Consider the Alternative
Sam Stryker | Tuesday, November 13, 2012
I bet your mother told you that it is never a bad idea to try new things. When it comes to female pop stars, I’m going to tell you the same. With Lana Del Rey’s release of “Paradise,” her third EP, music fans get to enjoy an alternative to the regular rotation of female pop stars. Even I will admit there is more to life than Lady Gaga and Ke$ha. In fact, it’s pretty easy to find some innovative pop songstresses who will treat your earlobes to their delightful sonic confections. And let’s face it, you’re pretty basic if you aren’t making an effort to move beyond what’s playing on the radio. Whether you want to hit the dance floor or satiate your sadness on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a rom-com, there is a pop star out there to suit any one of your moods. Here’s a list of the top female pop stars that you should be listening to but probably aren’t already.
Lana Del Rey
The Kristen Stewart of the music industry, Del Rey has been releasing music for several years now, but she really burst onto the music scene earlier this year. You may already know her for two reasons: first, there is her critically lambasted performance on “Saturday Night Live” in January. Second is the release of her album “Born to Die,” one of the best-selling albums of the year. Del Rey (real name: Lizzy Grant) is sort of like what Notre Dame is to the rest of college football – you either really, really love her or think her act is manufactured, kitschy trash. Either way, she’s talented and has a voice that can be best described as melancholy and pain-driven, but in a strangely addicting way. Normally I like my pop music up-tempo and fun, but Del Rey’s self-described “Hollywood sadcore” style actually makes feeling the blues enjoyable, if that is possible. With Del Rey, feeling sad is fun. Her public image matches her “gangster Nancy Sinatra” retro music style, as Del Rey is a fashion icon, serving as a model for H&M. Ever the lightning rod of controversy, Del Rey’s latest music video for the song “Ride” has been criticized for being pro-prostitution. Ignore the hullabaloo and check out her music. I promise you won’t regret it.
Yes, yes, yes. Adele may be the power vocalist darling of the U.K., but Cheryl Cole takes the title of pop-whiz sweetheart and it’s a surprise she hasn’t made it big in the States. If you like to dance, Cheryl is your girl. Cole very nearly broke on to the American music scene when she was hired by Simon Cowell to be one of the judges on the first season of “The X Factor.” Unfortunately, something went wrong and Chezza, as she is affectionately known in the United Kingdom, was unceremoniously dumped from the show before it even made it to air. No matter, because this girl has talent. Think of her as the British version of Britney Spears – gorgeous, edgy, a TV star (she also hosted the British version of “The X Factor”) and a one-woman dance-jam factory. She also is a press sweetheart and frequent paparazzi target in the U.K., having survived a messy breakup with Chelsea star Ashley Cole. Originally a member of the all-female group Girls Aloud, Cheryl has busted out with a solo career of her own, releasing such hits as “Fight for This Love” and “Promise This.” My personal favorite Chezza jam is “Call My Name,” currently the most-played song on my iTunes at 370 plays and counting, off her recently released album, “A Million Lights.” Produced by hit-master extraordinaire Calvin Harris, I guarantee if “Call My Name” can’t get you up and dancing, then nothing will. My biggest wish is that Cheryl becomes a Club Fever mainstay, but I’m not holding out for that any time soon. Additionally, fans of Girls Aloud can look forward to some new music, as the group recently announced a new single and a reunion tour to occur next year in honor of the band’s 10-year anniversary.
Technically not a female star vocalist per se, Alphabeat is a Danish pop group fronted by singer Stine Bramsen (a girl, for those who are not familiar with Danish first names). Their style is mainly retro 1980s and 90s retro pop and is flirty, infectious and fun. Listening to Alphabeat makes you feel like you’re in an episode of “Miami Beach” at some hot nightclub on South Beach in the ’80s. You may feel cool listening to them, but they have some substance to their act as well – this is no gimmicky group. One can hear the talent seeping from the group’s music, especially with Bramsen’s soaring vocals. Be sure to check out “Hole in My Heart,” “The Spell” and “Boyfriend.” The band has also done a nasty cover/mashup of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and “Telephone.” The group just released their third studio album, “Express Non-Stop.” Of the acts on this list, Alphabeat is probably the least well-known, so jump on the Danish bandwagon before it gets full.
Sweden is so hot right now (metaphorically speaking, that is – the country is probably buried under three feet of snow and enjoying two hours of daily sunshine.) From “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” to Swedish House Mafia to IKEA to H&M, this Scandinavian nation is playing a big role in American popular culture. Robyn is part of this Swedish invasion, though amazingly enough she has been releasing music since the late 1990s. You may have heard some of her hits such as “Call Your Girlfriend” or “Dancing on My Own,” but this Scandinavian pixie has a deep catalog of catchy tracks. She may not be quite as up-tempo as some of the other artists on this list, but her songs build and grip you. In a way, they mean something more to the listener than just any other song, and that is a skill that cannot be taught. Robyn performed last December on “Saturday Night Live” and has opened for Katy Perry and Coldplay. Be sure to check out her “Body Talk” series of three mini-albums, released in 2010.
Marina and the Diamonds
Now here is something you probably thought you never thought you would see: a Welsh pop singer-songwriter. Born Marina Diamandis, Marina and the Diamonds’ most recent album “Electra Heart” went to the top of the charts in the United Kingdom, but she hasn’t enjoyed the same success stateside. However, clear some space on your iTunes because this girl can sing. Be sure to check out tracks “How to be a Heartbreaker,” “Primadonna” and “Homewrecker” off her latest album. If you can’t tell from her song titles, Marina is sassy and empowering and provides some great jams to dance to like a wild thing. Like Chezza, her music is guaranteed to get you off the couch and to bust some serious moves and like Del Rey, Marina also has a fantastic sense of style that only adds to her pop-star persona. Also, a note of interest: “the Diamonds” part of her stage name does not refer to her backing band but rather her fans. You’ll want to become a Diamond as soon as you can.
Contact Sam Stryker at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.