Pop & Hiss
The L.A. Times music blog
Director Mark Romanek defends Taylor Swift's 'Shake It Off' video

Director Mark Romanek suggests Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt watch the new Taylor Swift video “Shake It Off,” which the hip-hop artist publicly renounced for reinforcing racial stereotypes.

In a Q&A with Vulture, Romanek, who directed such high-profile videos as Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” No Doubt’s “Hella Good” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” says that Sweatshirt has missed the point of Swift’s latest video, which shows her attempting to fit in alongside various types of dancers, from ballet and Lady Gaga-esque pop to a chorus line of twerkers.

“I'm a fan of his and I think he's a really interesting artist,” Romanek said.  “But he stated clearly that he hadn't seen the video and didn't even intend to watch it. So, respectfully, that sort of invalidates his observations from the get-go. And it's this one uninformed tweet that got reported on and rehashed, which started this whole ‘controversy.’

“We simply choose styles of dance that we thought would be popular and amusing and cast the...

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Talib Kweli argues with CNN anchor over Ferguson, Mo., coverage

J. Cole, Nelly and Talib Kweli are a few of the high-profile rappers who’ve turned up in Ferguson, Mo., in recent days to join protests over the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown.

On Thursday, Kweli challenged CNN anchor and reporter Don Lemon on camera about the cable news network’s coverage of the protests. “Media has done a horrible job in getting the story out there the right way,” Kweli said.

Kweli went on to say that CNN was not accurately reporting on the actions of protesters by placing the onus on the crowds rather than the militarized police force for the violence that has ensued.

Don Lemon disagreed, and it turned into an argument.

Earlier this week Kweli joined masses of protesters on the streets who are there to draw attention to Brown’s death and raise awareness about police brutality in the black community. Brown, 18, was shot Aug. 9 by police Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis.

Brown himself was an aspiring rapper, which has been mentioned by...

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John Legend ponders 'What's Going On' at the Hollywood Bowl

Many layers of reenactment were at work when John Legend paid tribute to Marvin Gaye on Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl.

The concert’s centerpiece was a complete performance of “What’s Going On,” Gaye’s groundbreaking 1971 album, which Legend previously re-created two years ago at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Even then, the R&B star was marking the 40th anniversary of a show that Gaye himself had played at the same venue in 1972.

For those keeping score, that meant Wednesday’s production was a copy of a copy of a copy.

Yet few historical documents feel as current as “What’s Going On,” Gaye’s anguished response to the turmoil of the Vietnam era. Set over shimmering, elaborately orchestrated arrangements, the singer’s lyrics seem eerily well suited to recent events.

“Can’t find no work, can’t find no job, my friend,” Gaye sings, “Money is tighter than it’s ever been.” Even more pointed is a beseeching couplet from the album’s title track: “Picket lines and picket signs /...

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Jazz picks: Tom Harrell, World Stage tribute to Billy Higgins and more

 A selection of jazz and jazz-adjacent shows happening in the days ahead

Tom Harrell @ The Jazz Bakery's Moveable Feast

A richly melodic trumpeter who has performed with a roster of jazz royalty since the '70s that includes Horace Silver, Lee Konitz and Bill Evans, Tom Harrell performs from his album "Colors of a Dream," a pianoless sextet that features the talents of saxophonists Wayne Escoffery and Jaleel Shaw as well as a certain vocalist/bassist by the name of Esperanza Spalding. Zipper Concert Hall, The Colburn School, 200 S. Grand Ave. Thurs., 8:30 p.m., $35. www.jazzbakery.org.

Jeff Gauthier Goatette @ The Hammer Museum

Closing out the Hammer's always rewarding JazzPop outdoor concert series, violinist-composer Jeff Gauthier typically has his hands full as executive director for the Jazz Bakery as it continues work on its new home, but longtime observers of the L.A. jazz and improvised music scene also know him for his talents as a bandleader.

Here he presents the latest...

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Bob Eubanks on bringing the Beatles to Hollywood Bowl in 1964

A lot of folks in the music business talk about betting the house on a hunch, but veteran Top 40 deejay and TV show host Bob Eubanks is one who literally did just that when he arranged for the Beatles to play at the Hollywood Bowl 50 years ago.

That event is being celebrated this weekend with three nights of concerts at the Bowl curated by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics. Stewart will preside over a cross-genre bill with singers Martina McBride, Michelle Branch, Billy Ray Cyrus, Mary Lambert, Allen Stone and Vanessa Amorosi, who will re-create the Beatles' set list from that 1964 show and then offer up other Beatles tunes as well.

Eubanks and his former KRLA-AM (1110) cohort Dave Hull also will be on hand to share stories about their role in that show.

After the Beatles’ watershed performances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in February of ’64, the group announced it would undertake its first U.S. tour. Eubanks was part of the team of deejays at KRLA, one of the top rock and pop radio...

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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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