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Pop Making Sense
by David Byrne with Tony Peregrin
2011-09-21

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Lady Gaga boldly attended the MTV VMAs as her male alter ego, Joe Calderone. The "Paparazzi" singer stayed in character the entire evening, even contemplating planting a kiss on Britney Spears, as Madonna had done in 2003.

In the video "You & I," Calderone makes an appearance and kisses a piano-playing Gaga. Sound familiar? In 1983, Annie Lennox portrayed a blonde cabaret singer who engages in a kiss with her male counterpart in "Who's That Girl" by Eurythmics. Lennox's smooch was done with splicing stills at the end of the clip.

Once again, Gaga got caught aping the previous generation. At a concert in Australia, Gaga was on stage as a mermaid in a wheelchair. Bette Midler took to Twitter and reminded Gaga that she has been doing the Delores DeLago mermaid character since the '80s. The 25 year-old told Access Hollywood, "I had no idea that she did that and I am a huge Bette Midler fan." Really? Even a mild Midler fan would know that. Just hire me as a consultant; I'll help you out.

Natalia Kills might be cast in Gaga's shadow with her sound and her image, but not for doing publicity stunt antics Madonna did 20 years ago. On her debut, Perfectionist, Kills brings forth edgy electronic-inspired pop music. The excellent opener "Wonderland" has her singing, "I don't believe in fairytales, but I believe in you and me." She then twists a classic nursery rhyme on "Break You Hard" with the lyrics "Johnny Boy, it's time to take it like a man, kiss the boys and make 'em cry." The set's standouts include the very catchy "Free" with Will.i.am and the 2010 single "Mirrors."

Kills has toured with Robyn and Katy Perry. Expect the fiercely talented Kills to be a highly sought after collaborator. She already has guest spots on albums by LMFAO, Frankmusik and Far East Movement.

On Nothing But the Beat, David Guetta recruits an all-star guest list of artists to join his trademark, popular club sound. Nicki Minaj secures her spot as a pop diva on "Turn Me On." Chris Brown pairs with Lil Wayne on "I Can Only Imagine" and Akon reunites with Guetta on "Crank It Up." Both tracks would fit perfectly in any given nightclub scene on Jersey Shore. Chicago's darling, Jennifer Hudson, and British artist Jessie J. show off their vocal prowess on their respective cameos "Night of Your Life" and "Repeat." However, it is Sia who steals the show with the epic and energizing "Titanium."

Sorely missing on Nothing But the Beat is Guetta's frequent collaborator, the openly gay Chris Willis. Willis' soulful vocals made "Love Is Gone" a worldwide hit.

I never tire of Richard X's sampling of the funk classic "Ain't Nobody" by Rufus and Chaka Khan. The references to yesteryear's goodies still pop up as the British producer helms Will Young's comeback vehicle Echoes. The album's lead single, "Jealousy," starts off slowly; then a soft beat kicks in, bringing in bright dose of sunlight. In the accompanying video, Young shoots a look to the camera while serving Flashdance realness with an exposed shoulder under his sweatshirt during the first chorus. "Hearts on Fire" has traces of early Massive Attack's percussion arrangements and "Happy Now" slightly recalls the overlooked "'74-74" by The Connells. A toe-tapping disco beat kicks in on "I Just Want a Lover" and "Good Things."

Young teamed with Groove Armada last year for the fantastic "History." Fans of fellow gay crooner Darren Hayes formerly of Savage Garden should check out Echoes, which is out now as an import.

Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs beams brightly with the third outing, Alone in This Together. The set kicks off with heartwarming barroom rock on "Shine." But on "Just Leave Me There," she is broken down and hopeless, carrying on about having "nowhere else to go." The organ and drums on "High Water" are simply heaven-sent. Star Anna—yes, that is her real name—sings with a fiery passion, beautifully blending the styles of Americana rock favorites Brandi Carlile and Lucinda Williams, as heard on the terrific title track.

Find out why members of Pearl Jam and Guns n Roses are raving about this phenomenal artist from Washington, as Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs will take to the stage at The Space, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston, Saturday, Sept. 24.

Beloved singer-songwriters Dar Williams and Joan Osborne are touring together with a stop on Thursday, Sept. 29, at the Park West, 322 W. Armitage. On the heels of her massive crossover hit "One of Us," I fondly remember Osborne appearing on the VH-1 show Duets with Melissa Etheridge. Together they sang "Bring Me Some Water." Williams won my heart with her dreamy remake of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" with Ani DiFranco.

Allegedly, 18 year-old Miley Cyrus has been spotted bringing her "Party in the U.S.A." to Chicago, including to the gay bars on Halsted. Yes, we have seen something similar already when former child star Lindsay Lohan partied her way into the tabloids but managed to continue to release subpar records in between dreadful films and having public spats with her parents. Granted, many go through a phase at that age and feel like they "Can't Be Tamed." It must be Disney Channel programming.


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