Browsing Tag

Justin Timberlake

Career Killers: “Witness” by Katy Perry

It’s strange to think that Katy Perry’s career as a major pop superstar could be over.

Between 2008 and 2016, Perry released three multi-platinum albums and amassed 18 Top 30 singles as a lead artist, including nine #1 hits. Her 2010 album, Teenage Dream, produced a record-tying 5 number one singles (only Michael Jackson’s Bad has managed to match that). She’s been credited with selling 143 million records worldwide, putting her ahead of Bruce Springsteen, Metallica, Lady Gaga, Adele, Britney Spears and many others.

That track record of sustained success should have protected her career from being completely derailed by one flop. And yet, plenty of critics and observers wrote her off after 2017’s Witness, with some even wondering if her decline marked the end of an era in pop music. Perry’s career choices since then have only seemed to confirm that her best days are behind her. In 2018, she went to the place where many music careers go when they’re on life support — the judge’s table at American Idol. Then, she did what a lot of over-the-hill pop stars do when they start to transition to being a nostalgic act: she announced a Las Vegas residency, which is scheduled to begin in December. Meanwhile, her 2020 album, Smile, landed without much fanfare and became her worst-selling record since her 2001 self-titled Christian music debut, when she was still known as Katy Hudson.

So what happened?

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Career Killers: “Nathan Michael Shawn Wanya” by Boyz II Men

We’ve seen how splitting from hit-making songwriters or producers in an ill-fated bid for creative control can kill an artist’s or band’s careers. We’ve seen how record label politics can kill an artist’s or band’s careers. We’ve seen how failed musical makeovers in the face of changing times can kill an artist’s or band’s careers. We’ve seen how deteriorating personal relationships can fester and kill an artist’s or band’s careers.

What happens when all of those things happen at once? You get Boyz II Men.

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Career Killers: “Paula” by Robin Thicke.

I wrote a review for Robin Thicke’s Paula when it first came out in 2014. I decided to revisit it for several reasons. 1) I’m lazy, 2) It was obvious, at the time, that this record would tank his career and 3) I see him every week as a judge on The Masked Singer and I can’t decide whether being on a hit show means that his career has recovered from this debacle of an album or if it’s confirmation that his musical career is over and that he’ll just be a reality show judge from here on out. In other words, did his album about one Paula (Patton) have the effect of turning him into another Paula (Abdul)?

In retrospect, “Blurred Lines” wasn’t the start of something great for Robin Thicke. It was the beginning of the end. And Paula ended up being the nail in the coffin.

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Career Killers: “Liz Phair”

Plenty of artists with cult followings go mainstream and become popular.

R.E.M. went from highly-regarded college band to one of the biggest and most acclaimed groups in the world. Metallica slowly and steadily built up a passionate fan base that kept growing in size and intensity until they exploded in popularity in the early 90s. Genesis established itself as a highly inventive artistic and progressive rock band before transitioning to FM superstardom.

In fact, these days, many “indie” acts are actually mainstream and do all sorts of things that bands like Fugazi and artists like Neil Young would have considered “selling out.” Allowing your music to be used in commercials, TV shows and movies? Check. Praising pop stars and being influenced by their hit songs? Check. Working with hit-making producers and songwriters? Check and check.

Yet when indie queen Liz Phair did all those things in 2003, she provoked a furious, almost personal backlash that tanked her career. Maybe she was simply a few years too early. Or maybe she was never going to succeed because the same factors that led to her rise helped keep her down.

Or maybe it was because her self-titled 2003 album wasn’t as good as it could have been.

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Career Killers: “Schizophrenic” by J.C. Chasez

When it comes to transitioning from a boyband to a successful solo career, the rule of Highlander is typically in effect: There can be only one.

In other words, boybands rarely produce multiple solo stars. For instance, Gary Barlow and Mark Owen both launched solo careers after the first Take That breakup, but neither of them made much of an impact – at least not compared to their fired colleague, Robbie Williams, who became one of the biggest pop stars of the 00’s. Nick Lachey and Jeff Timmons of 98 Degrees both released solo albums, but whereas the former had one big hit and one theme song that became fairly ubiquitous, I had to look up Wikipedia to remember the latter. Meanwhile, it might be too early to write One Direction’s epitaph, but it looks like Harry Styles is going to be the only real star to emerge from that group (sorry Zayn).

A couple of bands have bucked this rule. New Edition spawned multiple successful solo careers, but even then, only one member had more than one successful album. And of course, Michael Jackson completely eclipsed his brothers, something that, apparently, stuck in Jermaine’s craw – despite the fact that Jermaine managed a couple of gold albums and a handful of Top Ten singles.

So J.C. Chasez was already behind the 8-ball when he embarked on his solo career following NSYNC’s breakup. Bandmate Justin Timberlake had beaten him to the punch, releasing the popular and well-regarded Justified in 2002. That album, which would go on to be certified triple-platinum by the RIAA, was filled with infectious pop/R&B hits, funky beats and ear worms that allowed Timberlake to immediately establish himself as a solo superstar.

But if anyone could rise to the occasion, it was Chasez. The best singer in NSYNC and, possibly, out of all of the late 90’s/early 00’s boybands (Timberlake even admitted as much), Chasez had charisma, good looks, dancing chops and a proven track record. All he needed was to link up with the right producers and songwriters the way Timberlake had when he worked with the Neptunes and Timbaland for Justified and Chasez would be well-placed to break the Highlander curse.

Unfortunately for him, he recorded Schizophrenic.

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Album Review: “Paula” by Robin Thicke

Robin Thicke’s “Paula” is the most interesting album of the year. And it might be one of the most interesting albums of the last decade.

That doesn’t mean it’s good. In fact, the album is extremely repetitive and difficult to listen to. With the subtlety of a jackhammer, Thicke bares his soul in 14 gut-wrenching songs, alternating between pitiful begging (to his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Paula Patton) and “TMI”-level introspection. It’s refreshing to hear an artist drop all pretenses and sing what’s on his or her mind- after all, it’s difficult to accept this as Thicke’s mea culpa unless he’s being open and honest about everything.

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