The 2014 Bobby James Awards: Music + Top 50 Songs

Welcome to the third installment of the 2014 Bobby James Awards. This post will serve as a celebration of music – so get your comments ready (for below) and pull up your iTunes or Google Music account, because I have a feeling there will be a great deal of music in my Top 50 that you’re unfamiliar with…

Alternative Group: Bastille

Bastille

Bastille experienced US and cross-over success in 2014. The breakout London-based band has had a lasting hit (“Pompeii”) on the radio and has been used in promotion/in connection with the DreamWorks animated film Peabody and Sherman. Undeniably, Bastille has made a name for themselves with American audiences. Their second album, All This Bad Blood, has earned Bastille a notable following, as it re-issued previously released tracks (“Pompeii) with new, original work (“Laughter Lines”) and covers of some celebrated and known songs like “Of the Night” (the Euro-Dance hit by Corona) and “What Would You Do” (originally made popular by City High).

Runner Up: Anberlin


Male Country Artist: Sam Hunt

Sam Hunt

Never before has a debuting artist earned an “artist of the year” category, but Sam Hunt has done something different. With his debut album Montevallo, Sam Hunt pushes the boundaries of country music. His unique blend of spoken/rapped verse and tender vocals, have him poised to become the next big country star. What’s better? Hunt, has a distinguishable voice that separates him from the plethora of similar-sounding, party-anthem wielding men of country. He has crossover appeal and could easily foray into soul/r&b, pop or jazz.

Runner Up: Luke Bryan


Female Pop Artist: Beyoncé

2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Roaming Show

With a surprise album (Beyoncé) dropping at the end of 2013, Beyoncé was poised for success in 2014. Touring or not, “‘yoncé” was one name on your lips. From the elevator scandal involving her husband Jay Z and sister Solange, to rumors of divorce and pregnancy, “Beyoncé” saturated popular culture. Not too mention, she released several abstract – and wildly sexy – music videos and found great success with hits like “Partition,” “Pretty Hurts,” “7/11″ and “Flawless (ft. Nicki Minaj).” With Queen Bey quietly atop the throne in 2014, it was hard for other women to compete.

Runner Up: Taylor Swift


Dance/Electro Artists: Alexandra Stan

Alexandra Stan

Following a one-year delay and her emergence from an assault and court battle with her ex-manager, Romanian dance vocalist Alexandra Stan (“Mr. Saxobeat,” “Lemonade”) announced her second album, Unlocked, for release in 2014. Stan joined an anti-violence campaign and released, “Thanks for Leaving,” as her return anthem. The catchy beat was followed by easy-to-envision club tracks like “Cherry Pop,” “Dance,” “Give Me Your Everything” and “Vanilla Chocolat.” In addition to Stan’s dramatic return single and music video, she’s produced several futuristic and boldly bright music videos (my favorite’s for “Give Me Your Everything,” which has a 70s Sci-Fi feel). Welcome back Mrs. Saxobeat!

Runner Up: Tiesto


Pure Vocalist(s): Pentatonix

Pentatonix

A cappella group Pentatonix takes the “pure vocal” crown this year with their holiday album, “That’s Christmas To Me.” Their pure, soaring and impressive vocals were unmatched by anyone in music, especially on tracks like “Mary Did You Know?” and the “White Winter Hymnal.” In 2014 alone, Pentatonix released 5 albums/cover albums. Their body of work has grown to include songs like “Say Something” and “Royals,” and with each release, they stamp their signature vocals on every track and offer a unique perspective.

Runner Up: David Dunn


Female Country Artist: Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton

Forty-two(!) albums into her career (Blue Smoke) and Dolly Parton is still raking in recognition. Perhaps because of her sweet vulnerability and signature voice or quite simply just because of her ability to write songs people want to sing. Whatever it is – Dolly’s still got it, ’cause she never lost it. In my opinion, she’s still reigning over country music – and producing/releasing singles and albums that are on par, if not better, with her peers and counterparts. Dolly Parton is an icon in the music industry and tracks like “Blue Smoke,” “Unlikely Angel,” “Miss You-Miss Me,” “Lover du Jour,” and “Banks of the Ohio” showcase exactly why.

Runner Up: Miranda Lambert


Breakthrough Artist: Iggy Azalea

Iggy Azalea

Australian rapper and model, Iggy Azalea dropped her debut album The New Classic in April. Before and after it’s anticipated release, Azalea was establishing her superstar status with modest successes “Work” and “Bounce” before blowing up with “Fancy” (f. Charlie XCX) and “Black Widow” (ft. Rita Ora). She’s clashed publicly with several rap superstars (most notably Snoop Dogg) on her way to becoming the talk of the town (“Booty” video with Jennifer Lopez, anyone?). In November, she dropped Reclassified and had collaborated with Jennifer Hudson (“Trouble”), T.I. (“Change Your Life”) and Ellie Goulding (“Heavy Crown”), while releasing “Beg For It” (ft. MO). I don’t think debut years come any bigger than this…I-G-G-Y.

Runner Up: Jaymes Young


Male Pop Artist: Sam Smith

Sam Smith

Tell me you haven’t heard “Stay With Me” or “I’m Not the Only One” from British artist Sam Smith – and I’ll say you’re lying. Maybe you’ve heard “Lay Me Down” or “Money On My Mind?”  You may not be totally familiar with his name/image – but you will be. He’s got one of the most distinctive voices on the radio – and he dominated the pop conversation in 2014 with his soaring vocals and revelation of sexuality. What’s even more amazing? He’s just beginning, In the Lonely Hour, is his debut album and he’s netted 6 Grammy Award nominations including Album, Record and Song of the year! Un-touch-able.

Runner Up: Phillip Phillips


Mainstream Group: Fall Out Boy

Fall Out Boy

Fall Out Boy followed up their smash hit from 2013 (“My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark”), with even more commercial – and catchy – success. From their lead single (“Centuries”) off their upcoming album American Beauty/American Psycho, to their collaboration (“Immortals”) with Marvel and Disney for Big Hero 6, the band experienced increased visibility and attention. If “Centuries” is any indication, Fall Out Boy seems poised for another great year.

Runner Up: Maroon 5


Collaboration of the Year: “Somethin’ Bad” – Miranda Lambert & Carrie Underwood

Somethin Bad - Miranda Lamber and Carrie Underwood

Every fan of country music has a fantasy – and that’s for the pairing of friends Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood. For this duet, Lambert and Underwood embraced their bad girl sides to deliver a song that’s like a “real-life Thelma and Louise.” In order to fit in – or to outshine – or to even make a mockery of “bro-country” music, Somethin’ Bad’s lyrics and music video resemble Ridley Scott’s 1991 feature Thelma & Louise. Some have questioned the meaning of the song, which runs less than three minutes – others have seen it’s value after spending a year listening to Underwood and Lambert talk about inequality in country music. Remember when Carrie Underwood said men can sing about beer and partying, while all sounding similar and having a hit? She said girls had to work harder to make music – to stand out – and to be distinct. “Somethin’ Bad” shows girls can be vague and have a hit, too!

Runner Up: “Black Widow” – Iggy Azalea ft. Rita Ora


Music Video of the Year: “Partition (Explicit Video)” by Beyoncé

The unannounced album Beyoncé has proven to be quite the success for Queen Bey. From the album came this exceptional – and wildly sexy – music video. Where other artists try to go – Beyoncé goes with ease and grace. “Partition” is a fluid experience filled with reflective surfaces, draping gold and elaborate costuming, an awesome blend of choreography and lighting effects and female empowerment. Beyoncé owns her sexuality – and everything she does, it might sound like it’s for him, but it’s really for her. The staged fantasy aspect is a nice touch as well – it begs the question: Why did Beyoncé ever step away from acting? …and do we even need to talk about the exquisite silhouette? Nope.

Runner up: (tie) “Booty” by Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea, “Give Me Your Everything” by Alexandra Stan


Album of the Year: In the Lonely Hour – Sam Smith

In the Lonely Hour - Sam Smith

Sam Smith’s debut year has been fantastic, to say the least. His album, In the Lonely Hour (Deluxe Version), has spawned many popular hits like “Stay With Me” and “I’m Not the Only One.” His songs are sure to be well-known – and this album will have staying/lasting power. He will become the male version of Adele – and when history looks back to the first fifteen years of the new millennium, a new – and better – British Invasion will be noted and discussed. Because of this album – and his soulful pop voice and knack for ballads – Sam Smith will be one of the artists mentioned. Now the wait comes for the follow-up.

Runner up: 1989 by Taylor Swift


Song of the Year: “Laughter Lines” – Bastille 

“Laughter Lines” debuted in January 2014. Upon first listen, I knew this was something great. I took to social media and declared that this song would finish in the top 5, if not at the top of my year-end list. Here we are – and here is Bastille’s beautiful song about two people sharing a lifelong love together. It’s a poetic telling that, upon first listen, has a futuristic intro, but that gives way to lyrics and vocals that present a sort of longing happiness. If you have not heard this song…get back to me when you do.

Top 50 Songs of 2014:

  1. “Laughter Lines” – Bastille
  2. “Moondust (Stripped)” – Jaymes Young
  3. “Raging Fire” – Phillip Phillips
  4. “Come Back for Me” – Jaymes Young
  5. “Stay With Me” – Sam Smith
  6. “Partition” – Beyoncé
  7. “Immortals” – Fall Out Boy
  8. “Make It Rain” – Ed Sheeran
  9. “Chandelier” – Sia
  10. “Once Upon a Dream” – Lana Del Ray
  11.  “Strange Birds” – Birdy
  12. “Stranger Ways” – Anberlin
  13. “Confusing Happiness” – Lo-Fang
  14. “Take Me to Church” – Hozier
  15. “Blue Smoke” – Dolly Parton
  16. “Centuries” – Fall Out Boy
  17. “Sparks” – James Bay / “Blank Space” – Taylor Swift
  18. “Happy Little Pill” – Troye Sivan
  19. “Somethin’ Bad” – Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood
  20. “Black Widow” – Iggy Azalea ft. Rita Ora
  21. “Animals” – Maroon 5
  22. “Girls/Girls/Boys” – Panic! At the Disco
  23. “Thanks For Leaving” – Alexandra Stan
  24. “Give Me Your Everything” – Alexandra Stan
  25. “G.U.Y.” – Lady GaGa
  26. “Lead On” – Phillip Phillips
  27. “The Hanging Tree” – James Newton Howard ft. Jennifer Lawrence
  28. “I’m Not the Only One” – Sam Smith
  29. “Gypsy” – Lady GaGa
  30. “Hold Back the River” – James Bay
  31. “The Crying Game” – Nicki Minaj
  32. “Pompeii” – Bastille
  33. “Fancy” – Iggy Azalea ft. Charlie XCX
  34. “Grand Piano” – Nicki Minaj
  35. “Flawless” – Beyoncé ft. Nicki Minaj
  36. “Maps” – Maroon 5
  37. “Love Someone” – Jason Mraz
  38. “Aviation High” – Semi-Precious Weapons
  39. “Take Your Time” – Sam Hunt
  40. “Don’t” – Ed Sheeran
  41. “Conqueror” – Estelle
  42. “Habits (Stay High)” – Tove Lo
  43. “Divine Sorrow” – Wyclef Jean ft. Avicii
  44. “Riptide” – Vance Joy
  45. “Am I Wrong” – Nico & Vinz
  46. “Pills N Potions” – Nicki Minaj
  47. “White Winter Hymnal” – Pentatonix
  48. “Banks of the Ohio” – Dolly Parton
  49. “Problem” – Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea
  50. “Let Me In Your Heart” – Queen

Why Jurassic World will be the best “Jurassic” since the original

Jurassic-World-Comic-Con-artwork

San Diego Comic-Con Jurassic World Poster. 2014.

For months we’ve been teased by Jurassic World (coming June 12, 2015). From the San Diego Comic Con poster – to the trailer that arrived two days early – it’s become clear: Jurassic World is going to be the best entry in the franchise since the original Jurassic Park (in 1993)!

Before I begin, here’s the trailer:

Significant factors:

1. The trailer depicts a serious tonality akin to the original Jurassic Park - meaning this installment should be instantly better than that abhorrent thing known as Jurassic Park 3 (which boasted a great deal of stupid comedy). And so far, no dinosaurs have been shown in Los Angeles, so it should be better than The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

2. Owen (Chris Pratt) shows concern over a genetic hybrid created by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and a team of geneticists – which might include Henry Wu (BD Wong), the only character from Jurassic Park included in Jurassic World. Owen’s concerns regarding the animal’s functional intelligence echo the original concerns of Dr. Grant (Sam Neil) and Dr. Sattler (Dr. Sattler). Not to mention, these two actors are really quite good and should have some really great moments/chemistry.

…and from what I’ve seen, Owen appears to be following the Dr. Grant formula!

3. Jurassic World is fully-functional – with lots of visitors. This will undoubtedly lead to the exploration of “Chaos Theory” as described by Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) in Jurassic Park.

4. The score and visuals have been contemporized – and so far, the dinosaurs look incredible – and the music sounds a-maz-ing!

5. Jurassic World is set on Isla Nublar, 22 years after the events of Jurassic Park – and is as John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) originally envisioned the park – meaning this movie is totally connected to the original!

Chris Pratt in Jurassic World (2015).

Chris Pratt in Jurassic World (2015).

I’ve deduced all of this from the two-minute trailer. If you love Jurassic Park as much as I do, none of this is really surprising. You may have even noticed the fossilized mosquito in amber (another homage to the original) and the introduction of aquatic dinosaurs! I may not be Sherlock Holmes after all, but I can tell you – from the small amount of comedy in the trailer and the serious tonality – it would appear as though the filmmaker wants this to be a serious movie – as it should be!

I should also mention that director/screenwriter Colin Trevorrow, is a relative newcomer. With Jurassic World set to be his mainstream, blockbuster debut (he’d previously directed 2012 indie film Safety Not Guaranteed), Trevorrow will have something to prove. The possibility of a franchise – and his success as a big-budget director – will be dependent upon Jurassic World. He’ll be out to make a name for himself – to offer something new to the sci-fi genre – like Steven Spielberg (who serves as Executive Producer here) did with movies like JAWS (1975) and Jurassic Park (1993).

I’ve been waiting to return to Isla Nublar and now…it’s happening – and I can’t freakin’ wait! Time “Must go faster!”

Visit the Jurassic World websites (awesome graphics!)

Lawrence soars as the Mockingjay in Part 1

Mockingjay Part 1Is there anything Jennifer Lawrence can’t do? It’s no secret I love The Hunger Games franchise and Lawrence’s work as Katniss Everdeen. In this franchise I believe she’s been her strongest, ever. Forget Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle – neither movie has given us the emotional range, character depth, or beautiful restraint The Hunger Games has. I honestly believe the Academy gets it wrong every year they nominate her for the David O. Russell “indie,” over this highly successful franchise.

Why can’t she be nominated for a blockbuster?

As Katniss, Lawrence has consistently delivered riveting performances – and in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, she does it again. Whether she’s acting as the beacon of hope for the people of Panem – or if she’s caught in a close-up – or reacting to Peeta’s messages from the Capitol – or [surprisingly] singing, she’s on-point. Her work deserves recognition – and in the absence of a David O. Russell collaboration this year (she and David O. Russell have Joy coming in December 2015), hopefully she’ll finally get the nod for giving Katniss life!

I can’t say I’ll be surprised if she’s overlooked, though – in favor of an actress from a quieter, more perceptively “artsy” movie – but I think it’d be a mistake. It’s been widely discussed online that leading roles for actresses – and strong performances filling those roles have been scarce this year. Yet, here we have Jennifer Lawrence – giving us a character that eclipses her celebrity. When you look at that screen – despite her huge success – you don’t think, “That’s Jennifer Lawrence.” You convincingly say, “That’s Katniss Everdeen.”

That deserves recognition – at the very least, a nomination.

Effie Trinket - MockingjayAs for the movie itself. I liked it. I really did. The continued work of Lawrence’s co-stars keeps me intrigued and interested. There’s never a spare moment wasted with this group of talent. Just as I’ve been vocal about Jennifer Lawrence’s performances, I’ve also championed Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket. I love her. The way she presents the character is magnificent – especially in this installment with a more restrictive color and costuming palette. She adds just the right amount of humor and seriousness – and I think she too is overlooked – like much of this franchise has been.

From the start, The Hunger Games has presented an intriguing concept – and it’s ignited a “what if” discussion about the future and the possibility of this type of life. That premise has resonated with people – and in turn we’ve grown attached to these movies and characters (or, as least I have). The films have been exquisitely made and on various technical levels (especially costume design, score and editing) they excel. This movie is quieter and more brooding – to prepare us for what should be an adrenaline-inducing and emotional conclusion to The Hunger Games.

Mockingjay Part 1 serves the purpose of getting us there – and that’s okay. It’s nice to take a break from the action and to explore the characters in the wake of the Quarter Quell. For an example of this, look to any scene with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Hutcherson was good before – primarily because of his interactions with Katniss, but without her, the character’s propelled to the next level. Something’s wrong – he’s notably darker – and now, Peeta is his own entity. In some form, he can exist without Katniss.

I’ve skimmed over some of the reviews for Mockingjay Part 1 – and the reception’s been a little more mixed than positive (like the first two films) – and all fingers seem to be pointing to the lack of action. I, for one, am entirely fine with a story taking precedence over explosions in a big-budget feature film. I commend director Francis Lawrence for providing us with an opportunity for that. Surely he had to know it’d be a less popular, but necessary, decision.

Francis Lawrence has certainly added his signature to the franchise, earning more critical acclaim. Unlike the first installment, Catching Fire and Mockingjay Part 1 look and feel big-budget, polished and more well-made overall. Though I feel like Gary Ross’ initial interpretation – though it was a little grittier, shakier and in your face – was stylistically more appropriate for the franchise. Honestly, I would be in favor of more close-ups and less wide shots in the second and third movies. The way Ross did it makes it feel a little darker; the way Francis Lawrence does it makes it feel more cinematic – more beautiful. I’d prefer an in-between – and that’s almost exactly what is delivered with Mockingjay Part 1. Perhaps Mockingjay Part 2 can be The Hunger Games we’re all craving!

Grade: B+

#ThanksMichelleObama: Why it’s a stupid trend.

I wasn’t going to bother writing something people probably weren’t going to read anyway – that’s how it goes with political opinions or comments – but I just couldn’t resist.

For two days, I’ve noticed the trending hashtag “#ThanksMichelleObama.” Behind the hashtag are pictures, of school lunches that look less than appetizing, backed by sarcastic commentary about Michelle Obama championing healthier school lunches. To those of you posting your pictures and “thanking” Michelle Obama, I ask you the following questions:

1. Is it better to have food – or no food at all?

2. If you’re unhappy with what’s being served (is there not a lunch menu?), then can’t you pack a lunch from home?

3. What does the First Lady’s effort/push for healthier food have to do with the food’s preparation and presentation?

These are three very basic questions that come to mind when I see this type of complaining. I won’t even touch the “Just wait until 2016″ commentary either. As if a school lunch should be the basis of your voting two years from now. Then again, it goes without saying – if you’re basing your ballot on smashed peas or a bad picture, then …

Perhaps you (or your kids if you’re a parent reading this), in this age of ultra-criticism and entitlement, would rather eat a highly processed frozen disc called a cheeseburger – or maybe you’ll settle for some frozen “chicken strips.” Obviously you would, otherwise food chains like McDonald’s wouldn’t be raking in billions of dollars. Then again, maybe you would like something that looks appetizing – and is nutritious. That’s more than fine. I understand that point – when I cook/bake, I make it point to present (after all, that’s half of eating!).

Though, if the schools spent time presenting food for hundreds of teenagers – it’d go largely unnoticed and be met with no gratitude. Well, it might end up on Instagram, facebook or twitter and get the #FoodPorn hashtag instead.

Are you getting this (and agreeing with me) – or are you reading this wanting to slap me because you’re stupid?

We live in a world with millions of hungry people. There are places where people are dying from starvation – hell, it’s happening in/around our neighborhoods everyday – and all you can do is sit on your privileged asses and post sarcastic remarks “thanking” the First Lady for your “disgusting” food. It’s food! It’s a first-world problem – and at the end of the day, you have the choice to not eat it.

Many people don’t have that choice. Remember that the next time you say “Thanks Michelle Obama.” Bon appetit!

 

 

A Very Bobby Christmas. Vol. 1.

ChristmasWell, it’s been a while since we’ve last spoken – or since you’ve last had something to read (from me anyway). Now, the holidays are upon us – and if you’re like me, you’ve been bitten by the Christmas spirit. I’m excited! I can’t wait! I’m ready for Christmas lights, hot chocolate, holiday parties and warm nights by the fire while snow falls just outside the window.

That means I need a lot of Christmas music in my life – so I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite holiday songs by some of my favorite artists. You’ll notice that I wanted to combine powerful instrumentals with beautiful vocals, drama with fun – and most importantly, I wanted the compilation to flow – to quite literally be music to your ears.

I’ve carefully selected each track and artist and arranged them in a way that should leave you feeling all kinds of warm and fuzzy – just in time for Christmas cheer. The playlist has been anchored with Lea Michele (“O’ Holy Night”), Celine Dion (“Ave Maria”) and Josh Groban (“Chestnuts Roasting”). It begins heavily with the unique sound of a capella group Pentatonix and ends with a fun influence. You may also notice, my love for movies and television is sprinkled throughout!

If you like what you see, build this list and burn it for yourself (or get in good with me and I’ll burn it for you!)! Happy holidays and happy listening!

Here’s the 25 song track listing of “A Very Bobby Christmas. Vol. 1″:

1. Vuelie – Frode Fjellheim and Christophe Beck ft. Cantus – from Frozen 

2. White Winter Hymnal – Pentatonix

3. What Child Is This? – The Canadian Tenors

4. Mary, Did You Know? – Pentatonix

5. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy – Pentatonix

6. Believe – Josh Groban – from The Polar Express 

7. Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People – Jonathan Groff – from Frozen 

8. Where Are You Christmas? – Faith Hill – from Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas 

9. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Gene Autry

10. The First Noel – Connie Francis

11. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland

12. O’ Holy Night – Lea Michele – from GLEE 

13. Ave Maria – Celine Dion

14. Chestnuts Roasting – Josh Groban

15. You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch – Thurl Ravenscroft – from How the Grinch Stole Christmas 

16. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee

17. Carol of the Bells – Celtic Women

18. Frosty the Snowman – Ella Fitzgerald

19. Text Me Merry Christmas – Straight No Chaser ft. Kristen Bell

20. Blue Christmas – Elvis Presley

21. Baby It’s Cold Outside – Idina Menzel ft. Michael Buble

22. Let It Be Christmas – Alan Jackson

23. What’s This? – Danny Elfman – from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas 

24. Deck the Rooftop – GLEE Cast – from GLEE 

25. Holly Jolly Christmas – Michael Buble

BONUS! Here’s the lyric video for Straight No Chaser and Kristen Bell’s new song, “Text Me Merry Christmas.”

Bobby James enters the “Freak Show”

I’ve spent the morning working on an illustration for my children’s book The Story of Piph. During my creative process, I reviewed tutorials on how to create and fade layers. I thought, “Why not have a little fun?”

When Ryan Murphy announced that American Horror Story: Freak Show would feature the most sinister clown ever recorded, I figured it was time to face my fear. I decided to tackle evil clowns head-on. As a result, I created a collection of art pieces featuring (seemy posts Clownin’ Around and Enter the Circus) those who were vilified by “Pennywise” from Stephen King’s It.

I took a screen cap from the most recent trailer for Freak Show and overlaid my piece titled “Circus Freak.” Enjoy.

Circus Freak meets Freak Show. 2014.

Circus Freak meets Freak Show. 2014.