Pop Odds & Ends: Ariana Grande, Pharrell, Ke$ha and more

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I spend a lot of my idle time thinking about pop music. It’s just what I do. So, this recurring but irregular feature will be devoted to my scattered thoughts on the various happenings in the world of music. Shall we?

Oh great, another Nickelodeon actor-turned-singer. Except… She (Ariana Grande) can SING! And I mean really sing. Her range is, as many have already said it, reminiscent of Mariah Carey. And that’s the Mariah Carey of yesteryear, not the one who awkwardly lip-syncs to a backing track on American Idol. As a bonus, Grande’s song “The Way” (featuring the slightly sketchy Mac Miller) is one of the most enjoyable pop songs of the year so far.

The transition for Disney and Nickelodeon actors into pop stardom has been a notoriously tricky one. Jonas Brothers saw major early success but flamed out quickly when they aged out of their demographic too quickly. Selena Gomez has precious little singing ability and not much charisma to hide that fact. And Demi Lovato, while eventually triumphant, experienced some personal struggles on the road to the top of the charts. If Ariana Grande plans to succeed where the others failed, she’s on solid ground already. But she needs to work on her stage presence.

No blurred lines here…this song is a massive hit! Blue-Eyed Soul has seen an impressive resurgence this year, and not only from the expected source. Perspective: Justin Timberlake has not had a Hot 100 number one song yet this year. Robin Thicke has. That’s an unexpected turn of events, especially since Thicke seemed to be on the road to irrelevance before his funky single “Blurred Lines” reversed his course. Timberlake shouldn’t feel too threatened, though: his album sold nearly a million copies in its first week, he’s starring in the Coen Brothers film Inside Llewellyn Davis later this year, and “Mirrors” recently spent a month at the top of the Hot Radio Songs chart.

Can a rising “Blurred Lines” lift all boats? Since he was released from prison, T.I. has struggled mightily to reclaim his place in the rap world, but his last two albums haven’t produced any major hits. With his slick verse in “Blurred Lines,” the current number one song in the nation, T.I. might be able to regain mainstream acceptance. Stay tuned.

Three’s company. Usher just performed his Pharrell-produced track “Twisted” last week on The Voice. With the right promotion, this song could become a hit and finish off a Summer 2013 Pharrell Trifecta. And I hope it does. It’s a really good R&B song. And it gave Usher an opportunity to do splits and somersaults, always a sight.

The Voice boosts. Bruno Mars’ “Treasure” is currently lingering just outside the iTunes and Billboard Top 10. He’s performing the song on The Voice this Tuesday. Expect a significant bump for this terrific track.

The elephant in the room. We haven’t heard from Katy Perry lately. I’m betting she’ll drop a new single within the next couple of months. Will anyone be surprised if it shoots straight to number one? No, they will not.

Maybe it’s time to rethink that dollar sign? Ke$ha has had a rather disappointing year. Even though “Die Young” and “C’mon,” the first two singles from her latest album, are probably her least annoying pop songs ever, she hasn’t dominated the conversation to the same degree that she did back in the days of “Tik Tok” and “Your Love is My Drug.” Her record label is clearly desperate for a hit. They’ve engineered remixes of her will.i.am-produced track “Crazy Kids” featuring Pitbull, Juicy J and even Will himself. No luck so far. Interesting.

With that, I’ll open the floor. What are your thoughts on pop music these days? Feel free to comment and let me know! I’d love a different perspective.

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