into globe when I was a junior high school student. Back in the early 2000s, avex trax had three main music video channels that were streamed over the net for free. I would always spend my free time watching these channels as I was just beginning to get into Jpop. The first globe song that I listened to was their 2002 trance-flavored “OVER THE RAINBOW”. What made me like the song was the mystical but yet mysterious synthesizers and keiko’s pure vocals.  However, I would become more in love with its b-side, “INSPIRED FROM RED & BLUE”, as it so emotional and powerful.

I think the emotional side of globe’s songs made me like them when I was younger. Even though I didn’t know a lot of Japanese back then, I would understand the emotional side of each song due to how keiko used her vocals. I could feel such emotions like sadness in “DEPARTURES”, frustration in “Wanna be a dreammaker”, and longing in “Wanderin’ Destiny” thanks to keiko’s efforts. And due to that, these songs helped me during the most difficult times of my life.

keiko’s techniques would also inspire me when I started voice lessons. keiko will always be one my biggest inspirations for singing because I really admire her ability to hit high notes, her marvellous tone, and the ability to put a lot of emotions in her singing. So, in honor of globe’s twentieth anniversary, I sang globe’s debut song. Now, I am no keiko, as you can recognize while listening. But, I had lots of fun singing and also rapping.

Please listen to my cover here: 

Here is the original:

“Feel like dance” isn’t my favorite globe song. I don’t think it’s even in my top five list….

…However, here is my top five list for globe songs:

5. SWEET PAIN (1995)

4. FREEDOM (1996) / Love again (1998)

3. Music Takes Me Higher (from the album “globe”; 1996)

2. INSPIRED BY RED & BLUE (2002)

1. Wanderin’ Destiny (1997; which was the theme song for the drama “Aoi Tori”, starring one of my favorite actors Toyokawa Etsushi.)


References

[1] “Globe.” Globe – Wikipedia. 24 June 2004. Web. 16 Aug. 2015.  (https://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globe)