By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 - 0 Comments
Exclusive: A candid interview with the new king of pop
Everyone’s waiting for Justin Bieber. It’s mid-afternoon in Washington, on the eve of the presidential election, but for the hordes of young girls gathered outside a downtown arena, there’s only one leader who can bring salvation. Hours before the 18-year-old Canadian pop star will hit the stage, fans have mobbed every entrance, ready to scream at any hint of movement. They shriek as one of 11 tour buses sits idling outside a garage ramp, as if sheer lung power could shatter the tinted windows.
Inside the arena, Bieber’s bodyguard, a soft-spoken man named Kenny Hamilton, shows off a party trick: he opens a door, revealing his face to fans on the sidewalk. They go berserk. In Bieberland, even Kenny is a celebrity: he has more than a million Twitter followers, which puts him neck and neck with Paul McCartney. Bieber has 30 million—second only to Lady Gaga—and gains a new one roughly every second.
The first superstar child of social media, Justin Bieber recently became the first to score three billion hits on YouTube, where an amateur video led to his discovery at 13. However, as his Believe tour burns across North America—he plays Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and the Grey Cup in the next few weeks—being the world’s hottest teen idol is still not enough. In an exclusive interview with Maclean’s, he makes it clear he wants to be nothing less than the next Michael Jackson, the new King of Pop. “That’s where I want to be,” he says. “I don’t just want to be a teen heartthrob.” Continue…
By Mike Doherty - Monday, September 24, 2012 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
Six years after she ruled the world with Loose, the pop star learns to say yes again
Impeccably coiffed and styled, a silk scarf wreathed around the collar of her jean jacket, Nelly Furtado leans forward on a couch in a Toronto hotel suite. “I’m still a bit of a s–t disturber.” She lets out a goofy laugh. “I’m still a little punk ass somewhere inside my soul. And I think I get off on confusing people.”
The 33-year-old pop star is referring, specifically, to her unpredictable new album, The Spirit Indestructible; some of its songs look back to her youth in Victoria, B.C., as a teenager with “a big chip on her shoulder [who] knows that at any party she can grab the microphone and everyone will listen to her sing.” But she could just as well be talking about her career. It’s indeed confusing that she’s taken six full years to make an English language follow-up to Loose, which sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.
What does it take for a star of her stature to stall the momentum of her success? “It took strength to say no to my manager,” she says. “It took a lot of repeated ‘no, no, no’s’ for people to understand that I wasn’t recording another [English] album anytime soon . . . What are they going to do—put a ball and chain around a microphone in the studio?”
By Colby Cosh - Monday, February 28, 2011 at 9:57 AM - 71 Comments
Why is everyone attacking our teenage superstar?
The headline on the March 3 Rolling Stone reads “Super Boy.” But apparently nobody told photographer Terry Richardson. The leather-jacketed teen glowering at the lens may be slight of frame, but he is indisputably well on the way to manhood. In a matter of weeks, his jaw has become noticeably more square. And Richardson has applied his notorious gift for persuading subjects—usually young female models—to set aside modesty and reveal what they would normally conceal. Justin Bieber turns out, after some work with a blow-dryer and a light application of hairspray, to possess a dark, surprisingly saturnine pair of eyebrows.
In short, for the first time, he has been made to look something like his actual age. Which, for the record, will be 17 on March 1.
Bieber’s late bloom—signalled by the cracking of his voice onstage at the American Music Awards in November—is, from a business standpoint, a moment of danger. His partner and mentor, R & B performer Usher, nearly saw his career derailed when his own voice broke. Now, in his determination not to let the same thing happen to his protege, Usher is micromanaging everything from Bieber’s vocal coaching to his diet. The good news is that biological maturity may help resolve some of the weird tensions that have made Bieber an unusually hated performer.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 4:00 PM - 1 Comment
The 96-year-old composer of the classic holiday song talks about his life
“One of the things I’m most grateful for is that God gave me a variety of gifts,” says Hugh Martin, the 96-year-old composer-lyricist who also built parallel careers as a vocal arranger, accompanist and singer. But the cover of Martin’s new autobiography, The Boy Next Door, emphasizes the thing he’s best known for: it mentions that he’s “the composer of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Martin told Maclean’s that he didn’t expect that song to be the biggest part of his more than 70 years in show business: “I only wrote it because there was a spot in the movie [Meet Me in St. Louis] that called for a Christmas song.” For many years, it was less popular than another song from the same film, The Trolley Song, and then suddenly, “a lot of people began to do it about the same time. I never found out who started it.”
There’s much more to Martin’s career than one Christmas song, though, and one of the purposes of the book is to remind us that he wrote music and lyrics for pop standards and jazz favourites alike, both alone and with collaborators like his former singing partner Ralph Blane. The book touches on the origins of his best songs, including Pass That Peace Pipe, which has been covered by Bing Crosby and even the Muppets, and the campy cult classic An Occasional Man, inspired by a phrase he heard from a maid in his native Alabama. Cabaret entertainer Michael Feinstein, who has performed and recorded many of Martin’s songs, told Maclean’s that he considers Martin “one of the most inspired songwriters of his generation,” and Stephen Sondheim put four of Martin’s songs on a list of 100 songs he wishes he’d written himself.
By Mike Doherty - Monday, December 6, 2010 at 9:40 AM - 7 Comments
How a YouTube sensation from London, Ont., wound up in Timbaland’s studio
In a World Wide Web full of bizarre celebrities, from the histrionic Chris “Leave Britney alone!” Crocker to the glassy-eyed Tay “Chocolate Rain” Zonday, one YouTube sensation stands out. His name is Mike Tompkins, and he’s… rather normal.
The London, Ont., vocalist and producer garners millions of hits for videos in which he cheerily recreates the multi-layered sounds of contemporary pop songs—using only his voice and mouth, and occasionally, a tambourine. In October, über-producer Timbaland (Nelly Furtado, Justin Timberlake) invited him to Miami, saying, “You’re doing something normal, but in a really cool way.”
Tompkins, 23, is clean-cut and well-mannered—over lunch at Duggan’s Brewery in Toronto, he even says grace before tucking into his burger. He’s the kind of guy his many teen-girl fans would like to take home to their parents, if he weren’t already married.
By Mark Dillon - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 9:11 AM - 0 Comments
The Beach Boy talks about the band, his new life and ‘Rhapsody in Blue’
“True music . . . must reflect the thought and aspirations of the people and time. My people are Americans. My time is today.”
The quote is from George Gershwin, but those words might well have been spoken by the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. The two men’s bodies of work are characterized by a similar specificity of time and place—the fantasies and reality of Jazz Age and Depression-era audiences in Gershwin’s case, 1960s southern Californian adolescence in Wilson’s. Yet both have proven timeless and universal. Any indie band today worth its amplifier can talk breathlessly about the Beach Boys’ influence—the layered productions, unorthodox song structures, and, of course, those harmonies. And Gershwin’s musical legacy needs no introduction.
Wilson certainly felt a kinship to Gershwin. In fact, it was the composer’s symphonic jazz masterwork, Rhapsody in Blue, that awakened his own musical consciousness. “I was two years old when I first heard it,” he said, speaking to Maclean’s on the phone last week from his Beverly Hills home. “To me, Rhapsody in Blue is the song of my life.”
Pop experts hear Gershwin in the melodies and in Wilson’s piano playing on the early Beach Boys surf albums. Wilson even produced a version of Summertime for singer Sharon Marie in 1963. But it was in the early 1970s, when he was housebound and suffering from depression, that he set out to deconstruct Rhapsody. “I learned how to play the pretty part—you know, the violin part—when I was 28 years old,” he recalled. “I had a copy of Leonard Bernstein’s version. I went from the record to my piano—back and forth. I learned two bars at a time until I had that whole centrepiece down.”
So it seems apt to see the two giants of American music paired on Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin, released Aug. 17 by Walt Disney Records on its Pearl imprint. On it, Wilson tackles standards by Gershwin and his lyricist brother, Ira. “Isn’t it a nice album?” he enthused. “It’s very simple but direct, you know?”
It’s also apt Wilson is getting buzz for his new disc just as Paul McCartney—his friend, and the Beatle with whom he has most closely identified, since they are both bass players known for their melodic ballads—wraps up a tour that sold out arenas all over the U.K. and North America. The Beach Boys and the Beatles vied for pop supremacy in the ’60s. “I was envious as hell,” he recalled, “because they eclipsed everybody. I loved their music. Paul and John’s voices put me into a good thing, and their songs were so unique.” Each group’s albums would influence the other, but he insists it was not competition so much as mutual admiration. “I hoped they liked Pet Sounds as much as I liked Rubber Soul.”
These days, Wilson is enjoying a creative renaissance. Six years ago, he recorded a complete version of his aborted magnum opus Smile, which the Beach Boys started and then shelved in 1967 amid internal conflict. Its long-awaited release was met with big sales and euphoric reviews. His follow-ups have included 2008’s That Lucky Old Sun, a well-received suite of new songs, and live performances with the first-rate band he put together after his official departure from the Beach Boys, which followed the 1998 cancer death of his youngest brother, guitarist Carl. (The Beach Boys’ lineup in the group’s formative years also included middle brother Dennis, who died in 1983, the Wilsons’ cousin, Mike Love, neighbour David Marks, and high school friend Alan Jardine.) With the involvement of his wife of 15 years, Melinda, and his manager, Jean Sievers, Wilson has an active presence online, with a constantly updated website and regular posts on Facebook and Twitter. “Great dinner out with the family last night at Arnie Morton’s. LOVE that Cajun Ribeye!” read a recent tweet.
The productive new phase comes amid renewed interest in his old band. Dennis will reportedly be immortalized on the big screen in The Drummer, a dramatization of the fast-living Beach Boy’s final years, from the recording of his lauded 1977 solo album Pacific Ocean Blue to his drowning death six years later.
The film will go into production in January, and is just one event planned around the Beach Boys’ 50th anniversary next year. Capitol Records is also mulling over archival music releases.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
What’s really going on under all that hair (plus PHOTOS)
The sign on the door says “Mozart,” but it’s a safe bet that Wolfgang Amadeus never had a dressing room equipped with leather recliners, a super-sized flat-screen TV and an Xbox console. Nor, presumably, did his tour rider call for loaves of Wonder Bread, Cool Ranch Doritos, Fruit Roll-Ups and candy Swedish Fish.
Still, something is missing. Justin Bieber’s mom, Pattie Mallette, looks at the choice of Pop Tarts—strawberry and apple strudel—and clucks, “Where are the grape ones?” before scurrying off down the hall. The day has enough complications already. Pop’s reigning prodigy is suffering greatly from Denver’s thin mountain air. Dizzy with a splitting headache, the Stratford, Ont., teen has been snarling at anyone brave enough to enter his darkened tour bus, pull back the Spider-Man bedsheets, and try to wake him for a scheduled 2:30 p.m. interview.
By John Intini - Tuesday, November 24, 2009 at 10:45 AM - 2 Comments
Kids’ choirs – and not just the fake one on TV – are suddenly centre stage
As well as being a member of the choir backing up Dead Man’s Bones in Vancouver last month, Jane Agyeman was picked to perform a solo, a cover of Cher’s Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down). Fully aware of who the packed house had paid to see – the band is fronted by Academy Award-nominated actor Ryan Gosling – Agyeman wasn’t expecting much more than a polite response, like at an elementary school concert, she says, when “the crowd claps because it’s mandatory.” So it came as a bit of a shock when the club erupted with applause following her four minutes alone in the spotlight. And the Georgia Straight’s review of the show, while generous to Gosling, credited the Grade 11 student at North Vancouver’s Carson Graham secondary school with having “turned in the night’s most killer performance.”
Being upstaged by a kid from the choir is something Gosling has been setting himself up for this fall. On the band’s self-titled debut, which came out last month, Dead Man’s Bones is joined by the Silverlake Conservatory of Music’s children’s choir. And at every tour stop, the band selected a local chorus, painted the members’ faces like ghosts, and took them on stage as backup. When asked by a journalist from Pitchfork what they hoped to achieve by including the kids, Gosling offered a rambling, but poignant response: “You know when you’re a kid and you get crayons and papers and just draw whatever you want and it’s just a bunch of messy lines, but to you it makes sense, and then they put it on the fridge? From that point on, you’re always trying to get back on the fridge. We wanted to get back to that place before we were trying to make the fridge. We wanted to work with people who hadn’t been affected in that way yet.”
The guys in Dead Man’s Bones aren’t the only ones trying to capture a bit of that magic. Aside, perhaps, from Whoopi Goldberg’s turn in Sister Act, choirs have never been more centre stage in pop culture than they are right now. The soundtrack for Where the Wild Things Are features Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and 16 untrained children’s voices. A Grade 5 chorus at New York City’s PS22 regularly captures the YouTube generation’s attention (12 million views and counting) with covers of modern-day pop songs, and counts Beyoncé, Rihanna and Lady Gaga as fans. The Choir, an award-winning BBC reality show about a choirmaster who tries to turn inexperienced, and often reluctant, students on to song, has proven incredibly popular in the U.K. (TVO is airing all three episodes of season one on Jan. 1). And then, of course, there’s Glee. Fox’s massive hit, about a high school show choir, has 8.6 million tuning in every week. And the show’s chart-topping music—including covers of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ and Beyoncé’s Halo—has sold more than 2.6 million downloads on iTunes. At the risk of being stuffed in a locker for saying it, choirs are, well, cool.