For many performers, top billing at the county fair is as good as the comeback trail ever gets. Michael Jackson had bigger ambitions. Two years ago, London’s Daily Mail reported that the singer was not only planning to go a 250-date reunion tour with the Jackson 5, he was also going to build a Las Vegas casino and hotel. And a museum. And a sports stadium. Why not a light-rail system too, one wondered. Or at least a shopping center.

And yet as grandiose as Jackson’s career renovation plans seemed, they had a certain plausibility. He’d won 13 Grammys, enjoyed 13 #1 singles, and sold 750 million records worldwide. But for most of the previous 15 years, he’d been a notably underutilized commodity, producing only one album of original music and performing infrequently. Sure, there was a steady drip of increasingly redundant “greatest hits” albums, and “ultimate collections,” and “essential”… More…

 

Every once in a while you get an epiphany. Something you’ve been meaning to say for a long time jumps, crystal clear, to the front of your brain. You’ve always known it, but you’ve never been able to say it.

This happened to me while reading an essay by Sasha Frere-Jones about Lady Gaga. Frere-Jones opens the piece with the following thought:

Dedicated fans of popular music have a certain conversation at least once a year. Call it The Question of Endurance. You and your friends are talking about music, and the conversation turns to a popular band. You express support. A friend voices her opinion, maybe as favorable as yours, but appends a qualifier: “I like them, but will they be around in 10 years?” You may feel compelled to defend whomever it is you’re talking about,… More…

 

The season of popcorn blockbusters, beach reads, summer girls, and boys of summer has arrived. And the only thing missing is the (un)official song of the summer — a ubiquitous pop smash that demands we shake our hands in the air and sing along as though we had not a care in the world.

In 2007 that song was “Umbrella,” by Rihanna; the year before “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley brightened our June, July and August.

So where is this year’s hot, hazy hit? Although New York magazine recently handicapped eight potential summer songs (including Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop,” Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love” and Coldplay’s “Violet Hill”), a leading contender has yet to emerge. And at this point, we’re starting to run out of summer.

If you wish to play the game of blame, the death of the monoculture has… More…

It is generally agreed but never specifically discussed that there is a thing called the “summer jam.” I suppose it bears some genetic resemblance to the “summer read.” But the “summer jam” is both a more fleeting and a more dominating sort of beast. There is typically only one summer jam per season and there is no such thing as a repeat. You can only be the summer jam once.

The summer jam is an unpretentious thing. It goes directly to the very essence of pop music, which is to create a sound that is unique enough to catch your attention and almost impossible to ignore. But the summer jam must capture the mind immediately and more forcefully and purely than the pop music hit of another season. This probably has something to do with summer itself. Summer is the season of immediacy, of quick glances and shimmering surfaces. Summer… More…