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Who needs guitars anyway?

Best Bits
Friday, September 30, 2005

Popping The Question: What's So Great About MP3 Players?

In the last 2 years, mp3 players have become the must have gadget and every self-respecting teenager or fashion-concious adult owns one. This is, of course, mostly down to Apple's iPods being the latest big trend, but this has had a massive effect on the music industry.

Most obviously, it has changed the way people listen to music. There is less emphasis on albums and more on individual tracks, as one of the benefits of downloading is that you can buy any single track by an artist, whether it has been released or not, without having to fork out for the whole album if you don't want to. MP3 players also allow people to share their new musical discoveries by playing them to their friends, who then may become fans of the song or artist, reinstating the once old-fashioned idea of acts becoming popular through word of mouth.

The increasing popularity of mp3s has also changed the buying patterns of music. As I mentioned, people are buying more single songs and not just the released singles, which could lead to yet another change in the compilation of the UK charts, if they in future decide to allow any track released to download into the charts. Already we've seen many artists releasing singles to download before the CD release, which shows the importance of the download market and the increasing irrelevance of CD singles. It seems that CDs may soon be outdated, which is a shame since it wasn't that long ago when cassettes were the format to buy music in, but this is a new generation of music fans and if we don't let these changes happen we'll soon be the moaning old fogeys we once laughed at!

I had my first mp3 player for my 15th birthday. It was 64mb with a 128mb memory card added, yet still it only held 40 songs. Even then it didn't seem a lot, but the idea of carrying songs around with me wherever I went, yet not needing to carry the bulky walkman or discman and several cassettes or CDs, seemed too good to be true! I could even go for a run without it skipping, although it would probably be more likely for a pig to fly past my window than for me to run anywhere voluntarily. Just over a year later, I remember hearing more and more about this new gadget called an iPod. Thinking it would be the same as what I already had, yet far more expensive, I took little notice at first, until I found out that one 20gb iPod could hold several thousand songs, and suddenly I was wishing that my next birthday would bloody hurry up so I could get one!

I never did get an iPod, but when I survived my GCSEs my parents bought me a very similar invention called an iAudio. It does all the same things and despite lacking a few good features and not being quite so pretty, it does have some big advantages over the iPod, most notably the not needing to convert songs to any file other than mp3 to listen to them, as the iPod requires. There is also no need for iTunes - you can simply copy and paste songs from your hard drive directly onto the mp3 player when it's connected to your computer. It's so simple and it's nice not to be a slave to Apple, yet I do sometimes feel sad at my mp3 player's lack of pinkness.

The best thing about mp3 players for me is the amazing possibility of being able, without much effort at all, to listen to any song from your collection at any time. I can be at college, or out shopping, or on a bus, and suddenly I'll have a desperate craving to hear a certain old Eurovision song or the new one by Darren Hayes, and within seconds I can be listening to it! It never fails to impress me and I hope it stays that way because it makes every day just that little bit more poptastic.
Monday, September 26, 2005

Helpless Fool For Pop

This week is an absolutely mega-ace one not only for new Will songs but also for new single releases, with some of the best songs of the whole year being released. So in order of aceness:

Andy Bell - Crazy
I've probably gone on about this song enough already but considering it's not even being sold in Woolworths I think it deserves another plug. Get yourself to a proper record store and buy your copy now, especially if you haven't heard this song or don't think you like Erasure or Mr Bell. You'll soon change your mind!

t.A.T.u - All About Us
Another band I've gone on about a lot already but deserve every mention! This is being sold in Woolies, but whether anyone who buys music from Woolies would buy it (unless it's the only place to buy music in their town) will buy it is unlikely. However, it should be in the rules of the world that every single person should buy at least the album, and people who can't afford it will get one free just cos I'm so generous, and they probably need a bit of cheering up.

Alexis Strum - Bad Haircut
This has been plugged more by Popjustice than me, but it was reading her blog on PJ which made me love her all the more. She is so funny and articulate and seems entirely in control of her career. She really deserves success and this song is a real grower so you should definitely give her a chance.

Jo O'Meara - What Hurts The Most
Jo is acetastic, as proved by the feature on her on this week's Popworld, which was one of the most hilarious in ages (although that could have had more to do with Simon's random trouser-dropping). The song is another grower, as all the good ballads are, and anyone who saw it's rubbish reviews on Stylus (apart from my glowing one) should ignore them as they are entirely wrong and she and her song are fab.

Annie - Helpless Fool For Love/Always Too Late
Like every sane person, I love Annie to bits, but I'm not at all sure why she's releasing these 2 songs. I wish she would do a proper single, namely Me Plus One, and make a video for it, because however low budget I am sure it would still be the best thing ever.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Woah! I've just heard the full version of Switch It On and I'm even more excited about it than I was before - it is absolutely amazingly brilliant and fantastic! Definitely the best thing he has done yet, and that means a lot coming from such a big fan as me. You know it's going to be "Will this" and "Will that" non-stop on this blog for the rest of the year now, so if you don't like him you might want to stay away. There's no way anyone who likes any of the music I post about on this web site could possibly not like this song, though. One very interesting thing I noticed was the lyric "Mr Fabulous don't impress me" - yes that's right, "MR!" This is the first time Will has alluded to his boy-loving in a song, and I'm pleased that he at last feels he can do that. What with his new trendy musical style and his acting role (playing a gay actor in a musical involving rather a lot of nakedness!!), it looks like Will is about to be a total megastar! In fact, since Robbie's new single is a bit rubbish, he may just want to start plotting Will's murder if he wants to keep his job as the top UK male popstar.
Friday, September 23, 2005


Will Young has gone... ELECTRO!!!!!


and also, HOORAY!!

My one issue with Will over the past years has been that as much as I love him to bits and he has been probably the most influential person on my teenage pop-loving years, his music has never precisely reflected the kind of music I have been into...until now, when he releases a song which sounds like something off the first Girls Aloud album mixed with the best songs off Will's own last album. I have heard that Switch It On isn't entirely indicative of the sound of the rest of the album, but for the moment I will just enjoy the clips of the single, be excited about hearing the whole thing, and hope that however different the rest of the album is, it's still as great as Switch It On sounds like it's going to be. I still don't like his short hair, though...
Friday, September 16, 2005

What an exciting time for pop!

Darren Hayes has a new single - a ballad, but a lovely (and addictive!) one which proves once again what a fantastic singer, songwriter and general popstar he is. And on top of that, Will Young has a new single too, and it's been described as "Faith meets Footloose" which sounds pretty ace to me! I think this style will be very good for Will and I can't wait to hear it when it's played for the first time on Chris Moyles' breakfast show on the 26th of Sept, and released for download the very same day (but don't buy it if you want your purchase to count towards the singles chart). After a very slow start to this year pop-wise, it could still be saved, and perhaps Will can provide us with the first great no.1 of the year!
Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Video Killed The Radio Star

Andy Bell - Crazy
I am crazy in love with this song! it's exciting enough when anyone releases a catchy pop song these days, so when it's an amazingly brilliant one like this it's a very special occasion. Crazy even sounds like BWO in places, and that is a sure sign of greatness! He is a bit ugly and scary but CDs are for listening to, not looking at (although buff hotties and sparkly costumes never go amiss).
98% Poptastic!

Nate James - Get The Message
If Nate continues to get poppier with each single he releases, his next song should be brilliant. This one is pretty catchy and quite likely to do well, but I don't think it'll be a massive hit. I would like to be wrong, though.
74% Poptastic!

Friday Hill - Baby Goodbye
Unlike that boy with the funny eyebrows, Kenzie, Strider and Flava from Blazin' Squad have departed from the group to become even cheesier than before. They're the new H & Claire!
22% Poptastic!

Staind - Right Here Waiting
First Nickelback, now Staind - which awful early '00s rock band will be making a comeback next? Limp Bizkit? Slipknot? It had better not be Creed!
3% Poptastic!

Lee Ryan - Turn Your Car Around
Not too bad an effort, but a bit Kristian Leontiou-lite (which is very 'lite' indeed!), and if this is all he's got for the 2nd single, how dull must the rest of the album be?
43% Poptastic!

Jenny Frost - Crash Landing
This remidns me of a song called Utopia (Where I Want To Be) by Stereo Star feat. Mia J, which was released earlier this year to little success, and I doubt the presense of an Atomic Kitten will make any difference.
52% Poptastic!

The Cardigans - I Need Some Fine Wine, And You, You Need To Be Nicer
The Cardies are back, Nina is looking more like Claire Danes than ever and their new song has an excellent title. But does the song live up to it's name? Yes, I'd say it does! Her voice sounds fab as ever and the chorus is particularly good.
83% Poptastic!

Bow Wow feat. Omarion - Let Me Hold You
L'il Bow Wow is back and all grown up! Erm, hang on, no he's not, he's still really small and the only thing that's changed is that he has actually managed to get worse! On this track he even makes Omarion look good. Well, OK, maybe that's taking it a bit far...
0% Poptastic!
Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A going-away present

As some of you will know, I'm moving house tomorrow which means, thanks to the stupidity of phone companies, I'm not going to have access to the Internet for at least a week. So I am leaving you something to read in the meantime - this is a fanzine that I created a few weeks ago. I originally just sent it to a few friends but with the help of Adrian (from the PJ & Life boards) I have made it into a .pdf file so that anyone can download it and print it off (or just read it online if you want, but you'll miss out on the fanzine experience!).

Right click & 'save target as' to download Poptastisk

I hope you like it! Please leave any comments in the box below.
Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Why the Mercury Prize is a farce...and why it really isn't

To me, the Mercury Prize has always seemed uninteresting and inaccesible, with it's lack of Girls Aloud or Will Young (and I hope he never is cool enough to be on the shortlist), but this year the inclusion of interesting acts such as M.I.A, Antony and the Johnsons and the Go! Team, none of whom I'd seen perform on TV before, persuaded me to watch the show on BBC4.

It got off to an OK start, as I found that it was presented by Jo Whiley, who is fairly likeable for a Radio 1 DJ, and Colin Muuray had been left to the radio show, meaning there'd be no chance of him appearing unexpectedly at any point. Pheeew! The presenter on stage was Jools Holland, who I presume presents it every year, but I think they need to get someone new for '06 cos he is officially the most boring presenter ever. He appeared not to make one spontaneous comment throughout the whole evening - everything he said was entirely predictable and uncontroversial.

The first act on were the Kaiser Chiefs, and I have to say Ricky was looking pretty nervous and uncharacteristically serious, doing none of his usual messing around. Maybe it was the daunting task of going first or the expectations of them due to them being the favourites to win (which of course means they never would, unless the judges went for a double bluff), but I think it was the audience. They were all sat down at their tables, and when the performers were on no-one so much as moved their heads, let alone stood up or danced! It seemed more like the bands were an interruption to their posh night out, so I could totally understand the pressure the acts must have been feeling. They shouldn't have been nervous though, since the general public have such little interest in what these critics have to say. Yes, the winner will get great publicity and I'm sure their albums sales will increase rapidly in the next few weeks, but music critics do not dictate musical tastes anywhere near as much as they'd like to think. I'm not suggesting all music buyers have a mind of their own because that's certainly not true either (hence Crazy Frog), but the people they listen to are not the people who are desperate to be listened to. Desperation is not appealing!

Luckily those who followed the Kaiser Chiefs seemed more relaxed, perhaps because Ricky and co. had escaped with their lives, and they produced some excellent performances, although they would have still benefitted greatly from some signs of enjoyment or enthusiasm from the audience. I shan't go through every performance but I will mention a few of the highlights.

My most pleasant surprise of the evening was Seth Lakeman, who is not only a really nice guy but also extremely talented and not at all as boring as I had expected. I had mistakenly believed that his music was purely instrumental violin with no pop tendencies, but in fact his song was very enjoyable. The Patrick Wolf fans among you should give this guy a listen, actually. I doubt I'll be rushing out for his album but I hope lots of other people do because he is lovely and great.

The most amusing moment for me was when Hard-Fi went up to collect their award (every artist gets an award for being shortlisted, which I'm sure confused quite a few people who tuned in late) and either the lead singer is a bit odd or he was totally 'sloshed', and considering he had a bottle of beer still in his hand, I'm guessing the latter. Of course drunk singers are hardly a new phenomenom, but what was funny here was the way no-one commented or took any notice of it all, so desperate they were for professionalism. And yes, they may have achieved professionalism, but they were missing something more important and with far less letters - fun!

Definitely the best performers of the night were the Go! Team who put on an absolutely fantastic performance, ruining the typical guitar band set-up by adding 5 or 6 black girl singers in red sportswear, chanting along to the song in a cheerleader-ish way and doing unchoreographed cartwheels and handstands in the background. It was utterly brilliant and has made me really want to see them live. They brought enough fun and energy to the proceedings that the boring presenter and audience could be completely ignored for the duration of the performance. Another special mention for bringing a bit of fun to the show should go to the singer from Maximo Park - more lead singers should do the splits in the air mid-song!

When at last the results came through, Jools took ages reading it in a boring and predictable manner, until he finally revealed that the winner was...Antony & the Johnsons! At first I was a little bit disappointed because although I like the idea of him I haven't really been able to get into his music, so I would have preferred M.I.A or the Go! Team for example, but when he came up to accept his award he just seemed such a lovely, wonderful, adorable young man that I just feel straight in love with him and now I'm really really pleased he won. He deserves it for personal aceness alone! And I pledge to pay him more attention in future. I also think he sets a great example for new bands starting out - being cool won't win you £20,000, but being weird will, and we do like weirdos on Dirrrty Pop, whatever type of music they make.
Friday, September 02, 2005

Thank You For The Music

Continuing my series on pop songwriters, next up is...

Max Martin & Cheiron

One of the best and most famous pop songwriters of the past decade has to be Max Martin. Born Martin Samdberg in February 1971, his career in music began when he left school to join a glam-metal group named It's Alive, who were signed to the Swedish pop label Cheiron, owned by the late Denniz Pop. The band made an album and toured Europe but when they failed to reach megastardom Martin was kept on as a writer and producer at Cheiron.

His first big hit was Ace of Base's The Sign - the song that brought Denniz Pop his first of many international successes. It was at this time he took on the pseudonym Max Martin, which Pop thought sounded "poppier" than his real name. This success was followed by work with Swedish pop legends Army of Lovers and Leila K, and soon requests were coming in from all over the world for Cheiron to work their pop magic on new band's songs. Their first massive hits in America came from the Backstreet Boys, who owe many of their brilliant songs to Max Martin, including Quit Playing Games, As Long As You Love Me and Everybody (Backstreet's Back). The boys were so pleased with his work and the success it brought them that they invited him back to work on every record they have made since, including their biggest hit (and best) album Milennium and their fantastic 2005 comeback, Never Gone.

Other fantastic music Martin had a hand in creating during the late 90s included Robyn's Show Me Love, and Five and *N Sync's debut albums. Sadly Denniz Pop died of cancer in 1998, leaving Martin to continue his incredible pop legacy. And continue he did - his next hit was the one he is probably most famous for his involvement in, Britney Spears' Baby One More Time, which has become one of the biggest and best known pop hits of recent years. It's a song that everyone knows the words to, unless they've been living on Mars, so it must feel amazing to be responsible for it's creation. The charts of the late 90s were musical heaven for fans of pure pop and Max Martin and the acts he worked with were right at the centre of it. The years 1999 and 2000 were the height of his career so far, with massive success from the Backstreet Boys albums Milennium and Black and Blue, and Britney Spears' second album, Oops...I Did It Again.

At the end of 2000 Martin made the decision to close the Cheiron studios and opened a new studio and production company (Maratone) with a new writing partner, Rami. Still, his hits would not stop - their success has included Britney's 3rd album, Britney, plus releases by A*Teens, *N Sync, E-Type and many other acts with 1 letter and a 4 letter word names. More recently, Maratone have turned their focus towards pop-rock music, their most notable success being Kelly Clarkson's current album. Other acts they have recently worked with include Scandinavian girls Ana Johnsson and Marion Raven, and their change in style has been reflected in the BSBs' new slightly rockier sound. The first act to test out the new rocky sound were no international megastars, although they deserve to be. In 2001, Lambretta released Bimbo, a fierce and fabulous rock-pop song including lyrics such as "She's been faking since day one, a friendly kiss includes no tongue", "Who's she looking goofy in a Gucci dress?" and "Which bone in her body should I break first?
Which one? The bimbo's gotta go!" If that doesn't make you want to hear this song, then clearly there is something wrong with you.

Lambretta - Bimbo

And don't worry, Max Martin hasn't entirely turned his back on pure pop music - he recently produced Swedish Idol Darin's debut album, and if you want to hear the poptastic track he wrote for it visit my mp3 blog Into The Groove where it is currently posted.

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