Archive for January, 2011

A Star Without A Hit: Nicki Minaj's Big Dilemma

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music

Nicki Minaj might be the most important female rapper right now, but she still doesn’t have a top ten hit to her name.

Nicki Minaj is arguably the top female rapper on the planet right now. She said it best herself on Kanye West’s “Monster” when she rapped, “My features and my shows ten times your pay/50k for a verse no album out!”

Since “Monster” came out, Minaj has released an album, Pink Friday. The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard album chart, behind Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Coming second to the most critically acclaimed album of the year is nothing to be ashamed of, but in the long run, Minaj has even more to celebrate as her album has outsold Mr. West’s.

But for all the success Nicki Minaj has achieved in such a short time, it still seems that Minaj is lacking something. A friend of mine encapsulated Nicki’s problem when she tweeted that she liked the idea of Nicki Minaj more than she actually liked her.

Following in the footsteps of West, Drake and Kid Cudi, Minaj is challenging preconceived notions of what a rapper should be. She is flamboyant, unapologetic and loud, and that’s just one of her many personas. (She has five so far: Nicki, Barbie, Roman, Martha, and Rosa.) Her wild outfits and ever-changing hair evoke a hip-hop Lady Gaga, and her ability to land collaborations with big names before her debut album hit stores suggests that a lot of people have high expectations of the 25-year-old Queens rapper.

The interesting thing about the vast majority of her collaborations is that the songs she’s featuring on aren’t all that good. Just take a listen to “My Chick Bad” with Ludacris, “Bottoms Up” with Trey Songz, or “Raining Men” with Rihanna. The songs aren’t very good, but Minaj’s raps are out of this world. I even have a friend who fast forwards to Nicki’s rap time and time again without even listening to the full song.

The benefit of being that prolific was that Minaj got her name out. If an eccentric rapper who uses a handful of different accents starts popping up on songs with Mariah Carey and Usher, people will start to pay attention. People have been paying attention, but this marketing technique is different than the usual methods record companies use.

Traditionally, when a record label prepares to launch a new artist, they build a brand around this artist and figure out the best way to market them to a prospective audience. One of the most important components of this is the debut single. It’s the first impression of an artist and it plays a significant role in molding how the public views them as an artist for the rest of their career.

Hip-hop has always been a little different. It relies more heavily on underground mixtapes and guest spots, but you still can’t deny the importance of those first few singles on breaking artists. Look no further than Eminem’s “My Name Is” or 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” for proof.

Nicki Minaj is missing her own “My Name Is.” Despite skads of guest appearances and a full-length album, she doesn’t have her own “In Da Club” yet. The closest she’s come is Kanye’s “Monster,” which critics have been drooling over ever since it dropped. But it still isn’t hers.

Nicki, “Massive Attack” was forgettable. “Your Love” was boring. “Right Thru Me” wasn’t strong enough. People like you. They like the idea of you. They want you to succeed, but you need to bring the goods. Stop giving out your sickest raps to sub-par songs and save them for yourself.

BYU Basketball

BYU Basketball: Not Just Jimmer

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Sports

If you listen to The PB&J Report podcast (and at this point, why aren’t you?), then you know I have a method of sorts when it comes to BYU sports — I am the eternal pessimist.

Don’t get me wrong, no one bleeds blood as Cougar blue as mine. But just because I love the team doesn’t mean I blindly believe they will win every game — that would just make me ignorant (or a Ute fan). Experience is knowledge, and I’ve experienced too many overtime losses, tournament no-shows and blown calls to believe in the Cougars as hard as I pull for them.

So when I picked San Diego State to beat our men’s basketball team at home last night, much of it was the eternal pessimism speaking. But more than that, I really didn’t think we had the team to beat them. San Diego State has size, athleticism, and is defensively minded. While I thought we had a great player in Jimmer Fredette, I also felt our team was too flawed to really compete with talent of that caliber. BYU is small, has trouble rebounding, and has absolutely no depth — or so I thought. In other words, I thought we had a great player, not a great team.

Kings-of-Leon

Reigning Over Glee: Why Kings of Leon Were Right to Turn Down Ryan Murphy

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in TV

This week Glee creator Ryan Murphy lashed out at indie superstars Kings of Leon for declining the show’s request to use their song “Use Somebody.” In addition to calling the band names and sounding like a spoiled three-year-old, Murphy made one curious and bizarre accusation: by turning down the chance to have a song on Glee, Kings of Leon hate arts education.

Brushing aside the obvious — that Glee is a for-profit TV show, not a school or charity — Murphy’s temper tantrum surprised me. After all, I genuinely never thought Glee was an altruistic endeavour to promote the arts. The mean-spirited characters, all the screen time spent on personal drama, and the perky-but-bitter tone led me to believe the show was aiming for satire, not didacticism. If it genuinely wanted to promote the arts, there are a lot of things it could do, but showing sexy twenty-somethings playing teenagers being mean to each other isn’t one of them.

Of course, there’s no doubt that Glee might make someone want to sing (or that it can be a fun watch). But how is it any better at that mission than other programs, like High School Musical? In fact, the satirical character of the show probably renders it less effective in that regard than more straight-faced media about the arts. I’d rather watch Glee than High School Musical any day, but I also wouldn’t necessarily use it as a marketing tool for the arts. In the end, if Glee exists just to hook people on singing, then it is truly an epic failure.

Jimmer Kawhi

Podcast: BYU-SDSU Preview, Super Bowl

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Sports

For college basketball fans (and, particularly, BYU fans), it’s the Game Of The Year — nay, The Game Of The Century — and the PB&J Report boys are here to break down the impending BYU-San Diego State slugfest from every possible angle. Listen as the crew analyzes both teams’ strengths and weaknesses and makes their (extremely educated) picks for the big game. Also, they throw in a few thoughts on Sunday’s NFL playoff games and next week’s Super Bowl to boot. Now, who doesn’t want some of that? Enjoy!

Man vs Food

Tune In to Food Television

Written by Kasey Yardley on . Posted in Food

You never thought you’d see it, but food television has officially become popular. Thank you, Julia Child.

These days there are channels like Food Network and Cooking Channel that are dedicated entirely to the wonderful subject of food, which is a dream come true for some of us. You don’t have to be a “foodie” to enjoy great food television. Here’s a list of some of my favorite shows:

Parks and Rec

TV: The Brilliance of Parks and Recreation Returns

Written by Meg Walter on . Posted in TV

Parks and Recreation is returning to NBC tonight. This is great news.

I don’t know why it was ever missing from the Thursday night line-up. And I really don’t understand why Outsourced deserved air time while Parks and Rec was shoved into the abyss of short-lived shows.

Outsourced is abhorrently dumb. Parks and Rec is smart. Maybe not smart in the Arrested Development manner to which we television snobs have become accustomed — where every line of dialogue is a double entendre and every character is someone else and we have to chart which joke lines up with which former episode, etc. Instead, Parks and Rec is smart in its simplicity.

CHART WATCH: Britney, Look What You Gone Done!

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music

Chart Watch is 17 Tracks’ weekly look at the happenings on the Billboard Hot 100 with chart expert Hunter Schwarz.

Britney Spears shattered download records this week as the Max Martin/Dr. Luke creation “Hold It Against Me” debuts atop the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the singer’s fourth No. 1 single. “Hold It Against Me” has sold 411,000 digital downloads, marking not only Spears’ best one-week sales, but also the best first week sales for a female artist. The previous record was held by Taylor Swift, who shifted 325,000 downloads of “Today Was A Fairytale” last February.

Spears also had radio on her side. “Hold It Against Me” was the 23rd most played song in the country — extremely impressive for a week old song. With stats like that, a No. 1 debut on the Hot 100 was inevitable. It used to be rare for songs to make their first chart appearance at No. 1 — only 19 have done it in the 51-year history of the charts — but expect them to become a lot more common. Spears already did it in 2009 with “3,” making Spears the third artist to have multiple songs debut at the top spot (Mariah Carey and Celine Dion accomplished the feat in 1995 and 1998, respectively), and don’t be surprised if it’s not her last. In the age of iTunes, huge one-week sales and high debuts are more common then ever.

With twelve years under her belt, Britney Spears has reached icon status. Want proof? Look no further than the 2010 Forbes list of top earning musicians where Spears landed at No. 5. She might have released a clothing line and made a cameo appearance in a Britney-themed Glee episode, but 2010 was a quiet year for Spears. Compare that with Lady Gaga who was only the seventh biggest earning artist, despite spending virtually the entire year on the road and selling millions of dollars worth of albums, digital downloads and merchandise. Comparing the two pop stars highlights an important fact: Britney Spears makes waves without having to put in that much effort.

“Hold It Against Me” might be better than the phoned-in vocals and cheesy (and completely inappropriate for the mother of two) sexuality of “3,” but it doesn’t hold a candle to some of Spears’ previous work. So how exactly has Spears reached No. 1 with songs like “Hold It Against Me” and “3,” while far superior tracks haven’t been so lucky? The answer is digital downloads. The bulk of Spears’ career has been during a time of transition for the Hot 100 — the time in between the death of the physical single but before the rise of iTunes.

Her first No. 1 was her debut single, “…Baby One More Time,” released in October 1998. Benefiting from a provocative music video that quickly became a TRL staple, the song spent two weeks in the penthouse three months later and helped launch her album of the same name that went to sell over 12 million copies in the United States alone. But Spears’ teen pop anthem was to be her last chart-topping single for a full decade. At the end of 1998, Billboard fundamentally altered the Hot 100. No longer would it be exclusively a singles chart, but it would be a songs chart, meaning album cuts and promotional songs not available for purchase were eligible for charting. Billboard’s move killed the already dying physical single, and the Hot 100 became a radio-dominated chart.

In any other time, an artist like Spears still would have an impressive record in a radio-heavy chart climate, but the mid-2000s were not friendly to pop. Hip-hop and R&B songs spent weeks and weeks at No. 1, and from 2000-2006, Spears only scored two top ten hits (“Oops!…I Did It Again” and “Toxic” both went No. 9 in 2000 and 2004, respectively). Some artists might be pleased with a track record like that, but more should be expected for an artist who was arguably the defining pop star of the 2000s.

Her big break came in 2005 when Billboard began counting digital downloads when calculating the Hot 100. Unfortunately, Spears was less interested in making music by mid-decade and soon descended into her “fat Elvis” period. The effects of Billboard’s changes became apparent when her dark and danceable breakdown opus “Gimme More” went No. 3 in 2007. Her only promotion was a botched VMA performance, but Spears scored the second highest charting song of her career. Such is the power of Britney.

In 2008, nearly a decade after her first No. 1, Spears went No. 1 for a second time with “Womanizer.” The song pole-vaulted 96-1 thanks to massive first week digital downloads. The same chart rules that held back Britney for most of her career helped her disproportionately as she scored her last three chart toppers. Spears has legions of tireless and devoted fans who will buy anything and everything she puts out. It’s to be expected from fans who have seen their star go from being on top of the world to bald and batshit crazy and back again.

“Hold It Against Me” remains the top selling song on iTunes but expect its sales figures to drop next week. If radio airplay continues to grow for the track, however, it will be more than able to make up the difference and keep Britney at No. 1 for a second week, something Spears hasn’t been able to do since “…Baby One More Time.”

Here’s what’s happening on the rest of the Hot 100:

  • How ironic is it that the “anti-Britney” is sharing producers with Miss Spears herself? Avril Lavigne’s “What The Hell” even features a Britney-esque pronunciation of the word “me” (You’re on your knees/begging please/stay with maaaaaay) The song makes it debut at No. 13.
  • The chart’s third highest new debut is Kanye West and Jay-Z’s “H*A*M” from their forthcoming joint LP, Watch The Throne, which opens at No. 23.
  • Wiz Khalifa takes “Black and Yellow” to its highest peak ever — No. 5 — as various parodies of his tribute to the Pittsburgh Steelers pop up around the net. White and purple? Pink and purple?

Here’s this week’s top ten:

1. “Hold It Against Me” – Britney Spears (1st week at No. 1, debut)

2. “Grenade” – Bruno Mars

3. “Firework” – Katy Perry

4. “What’s My Name?” – Rihanna feat. Drake

5. “Black and Yellow” – Wiz Khalifa

6. “Tonight I’m Lovin’ You” -Enrique Iglesias feat. Ludacris

7. “We R Who We R” – Ke$ha

8. “Raise Your Glass” – Pink

9. The Time (Dirty Bit)” – Black Eyed Peas

10. “Just The Way You Are” – Bruno Mars

American Idle: How to Remake a Stalling Superstar Search Show

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music, TV

Judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler join Randy Jackson and host Ryan Seacrest in American Idol’s tenth season.

Quick, name the most recent winner of American Idol.

Drawing blanks? You’re not alone.

Lee DeWyze is the answer, but it’s not as if the season nine winner made much of a splash. His debut album made the weakest debut on the Billboard 200 album chart of any Idol winner — No. 19 — and quickly tumbled to the bottom rungs of the chart. At the same time that Idol winners’ album sales take a nosedive, the show’s ratings have hit their lowest point since 2004. To make matters worse, the flagship judge, Simon Cowell, is not returning for the show’s tenth season.

Hoping to breathe new life into the show, Fox is changing things up a bit. In addition to Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler, lead singer of Aerosmith, and pop singer Jennifer Lopez will be critiquing the contestants. As they vie for the American Idol crown, contestants will no longer be limited to performing only covers, and could opt for singing original songs. Big name producers  like Rodney Jerkins, Alex Da Kid and Timbaland will mentor them, and the contestants’ new material, including music videos, will be released during the season rather than months after.

“Normally with a new artist, the world isn’t waiting,” Geffen chairman Ron Fair told The Hollywood Reporter. “In ‘American Idol’s’ case, the public is — they want to hear something great. With a big tail wind like that, you want to set sail.”

The show’s creators want to reinvigorate ratings, but American Idol remains the No. 1 show on television and is a cash cow. It might not command the viewers it once did, but it still has the highest ad rate of any program. Idol creators want more. When the show debuted in 2002, it was subtitled “The Search for a Superstar,” but a look at recent Idol alums reveals that they’ve veered from that.

“What is in our wake?” asked Idol producer Nigel Lythgoe. “I suppose you’ll go Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and then you start running out of Idols. We have got to go back to creating an American Idol. If that’s what we’re here to do, that’s what we have to do.”

And the stakes for Idol are higher than ever as television gets a second reality pop star show, X Factor. Simon Cowell will debut X Factor this September on Fox, and if Idol‘s ratings and contestants can’t keep up, it won’t matter how you market it — Idol will be irrelevant.

BYU

Gawking at the Y: Taking BYU Seriously

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in Local

BYU has an image problem, but it doesn’t seem to know it. Or maybe it just doesn’t care.

On the university’s home page recently — as well as in the alumni email I got earlier this month — I read about a new study by professors Jason Carroll and Brian Willoughby that argues that waiting until marriage to have sex benefits couples later on. The study was published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

The study was probably legit. It was published in a reputable journal, and my experience as a student at BYU (for more years than I care to admit) was that professors genuinely try to do serious scholarly work.

But whatever the study actually included, the uber-popular news website Gawker discovered it and expressed suspicion over how the scientific research “hews so closely to the Mormon church’s position on sex before marriage.”

All organizations draw some flack from time to time, but the point Gawker makes is one worth taking seriously. After all, if BYU wants to be a top tier school, an example to other institutions, and a leader in the sciences, perception does matter. And Gawker, though not the biggest media portal out there, is a major news player. In reality, many more people have undoubtedly read the Gawker piece than have or will read the study itself.

What We Learned From Saturday's NFL Games

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Sports

“Yo, I got this”

Historically the first two weekends of the NFL playoffs are two of my favorite weekends of the year (topped by wild card Saturday — is there a reason this isn’t a national holiday yet?). This year didn’t break that trend as last weekend saw the Jets, Seahawks, Packers and Ravens all win, arguably all upsets except maybe the Ravens. Part of what makes the NFL so exciting is the parity, and at no time is this more apparent than during the playoffs.

In a season that has been all about parity (even the Patriots, the league’s undisputed best team, got beat by the lowly Browns) most experts came into this week’s games with no clue as to what was going to happen. The Ravens and Steelers were meeting for the third time this season and the wild card Packers seemed to be suddenly gaining popularity against the number one-seeded Falcons. At the beginning of the day, NFL fans had lots of questions — and by the end of the day, we had answers. Here’s the top things we learned from today’s games:

The ghost of Matt Millen still haunts the GMs of the NFL

It’s astounding to me that NFL GMs have yet to figure out the wide receiver position. The Ravens came into the season with three top receivers — check that, three former top wide receivers. Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and T.J Houshmandzadeh were all number one receivers at some point in their careers — Mason with the Titans, Boldin with the Cardinals, and T.J. (no way I’m typing that name again) with the Bengals and later the Seahawks. All three were the top receivers on their teams, but for various reasons their former teams cut ties with them and they all landed in Baltimore.

When teams decide to go their separate ways with a wider receiver, it has historically been a bad sign. These same situations seem to happen every year, and yet GMs continue to throw money at these players. Look at Roy Williams in Dallas, Randy Moss in Minnesota or Terrell Owens on every team he’s ever been on (which at this points seems to be approximately half the teams in the NFL).

Today in their game against the Steelers, the Ravens’ receiving core repeatedly dropped passes, costing them scoring opportunities. This was typified by the Ravens’ last offensive play when, trying to drive and tie the game, Joe Flacco threw an almost perfect pass on 4th and 19 to Houshmandzadeh, who had run a deep curl route. Houshmandzadeh was past the first down line when the ball hit him right in the numbers, and then promptly fell through his hands and hit the ground.

Maybe now Ravens’ GM Ozzie Newsome can see why Seattle (who, by the way, isn’t exactly fielding the ’01 Rams receiving core out there) chose to cut him, knowing they would still have to pay him $7 million, rather then have him on their team. Think about that — they paid him 7 million dollars to go away. Sound like a guy you want on your team? Apparently Ozzie Newsome thought it sounded awesome, and for that reason he’ll be watching the AFC championship game on his couch.

Ben Roethlisberger is always a threat to score

Look, I know Big Ben has had his off-field issues — a motorcycle crash, repeated drunkenness, an appearance on Shaq Vs. and the fact that he’s a complete pervert have all greatly hurt his public image. In all that, we may have lost the fact the guy has won two Super Bowls, and is one of the most clutch quarterbacks we’ve seen — maybe ever.

The guy just wins. He’s got that last-minute greatness DNA that Peyton would kill the third Manning brother for. Today, with the game tied and just over two minutes remaining, the Steelers were looking at 3rd and 19 and, if they failed to convert, they would be giving the ball back to the Ravens with enough time remaining to put together a drive and win the game with a field goal.

In this situation most quarterbacks are looking for that pass that just gets them the first down, because the defense is trying to prevent a 20-yard play. Oftentimes quarterbacks will check down to someone on a short route, hoping they can break some tackles and fight for a first down. Not Big Ben. He set himself up in the shotgun, received the ball, took five steps back, calmly looked at his options, and then flung the ball 55 yards down the right sideline. The ball was perfectly on target to a streaking Antonio Brown who caught the ball and stepped out of bounds setting the Steelers up close to the goal for a game-winning touchdown.

If you go back and watch that play again, Roethlisberger throws the ball long before Brown is past the defense — in fact, to anyone else watching it doesn’t even seem clear that Brown will be open. The fact that Roethlisberger was able to anticipate where his receiver would be in that situation, and then throw the ball with such precision 55 yards downfield, is absolutely incredible.

If you haven’t seen the play again, go back and watch it from all the angles. In that situation, I’m not sure there’s another quarterback who makes that throw. The fact is, despite his obvious character flaws, Roethlisberger is a born winner — and if I was a coach I would want him on my team.

Aaron Rodgers has made Green Bay forget about the quarterbacks from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s — or, in other words, Brett Favre

I’ve been on the Aaron Rodgers bandwagon for awhile. I had him on my fantasy team last year and was really impressed by the numbers he put up week in and week out. This year I’ve been impressed with his toughness, fighting back from two concussions.

What he did against the Falcons tonight was an absolute clinic. He diced up their secondary with amazing precision, he escaped their rushers with surprising speed and agility, and he led the Packers with all the intangibles you want to see from your starting quarterback. His mechanics, accuracy, arm strength, mobility, reads, leadership and guts were all of the highest caliber.

Let’s put it this way: Of all the NFL games I’ve seen this year, if I had to pick one game to show a young quarterback to say, “This is the way you play the position,” I think it would be this game against the Falcons.

In his post-season career, Rodgers now has a 10:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He beat the Eagles (many experts’ pick to win the NFC) on the road last week, and he beat the number one-seeded Falcons this week. After what we’ve seen the last two seasons and (in particular) this post-season, I think it’s time we officially move him into the “Top Three QBs In The League” discussion. Considering the truly lackluster efforts of Manning, Brees and Vick this post-season, can we say Aaron Rodgers might be the best quarterback not named Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger? Right now, if I had one game to win, I would pick Brady, then Rothelisberger, but after that I’m pretty sure I would take Aaron Rodgers. He’s that good, and a seemingly decent guy to boot.

Rodgers spent three years patiently waiting in the wings for Brett Favre to take his texting talents elsewhere, and then the next three years flying under the radar in Green Bay. Hey Aaron, you’re on everyone’s radar now — pretty soon you may even have Rachel Nichols camping out on your lawn.