I bet all you Timberhaters who predicted Justin would flop after "Suit & Tie" feel dumb now that you heard the album! Unless you don't like grown and sexy music to make babies to, in which case I'm not sure we can be friends anymore. There was a worldwide collective sigh of relief after Justin dropped his second single from The 20/20 Experience. "Mirrors" is considered a safer bet than "Suit & Tie" even though it's more than eight minutes long. Maybe it's telling that Justin's big love song about his ideal partner compares her to a mirror by which he may better look at himself, but look, I choose to interpret it as a sweet "I'll Be Your Mirror"–type thing. As for all the people who thought Justin should bench Timbaland because his beats are tired, do you still like those Aaliyah songs? Because Timbaland is still the guy who made them, so sit down. Sure, it's a little embarrassing to hear Justin sing so earnestly about love and know it's about Jessica Biel, but it's exactly what we all love about Justin: He commits! And then he gives 100 percent. If your heart doesn't crack when Timberlake's voice does at 4:35, I can't help you. No one can. Grade: A Best YouTube Comment: "Move over Bieber, Daddys Home." —Drew Carrey
From the intro I thought this was going to be a Lynyrd Skynyrd–type Southern-rock barn burner. Instead it settles down into a slow-paced last dance at last call underneath a star cluster of disco balls. Grade: B- Best YouTube Comment: "I don't understand how ppl can hate country music. All it takes is giving it a chance dang it!" —HelenJaguey
1. The Barden Bellas ft. The Treblemakers, "Riff Off: Mickey/Like A Virgin/Hit Me With Your Best Shot/S&M/Let's Talk About Sex/I'll Make Love To You/Feels Like The First Time/No Diggity" (Pitch Perfect)
Pitch Perfect, Kay Cannon's comedy about college a cappella groups, has quickly established itself as a cult hit worthy of sitting alongside slumber party classics like Bring It On, Empire Records, and Grease. Personally, even the best a capella rendition of a song just makes me want to listen to the actual song. Of the various medleys and covers in Pitch Perfect, the sex song medley from the "Riff Off" sequence is the clear standout. And let's all just agree to put Rebel Wilson in everything from now on, OK?
Best YouTube Comment: "idk about anyone, but I got really excited when Ester Dean (Cynthia Rose) sang S&M…considering it's her song that she wrote for Rihanna" — Kaylaa1DAllstar
Wande Coal interpolates Ini Kamoze's "Here Comes the Hotstepper" on a beat by Don Jazzy to dicuss booty calls. Coal made the move from Mo'Hits records to Don Jazzy's new label Mavin Records when Jazzy and his former business partner D'banj split up. I like the horror movie theme chimes, sneaky bass line, and the kick itself, but there is so much pitch-shifted gravy on the vocals.
It's only a few weeks until the annual International Soca Monarch competition, held since 1993 on the Friday during Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. Artists compete in two categories, Soca Monarch (uptempo) and Groovy Soca Monarch (slower tempos, added in 2001). Bunji won Soca Monarch in '02, '04, '05, and '08. Bunji and fellow favorite Fay Ann Lyons-Alvarez unexpectedly dropped out of the competition a few days ago, objecting to some sketchy legal language in the contracts. Bunji and Fay Ann are the royal couple of soca, since Fay Ann's father is soca legend Superblue (see below). Bunji is the crown prince of the ragga soca genre, which is the Trinidadian equivalent of Jamaican dancehall. Fans are upset that "Differentology" won't be up for Soca Monarch, since it was widely considered a front-runner. Nothing better than a melancholy song about partying.
Best YouTube Comment: "I've said it a million times, soca sounds better in the minor key. This song takes a very strange key of F# minor but its wonderfully produced and arranged." — CGollum
Gary Clark Jr. is a guitarist and singer based in Austin who is typically described as "the future of Texas blues." At his best he resembles his heroes Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. At his worst he sounds more like Lenny Kravitz and John Mayer. The dude has range, that's for damn sure. He starred in the John Sayles movie Honeydripper, guested live with Alicia Keys and Dave Matthews, and has performed at virtually every major music festival. While his vocals are often kind of bland, his guitar playing can be scorching. His latest album, Blak and Blu, is Clark's first major label release, and he has ramped up the soul, rock, and adult-contemporary influences to broaden his audience and appeal. There are those of us who would rather just hear him kill blues solos all day, but you can't blame Clark for wanting to show off his eclectic skills or trying to edge into the audiences for John Mayer and John Legend. He has genuine talent and ambition to burn.
Best YouTube Comment: "saw him play with the rolling stones live on television. dude is killer." — TheSnowMiser111
The Piano Guys are a group of musician dudes from Utah who made their name with YouTube videos that are like a Michael Jackson–Mozart mash-up and a Star Wars parody in which cellos stand in for lightsabers. They signed with Sony based off their viral success, thus completing the ringtone cycle. Here they cover One Direction's biggest hit by gang-banging a piano.
Best YouTube Comment: "honestly I wouldn't do that to my piano" — AnnieYu
Steamy europop with a robotic intro from Jolin Tsai. The video is a tumblr girl fantasia of floor-length pastel mermaid hair, Glinda gowns, Britney-type bubblegum, and the lavish glittery aesthetics of Pierre et Gilles. Jolin Tsai is the biggest female pop star in Taiwan, and the second biggest overall (after Jay Chou). This is her contribution to the ever-growing canon of pop LGBT anthems modeled after Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful." Be sure to check out the video for "Dr. Jolin," where she helps a man in a leather harness give birth.
Los Ilegales are a Dominican trio who make merenhouse (short for merenguehouse), a subgenre combining hip-hop, dancehall, merengue, and house music pioneered in '90s New York by Dominican Americans. While this song starts out sounding like the pop-house that dominates top 40 radio, it quickly switches into a catchy merengue groove dotted with electronic sirens.
A friend of mine has dubbed this genre "suspenders rock," but I have also heard it called "beard rock." Mumford & Sons are a folky boy band from England that make warm woolen songs and wear vests. They come off here a bit like a steampunk Coldplay playing this uplifting dirge to an adoring crowd at Red Rocks.
Best YouTube Comment: "There's nothing quite like watching thousands of people moshing to well-played acoustic instruments and folk music :D" — PhoenixFlynn
The Stray Birds are three collaborators from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who released their debut album earlier this year. All three band members — Maya de Vitry, Oliver Craven, and bassist Charles Muench — grew up steeped in folk, country, and bluegrass traditions. They believe that performing live at diverse venues is the core of the folk music experience and tour as much as possible.
Best YouTube Comment: "obsessed" — NatalieSciadini
Anita Baker covers Tyrese's hit from 1999 and makes it very much her own. I really hoped this would be a cover of Massive Attack's "Lately," because Ms. Baker would absolutely kill it doing Shara Nelson's part. Anita Baker is a national treasure, a Detroit Lions fan, and one of my favorite celebrities on Twitter. The first label she was ever on was called Ariola Records, which makes me laugh because I am an idiot. Last night she simultaneously live-tweeted the debate and the Lions-Bears game and it was glorious. She makes use of caps lock when appropriate, loves to drink cups of coffee, and always ends with her initials, "ab." A sample tweet from Anita: "FREE GIFT!! Limited Time offer! Get it NOW. While it lasts!! His GIFT...of This Brand New Day!! :) ab"
Best YouTube Comment: "The Queen of Quiet Storm —AnneBoleynMarquess
"My Way" has never been my favorite Sinatra song by a long shot, but there's no denying that Frank consistently ripped the sky open with his live performances of this Paul Anka setting of the French song "Comme d'habitude." After a Florida dinner with Frank and some of his heavies at which Sinatra told Anka "I'm quitting the business. I'm sick of it. I'm getting the hell out," Anka wrote the song from his imagined version of Frank's point of view. Sinatra recorded it in 1968, and it became an instant classic and a crown jewel in his repertoire. You've been marvelous, absolutely marvelous. Now get the hell out of my house!
Best YouTube Comment: "best song of all times!!!!!!!!!!" —pedrourdemales
The London-based self-described "gentle giant of house music" also boasts of having "arguably the deepest vocals in the music industry today." His voice doesn't seem that deep here. I mean it's low, but not Barry White deep by any means. Low Deep T is the stage name of TJ Cases, a producer and songwriter who cut his teeth in the 2-step U.K. garage scene and runs labels Cut&Play and Cut House. "Casablanca" pulls elements of Afrobeat into icy house as Low Deep T relates a story of love lost in Morocco, his voice a husky pang of regret.
Best YouTube Comment: "this guy has the voice of a hobo" — FlorinVasile
The couple compare themselves to Bonnie and Clyde, Romeo and Juliet, and Jekyll and Hyde. The last one I find especially troubling for its implication that the couple is a split personality (with one evil personality), despite the fact that the first two couples weren't exactly very functional either. The song is generic aggro bubblegum of the kind that hurts my head.