Pop & Hiss
The L.A. Times music blog
Taylor Swift's catchy, tone-deaf 'Shake It Off'

In the opening moments of Taylor Swift’s new dance-heavy video for “Shake It Off,” mainstream America’s favorite singer thematically moves from white to black to gray, from ballerina to B-girl to modern dancer. 

Swift changes scenes playfully, clumsily working to keep up with her more practiced, graceful costars. She trips in her tutu, ogles short-short booty while gliding beneath splayed legs and leaps while dressed as a cheerleader.

Juggling outfits and approaches, Swift, 24, simultaneously introduces an Us vs. Them lyrical narrative in which she swats aside criticism like King Kong batting airplanes.

“The players gonna play, the haters gonna hate,” she sings of her detractors and/or ex-boyfriends, “but I’m just gonna shake.” She delivers the chorus with a joyful defiance. Don’t think. Dance. Stepping out on me? Play away. Getting yelled at by mom? Put your hands over your ears and start screaming “the haters gonna hate!”

Eight years into her remarkable run, “Shake It Off” presents...

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Nicki Minaj in 'Anaconda': She twerks hard for the money

An extended riff, more or less, on "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-A-Lot, Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda" felt like a bit of a throwaway when the song appeared early this month.

The words? Not as fierce as those in her and Beyoncé's remix of "Flawless." And the sound? Not as surprising as that of "Pills N Potions," the tender electro-soul ballad that Minaj put out in May.

But if the rapper was holding back in "Anaconda," perhaps that's because she was reserving her effort for the song's music video.

Posted late Tuesday on YouTube, the clip is an elaborate (and very raunchy) production number linking several different episodes.

First we see Minaj leading a crew of scantily clad twerkers in a steamy jungle scene. Then the action moves inside a grass hut, where Minaj plays both an aerobics instructor and a French maid armed with a can of whipped cream.

Finally, there's a sequence in which the rapper gives a lap dance to her pal Drake, who appears entirely overwhelmed by the gesture.

It's a lot to...

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ZZ Top, Jeff Beck make hoax 'Sixteen Tons' performance a reality

Far too few real-world examples of life-imitating-art-imitating-life crop up to resist one from last week’s ZZ Top-Jeff Beck show at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

At earlier shows, in which each act did separate sets then came together at the end for a few numbers, they played ZZ classics including “La Grange” and “Tush” and some other artists’ hits, such as Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock.”

But when they got to L.A., the vintage chestnut they turned toward was Tennessee Ernie Ford’s 1955 folk-country classic “Sixteen Tons.”

The reason? That’s where things get fun.

Although this outing is the first tour the blues-rock Texas trio has shared with the English guitar hero, they took to the stage together for the first time in 2009, at Madison Square Garden for the 25th-annniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert. 

For that show, they played ZZ Top’s “Rough Boy,” which Beck told Pop & Hiss last week is his favorite ZZ Top song, and Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” a song ZZ Top included...

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Haim releases cameo-packed video for 'My Song 5'

It's hard to imagine many musicians who wouldn't want to hang out with the Haim sisters. So it's not surprise that their new video for "My Song 5" features a huge roster of indie, hip-hop and pop guest appearances.

The song is one of the darker, more electronics-driven cuts from their smash debut "Days Are Gone" (it also features A$AP Ferg as a guest).

In the clip the single, directed by Dugan O'Neal, the band swings by a fictional rowdy talk show hosted by "SNL's" Vanessa Bayer. The lighting, the haircuts and pastel-hued trashiness will bring back fond memories for anyone who ever spent a long day home sick from school in front of the TV in the late '90s.

But the real fun is in spotting all the familiar musical faces in the crowd. Among them: Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig, Kesha, rapper Big Sean, electro-pop artist Grimes, Haim's producer Ariel Rechtshaid, and even Mom and Pop Haim. 

Haim is riding high on the strength of a lauded Coachella appearance and two recent sold-out Wiltern...

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Listen: Leonard Cohen sings 'Almost Like the Blues,' from new album

As Taylor Swift goes, so goes ... Leonard Cohen?

Perhaps not in most matters. But when it comes to announcing new work, at least, the two pop stars are employing similar approaches this week.

On Monday, Swift said she'd finished an album and, as if to prove it, put the lead single, "Shake It Off," on YouTube.

Now Cohen has followed suit with "Almost Like the Blues," the first sampling from a studio disc to be released by Columbia Records on Sept. 23, two days after the vaunted Canadian singer-songwriter turns 80.

"I saw some people starving / There was murder, there was rape," he croaks in his customary deadpan over a typically refined lounge-folk groove; "Their villages were burning / They were trying to escape."

Co-written and produced by Patrick Leonard, the upcoming album, titled "Popular Problems," is the follow-up to 2012's "Old Ideas," which itself followed Cohen's return to touring after a long break from the road.

"Yet again, Leonard Cohen has broken musical boundaries with...

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'New Basement Tapes' album of lost Bob Dylan songs due Nov. 11

“Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes,” an ambitious new project in which a handful of contemporary musicians have completed unfinished songs by Bob Dylan nearly half a century old, has been set for release on Nov. 11.

Additionally, a video for one of the newly minted songs, “Nothing To It” -- a lyric video incorporating Dylan’s handwritten lyrics -- is premiering Tuesday on Vevo.

The album is a collaboration among producer-musician T Bone Burnett and singer-songwriters Elvis Costello, Mumford & Sons’ Marcus Mumford, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Rhiannon Giddens and Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith.

The team has taken lyrics that Dylan wrote in 1967 while working in upstate New York in seclusion with members of the Band and set them to music.

“These are not B-level Dylan lyrics,” Burnett told The Times in March while recording of the album. “They’re lyrics he just never got around to finishing.”

Dylan and the Band wrote dozens of songs during that period, among...

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Big Star to be feted by members of REM, Posies, Aimee Mann, others

With each passing year, the legacy of Memphis guitar pop band Big Star grows as new generations get tipped to, and inevitably fall in love with, the band's classic three albums. Records that resonate as much today as when released in the 1970s, "#1 Record," "Radio City" and "Third/Sister Lovers" are lovely, sweet post-Beatles guitar pop records driven by a central tension: Collaborators Alex Chilton and Chris Bell were both battling, and driven to explore, thematically dark places while longing for first-crush exuberance.  

Those who never saw Chilton play Big Star songs before his death in 2010 have a chance for a close brush on Saturday, September 27, when Big Star co-founder Jody Stephens, Big Star touring members Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of the Posies, the dBs' Chris Stamey, guitarist Mitch Easter (Let's Active, "Murmur" producer) and others team to perform two of the band's albums, "#1 Record" and "Third" in their entirety.

Joining said backing band will be a wildcard's worth...

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Listen: Taylor Swift releases 'Shake It Off,' from new album '1989'

"It's finally time to tell some secrets," Taylor Swift wrote Monday on Twitter. Then she took to the talk-show-like confines of a live stream and began telling them.

The big takeaway: Swift has completed a new album, her follow-up to 2012's characteristically blockbusting "Red." The record is called "1989," which was the year she was born. It comes out Oct. 27.

And, perhaps most important, there's a single, which you can hear this very instant.

Co-written and co-produced by the singer with Max Martin and Shellback (the same team behind her hit "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"), "Shake It Off" is an uptempo pop song in which Swift assures the haters and the heartbreakers that they're no match for her.

"I keep cruising / Can't stop, won't stop moving," she sings over percussive horn jabs, "It's like I got this music in my mind saying it's gonna be all right."

Swift also released a music video Monday for "Shake It Off."

Directed by Mark Romanek, it has the singer playing several...

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Smokey Robinson breezes through all-star duets on 'Smokey & Friends'

Gather your best-known hits and divvy them up among your pals and admirers: It’s become a go-to move for musicians of a certain age, including John Fogerty, Tony Bennett and Lionel Richie, who scored an unexpected No. 1 album in 2012 with “Tuskegee.”

So it was only a matter of time until Smokey Robinson, the R&B legend with a trove of classic tunes, got into the act. But if the all-star duets record is beginning to feel like a legacy-burnishing obligation, Robinson, 74, sidesteps that vibe on the breezy “Smokey & Friends,” a would-be museum piece with some real air in it.

That’s partly due to the fact that Robinson still sounds like a singer on active duty -- no surprise to anyone who heard his solid (if significantly lower-profile) “Time Flies When You’re Having Fun,” from 2009. Even better was 2006’s dreamy “Timeless Love,” his crack at another established old-timer’s project: the standards album.

Here he harmonizes beautifully with Mary J. Blige in “Being With You” and floats so...

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John Legend teases Marvin Gaye show, talks Ferguson unrest

The most captivating moment of John Legend’s private showcase for KCRW listeners on Friday didn’t happen during his burning ballad “All Of Me.” Instead, a Marvin Gaye classic did the trick.

The R&B crooner covered "What's Going On" to tease Wednesday’s salute to Gaye at the Hollywood Bowl. The cover served another purpose, however, with Legend using the song as a platform to address the growing civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo., after a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old.

“In this time of turmoil in America, and the world, ‘What’s Going On’ is appropriate,” Legend told the approximately 150 fans at Apogee Studio in Santa Monica before his performance.

Gaye’s meditation on social ills, itself inspired by an incident of police brutality and violence during a protest by antiwar activists, has maintained its urgent relevance more than 40 years after its release. And Legend’s fiery piano-led performance of the track, a warm-up of sorts for Wednesday's...

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Watch Beyonce, Jay Z go 'Bang Bang' in trailer for HBO special

The Carters must really love the Sinatras.

Encouraged perhaps by her husband Jay Z's openly Frank-style swagger, Beyoncé channels a serious Nancy vibe in a trailer for the couple's upcoming HBO concert special, singing "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" over a tremolo guitar line similar to the one featured in the younger Sinatra's 1966 version of the tune.

Set to premiere Sept. 20, HBO's "On the Run" will be taped next month in Paris, where Jay Z and Beyoncé are to bring their shared summer tour for two concerts Sept. 12 and 13 at the Stade de France.

Earlier this month the lavish road show stopped at the Rose Bowl before concluding a U.S. run at San Francisco's AT&T Park.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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Pacific Festival brings the rave to Newport Beach

Over the last decade, raves in L.A. have moved from decrepit warehouses and rural fields into enormous festivals booked by America’s largest concert promoters. Big, remote electronic dance music events once tinged with danger and adventure have become as mainstreamed as catching the Stones at Staples Center.

This explains how we now have a dance music festival at an Orange County beach resort. Pacific Festival, an electronic-focused show at the Newport Dunes vacation complex in Newport Beach, held its fifth installment Saturday.

The non-seediness of it all actually felt refreshing.

Pacific Fest was much less bachelor-party-decadent than a Vegas day club, and the event lacked the pseudo-spirituality of the Electric Daisy Carnival or Lightning in a Bottle festivals. The musical lineup, including headliners Holy Ghost!, Poolside and Miami Horror, was populist enough for Newport Beach bros but tasteful enough to lure more discerning fans. 

As outdoor music venues go, it’s hard to beat a...

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