Tech Appeal

(This piece was written in Spring 2010.)

The girl next door has left the building. In her place, we have the pop star from outer space, who references the future with edgy stage wear and robots.

Musically and stylistically, today’s most popular singers are looking to the future for inspiration in a high-tech strut into the 22nd century. Musicians have adopted a futuristic style of stage wear that evokes the look of robots, with getups that are metallic, angular and hard-edged, while the robot itself has made a number of appearances in music videos and on stage.

Christina Aguilera, "Bionic" (2010)

The point was driven home again this month, when Christina Aguilera announced that her anticipated fourth album, which will be released this summer, is called “Bionic.” On the album’s cover, Aguilera comes across as the lovechild of Princess Leah, Marilyn Monroe, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator. Half of her face shows the Xtina we have come to know and love: fair skin, blue eyes, and lips bathed in rouge. The other half is an android comprised of bolts and wires: the inner workings of a pop star gone robotic. Aguilera gushed about her makeover to InTouch, saying, “I’m so excited — I’ve had an idea for a futuristic feel for many years now. It’s always been in the back of my mind to do a more futuristic sound.”

Her new space age image places her in a league with music’s current fembots such as Lady Gaga, who is resurrected as Fritz Lang’s robot in Metropolis in “Paparazzi” after being thrown off of a balcony by her boyfriend. Beyoncé, with a golden Thierry Mugler metallic bodysuit, also becomes a robot in her surreal video for “Sweet Dreams.” Rihanna got into the robo-craze when she suggestively danced with two big robots during her performance of “Rude Boy” at this year’s Kid’s Choice Awards in Los Angeles. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Making It’ Pop: The ingredients for sweet success in the most addictive music genre

“The name is Simon, the game is P.O.P…” – Simon Curtis, “Laser Guns Up”

It’s a cool Friday night in April, and it’s show time for Simon Curtis. The 25-year-old up-and-coming pop singer from Tulsa, Oklahoma is performing his first New York City show before a sold-out audience of 220. On stage is not the usual legion of back-up dancers or fancy set, but only a microphone stand. For Curtis, the minimalism renders the stage a blank canvas. He captivates the crowd with choreography that’s more Britney than Justin, with plenty of twitching, snapping, and strutting. His moves are topped by syrupy vocals that evoke Darren Hayes of Savage Garden. Just as much as Curtis evokes the past, he also serves up new twists. Over a pulsating beat, he belts out one of his latest songs, an alternative to Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance,” called “Don’t Dance”:

I’m not gonna tell you to dance, just gonna keep on doing my thing
I’m not gonna tell you to move, just gonna keep on playin’ the way I’m playin’
Don’t dance, don’t dance, don’t dance!

The message, however, doesn’t keep the crowd from dancing. The setting is Superfraiche Pop Night in Brooklyn’s Galapagos Art Space, where the tables, standing on concrete lily pads, are surrounded by water. Curtis is one of four acts taking the stage. Superfraiche, a pop concert series launched in 2009, also has been held in Los Angeles and Atlanta. As the name, a French play on “super fresh” suggests, the show provides pop hopefuls with a platform beyond the Top 40 Billboard charts.

Curtis enters the pop music scene without a record deal, publicist, or manager. But, that hasn’t mattered as much as it would have in the past because of the Internet and the way the music industry has changed. The Internet offers free online exposure for savvy social network pros on Facebook and Twitter. He’s also breaking into the industry at a time when CD sales aren’t the primary source of revenue. Emphasizing ticket sales, record companies are now investing in entertainers who can sell both Madison Square Garden tickets and iTunes singles. That often rules out the simply talented singers in favor of “entertainers,” with a niche that sets them apart like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Ke$ha at the helm. Note that they are all women, which presents an obstacle for Curtis as a male pop singer, a rare species in music today. Read more…

Talking Pop with Arjan Timmermans, founder of

Arjan Timmermans and Me at's Superfraiche Pop Night in Brooklyn's Galapagos Art Space on 4/1/11

Superfraiche is a pop concert series that showcases up-and-coming pop acts. Since its launch in 2009, the show has taken place in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York. The sixth edition, held in Brooklyn’s Galapagos Art Space on April 1st, featured Sky Ferreira, Simon Curtis, Databoy, and She’s the Queen. Backstage, I spoke with its founder, Arjan Timmermans of the popular music blog He was the first credentialed blogger to cover the Grammy Awards and he’s also been featured on CNN. Here is the interview, where we chatted about the origins of his blog, the concert series, and what makes a pop song “pop.”

  1. You launched your blog,, in 2002. What was your goal with the website?

My goal with the website was to bring fresh new pop to people, so it was really all about sharing new music that I found, whether it was from independent artists in America or exciting new music from Europe, and share that with my friends. What happened is that a lot of people found my blog and started reading it. That’s how it grew to what it is now, which is a platform for pop music in America, so the original idea was about sharing great pop music. Read the rest of this entry »

Q&A with Jason Lipshutz, Editorial Assistant at

A few days after my interview with Simon Curtis, I spoke to Jason Lipshutz, the editorial assistant at who wrote a feature on the rising pop star. Here are some excerpts from the interview, where we talked about Simon, as well as the Internet’s costs and benefits for artists trying to make it in the music industry.

1.     What types of topics or genres do you cover at Billboard?

I work for both the magazine and mostly the website. It deals with a lot of different genres: pop, rock, mostly popular music. We don’t specialize in emerging bands as of now, but we focus more on established artists.

2.     So it was rare that you featured someone like Simon Curtis, an independent act. How did you become aware of him?

We did a feature on Simon because first off, his music is compelling, and second, because he has a following. We saw that he has a fan base, and he’s performing pretty well in terms of social media. Read the rest of this entry »

Introducing…Simon Curtis

Simon Curtis and Me at's Superfraiche Pop Night in Brooklyn's Galapagos Art Space on 4/1/11

To start this post, let me throw out some numbers: over one million downloads of his debut album, almost one million plays on, more than 400,000 YouTube views, and about 21,000 followers on Twitter. Up-and-coming pop artist Simon Curtis boasts these numbers without a recording contract. After starring in Nickelodeon’s made-for-TV musical “Spectacular!” and nabbing a guest spot on “Hannah Montana,” he set his sights on pop superstardom. Last March, he independently released the album, “8Bit Heart,” for free through his website, and he’s since been one to watch on the pop music scene. Filled with top-notch production by his sole collaborator, Jeff “Jadion” Wells and infectious choruses, the album rivals those topping the Billboard charts today. This spring, Curtis will release his follow-up, “RΔ” (pronounced Rah), named after his fan base, the Robot Army, on iTunes. Snippets of some of the album’s tracks can be found here.

Read the rest of this entry »

Q&A with Entertainment Weekly’s Tanner Stransky

Tanner Stransky, Entertainment Weekly, provided by Stransky

For a press person’s perspective, I chatted with Tanner Stransky, correspondent staff writer for Entertainment Weekly and, who reviews the latest servings from pop divas in addition to writing about TV shows, books, and movies. He also wrote the book, “Find Your Inner Ugly Betty: 25 Career Lessons for Young Professionals Inspired by TV Shows,” about taking career advice from the show as well as other programs on the air then. Here are some of the highlights from the interview, where we dished about the latest trends in pop music and what it takes to get noticed by the media.

 1. Have you noticed any trends within pop music?

Music is more dancey and poppier than it has been in a long time. Music now is really clubby, like Britney’s new album is club music. Rihanna launches with her “Only Girl (In The World) single, and it’s a total club jam. It’s a Gaga effect: her first single was “Just Dance” and it cascaded from there when everybody jumped on that. It’s cyclical – we’ll be in this a little while longer and then we’ll do something else. America is the only place where pop music gets dancey, then it doesn’t, and then it gets dancey again. Read the rest of this entry »

Q&A with Jocelyn Vena, Pop Writer at MTV News

I recently spoke to Jocelyn Vena, the pop writer at MTV News. Whether it’s the newest music video by Britney Spears or Lady Gaga’s latest antic, Vena has it covered. She notes how these ladies, leaving no room for male pop acts, are running the show with their slinky dance songs. Here are some of the highlights from our chat.

Jocelyn Vena, MTV News, photo provided by Vena

 1. As the pop writer at MTV News, is your beat only pop music?

It’s pop music, fashion, TV, and movies. It’s gossip, like I’ve been reporting on the Chris Brown drama in light of his Good Morning America appearance. I’m also working on the Britney Spears album that’s coming out next week. It’s pop culture, more than just pop music.

 2. Who are the most talked about artists on today?

Britney, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Selena Gomez, and Justin Bieber. Those are the people that I write about most regularly.

 3. How have you seen the music industry change in the last 2-3 years?

People are consuming music in different kinds of ways than they used to. They’re not going to the record store like they were 5 to 7 years ago. Instead, they’re going online, on iTunes, downloading it for free illegally, and streaming it on different websites. Read the rest of this entry »