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A Look Back: A Few Words About Some of GRAMMYs Most Memorable Moments

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Madonna performing with the Gorillaz at 48th annual GRAMMY Awards

Get ready! We're less than two weeks away from the 56th annual GRAMMY Awards that is shaping up to be a fantastic night of music with performances by Taylor Swift, Pink, Daft Punk, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Paul McCartney and many others. The GRAMMYs will air live on CBS on Sunday, January 26. This is not only a good time to discuss nominees and preview the performances, but it's also a great moment to look back at some of the most memorable GRAMMY performances that set the show apart from all of the other award shows out there. The GRAMMYs move culture and the performances mentioned below are solid proof of that.

Jennifer Hudson Performs "I Will Always Love You" (54th GRAMMYs)
Whitney Houston passed way too soon and so very unexpectedly on the eve of the 54th GRAMMYs in 2012. I was at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to cover the Clive Davis Pre-GRAMMY Gala and I will never forget how surreal it was to be at the hotel where this event was taking place on the first floor while officials were investigating her death a few floors up. Show producers had to scramble to pay proper tribute to the superstar and asked Jennifer Hudson (also a Clive Davis protege) to sing a stripped down version of "I Will Always Love You," the biggest selling single of all time. It was the perfect choice for a very sad evening that had viewers everywhere tear up and mourn the loss of one of music's greatest icons.

Pink Performs "Glitter In The Air" (52nd GRAMMYs)
We always knew that Pink posessed heaps of girl power, but her jaw-dropping performance of "Glitter In The Air" at the 52nd GRAMMY Awards took things to a whole new level of incredible. After walking through the audience from the main stage, the pop star (turned dare devil) wrapped herself in a simple sheet and was pulled up high in the air while vocally not skipping a beat. If that wasn't impressive enough, Pink started spinning and twirling while dangling from the arena ceiling and getting splashed on with water, again, without having it impact her vocal delivery. It's a truly breathtaking performance that I enjoy watching over and over again. 

Madonna & Gorillaz Peform "Feel Good Inc/Hung Up" (48th GRAMMYs)
The live GRAMMY telecast traditionally starts out with a bang. Whether that's Prince dueting with Beyonce or Elton John hitting the piano with Lady Gaga, the GRAMMYs' opening number is always one to remember. One of the most innovative and memorable openings of The GRAMMYs was Madonna's partnership with the Gorillaz for the 48th GRAMMY Awards in 2006. The animated Gorillaz kicked off the performance with a bit of "Feel Good Inc" before they were joined by a pre-taped hologram of Madonna. That segment segued into a stomping version of "Hung Up" with the real-life Madonna and her troop of dancers on stage. It was a groundbreaking live event with innovative holographic technology designed by Musion Eyeliner, the company that would later design the much-talked-about Tupac hollogram performance at Coachella in 2012.

Michael Jackson Performs "Man In The Mirror" (30th GRAMMYs)
There are many, many memorable Michael Jackson performance to write about, but his apearance at the 30th GRAMMY Awards in 1988 is one of my all-time favorites. The King of Pop performed a stirring version of "Man In The Mirror," the 4th single taken from Bad that was released in January of 1988. This special live rendition of "Man In The Mirror" reminds us once again that Michael Jackson knew how to create magic on stage. His vocal performance was simply flawless and so incredibly inspired. Especially during the end of his GRAMMY performance when he falls down on his knees and cries out his wish for people to change their ways to make this world one worthwhile living in. 

Beyonce & Tina Turner Perform "Proud Mary" (50th GRAMMYs)
Beyonce's soaring tribute to "Sarah Vaughan, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Kahn and historical women" who performed on the GRAMMYs stage follows her equally impressive teaming with Prince in 2004. After listing some of the iconic female artists that paved a way for her, Beyonce proudly introduced Tina Turner as "the one legend who captures the essence of all of these ladies." It's a rocking performance that shows off the raw and undisputed talent of these two fine ladies that wowed the crowd and is truly one of GRAMMYs best moments to date. It's also one of Turner's very last high-profile public performances. She was 68 years-old at the time and decided to come out of retirement to perform with Beyonce that was her way of passing the torch to a new generation of artists.

January 14, 2014 | Permalink

Exclusive Video: Watch Alphabeat's Stine Bramsen 'Prototypical' (Acoustic Version)

Stine Bramsen

Some exciting things are bubbling on the European pop front for 2014, including some very exciting developments for Alphabeat's enigmatic frontwoman Stine Bramsen. She's about to embark on an exciting journey as a solo artist. Don't be alarmed though. Alphabeat is not breaking up (in fact, some of the group's band members are involved in her solo project), but the time has come for the Danish singer to try something new and go at it by herself for a little while. 

Stine assures fans in a press release that her solo project is not the end of Alphabeat. "I've loved every minute so far being the girl from Alphabeat and I look forward to playing that role again. But I’m also really excited about telling my own stories, my dreams and my feelings," Stine says about the upcoming solo release. We applaud Stine for making this bold move to scratch her creative itch without leaving the massively brilliant Alphabeat behind.

Stine's first single is titled "Prototypical" and it's an intensely personal song ruled by a stomping beat that enables her to demonstrate her powerful vocals. “It's really a very biographical song," she explains in a press release. "I never thought that I would find someone who I would want to spend the rest of my life with."

She adds, "I honestly believed that that kind of love only existed in fairytales and not in the real world. And I had no idea that I wanted it. But it turns out I’m just as prototypical as everyone else." Look out for the single edit of "Prototypical" soon, but in the meantime enjoy the exclusive U.S. premiere of an acoustic rendition of the song. Watch and be moved. In the meantime, make sure to follow Stine on Facebook and Twitter. Go say here and tell arjanwrites sent you.

January 10, 2014 | Permalink

Listen to Brandyn Burnette 'Beautiful Beginning' (Acoustic Version)

Brandyn-burnette-aug-2013

After first tipping you about the very talented Brandyn Burnette almost three years ago, things are finally coming together for the young pop crooner. He was signed to Warner Brothers Records by songwriter and former American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi who at the time served as the label's executive VP of talent development. But DioGuardi left Warner and things looked a little shaky for the burgeoning talent she recruited (including Jason DeRulo and Neon Hitch). Fortunately, Burnette continued to write, record and collaborate with a group of seasoned hitmakers out in Hollywood Hills to craft a solid catalog of songs.

A little bird told me that things are starting to move for the singer and that an EP will be released in February. To rally fans, Burnette is sharing tracks from his acoustic Punch Lines From a Scattered Mind mixtape every week until his official EP comes out. That release will be introduced by the radio single "Thanks For Nothing." 

This week, Burnette is sharing an acoustic version of "Beautiful Beginning" to start 2014 off at the right note. "I co-wrote it with Jon Bellion almost 2 years ago around New Years in Long Island," he writes me. "I figured what better way to start releasing than with a song about starting over!" Check out the song in the player below and be moved by Burnette's raw vocal prowess and impressive songwriting savvy. I've said it before and I will say it again (and again): This kid is going places. Make sure you tune in early.

January 7, 2014 | Permalink

Weekend Road Trip: 48 Hours in Tokyo to Kick Off 2014 with a Pop Culture Boost

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Right before the end of last year, I decided to spend a weekend in Tokyo between Christmas and New Year's. I found a cheap airfare and why in the world would I not just fly halfway across the globe for a fun weekend getaway. Yeah, 48 hours in the world's biggest city (36 million people) sounds perhaps a little insane but in the spirit of you only live once I decided to book and make the cross-Pacific jump from Los Angeles to visit the land of the rising sun (and the world's pop mecca).

It has always been a dream of mine to go to Tokyo and experience first-hand the fast-paced metropolis that is the source of so much next-level pop culture. I was curious what it would be like to get around in a city where I don't speak the language in order to reset and start my 2014 reinvigorated. I decided to mix up my regular pop music coverage on this blog and share in detail my experiences of traveling to Tokyo. If you're planning a trip (and you should), hopefully this post will give you some good starting points. 

Flying to Tokyo. Choose Haneda Airport.
I'm a Delta frequent flyer so I checked the Delta Airlines web site for some good deals for flying to Japan. If you fly Delta, you can fly either into Narita International Airport or Haneda airport from Los Angeles or Seattle. Haneda is traditionally known as Tokyo's domestic hub but it has a growing number of international arrivals and departures. I highly recommend flying into Haneda if you arrive from abroad and are not making any connections. Haneda is much closer to Tokyo's city center than Narita, which is located about two hours away from the main city. Haneda is a quick 45 minutes from all major hotels in the city. Highly recommended.

Lodging in Tokyo. Consider Hilton Tokyo.
After traveling to places like India and China earlier in 2013, I've learned that staying in a comfortable hotel can make a world of difference. But finding something affordable in Tokyo is challenging. It's an expensive city to sleep in unless you're happy with staying at a capsule hotel where you can sleep in, yes, a capsule and share a bathroom with 20 others. There are a couple of hotels that provides comfort and luxury without breaking the bank. Enter Hilton Tokyo. After some careful research I opted to stay at the Hilton in Shinjuku, a business and entertainment district in the center of Tokyo that is home to Shinjuku Station, the largest train station in the world from where you can easily travel to other parts of the sprawling city.

The Hilton Tokyo is a modern, 37-story hotel with many amenities including a gym, spa and pool. I had the pleasure of staying in a junior suite room that was just renovated in March 2013. It's a bright, spacious room with a large comfy couch, glass desk and large bathroom (with separate tube and shower plus one of those fancy Japanese automated toilets). The room even included a fancy Nespresso coffee maker that is perfect for making a cup to kickstart your day. The king-size bed was outfitted with a plush down comforter and crisp linen for the ultimate night's rest - just the type of heavily bed you need after a 15 hour flight. Even though the hotel caters to a lot of guests, one of the things that struck me was that the service at the Hilton Tokyo was exquisite. The hotel's concierge desk was particularly helpful with making suggestions, booking reservations and giving directions. 

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Getting Around. Get a PASMO Card.
During my (almost) 3-day stay I set out to see as much as possible of Tokyo. Traveling in this massive city seemed daunting at first, but it turned out to be a lot easier than I expected. Public transportation is easy, far-reaching and runs like clockwork. Maps, destination guides and important announcements are made in Japanese and English so you always know exactly where to get in and when to get out. If you plan to do most of your travel using the subway and train (and that's likely), I highly recommend you get a PASMO pass. It's a travel card that you purchase once at a vending machine and can refill when you need to. Super easy. You tap the card to enter the station and tap it again when you leave the station.

My Itinerary. Seeing Tokyo by foot and train.
On Day 1, I decided to do most of my travel on foot to get a feel for the city and its rhythm. I started the day early to get a view of the sprawling city from the observation deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building. The skyscraper is less than a block away from the Hilton so it's a perfect place to start. From the observation deck, you have a gorgeous view of Tokyo especially on a clear day. From there, I walked to the peaceful Meiji Jingu shrine that is located in the heart of the wonderfully lush Yoyogi Park. Meiji Jingu is one of Japan's most famous Shinto shrines that is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken. The serenity of the park serves as a wonderful oasis and gives you a taste of traditional Japanese culture.

From Yoyogi Park, I walked west to head to the fancy schmancy Park Hyatt hotel for a light lunch in the hotel's New York restaurant on the top floor. This restaurant is were Sofia Coppola shot many of the bar scenes featured in her film Lost In Translation. 

After enjoying lunch, more wonderful views and a mellow jazz ensemble at the Park Hyatt, I walked 20 minutes eastward across Yoyogi park to make my way to Harajuku, Tokyo's vibrant hearth of emerging pop culture with narrow, bustling streets filled with off-beat clothing boutiques, shoes and colorful accessories. It's a must-visit for kids who are looking for pop souvenirs with stores entirely dedicated to Japanese boybands and other heartthrobs. I walked into a few of those stores that were filled with 12 year-old girls looking to buy posters, sticker, trading cards and other memorabilia (while OneDirection's "Best Song Ever" blasted unashamedly through the speakers. More proof that pop's global folks!)

Just a brief walk from Harajuka lies Shibuya that is another massive, neon-lit shoppers' paradise and home of one the world's busiest pedestrian intersections (see photo at the top of this post). One of the biggest treats of Shibuya is its multi-floor Tower Records just up the street from Shibuya Crossing that is a music lover's dream come true. The store has a massive amount of music both from local Japanese bands and a lot of imports. 

Pop

After taking the subway back to the hotel and relaxing for a little, I stepped out to enjoy the wildly vibrant streets of Shinjuku to make my way to Robot Restaurant. A friend suggested to visit the restaurant and the friendly concierge staff at the Hilton Tokyo made the reservations for me (and arranged a sweet discount). Robot Restaurant is an entertainment experience on an entirely different level. After picking up a dinner bento box (included in ticket price), I took a seat in a small arena-style theatre where a group of performers delivered a show filled with music, lights, pyro and videos that sums of Japanese pop culture in all of its glory. It was like an arcade game come to life. Robots were dancing to a mash up of "Like A G6" and "Gangam Style," while bikini girls were riding sharks and motorcycles. There were moments that I smiled and asked myself "What in the world is happening right now?" It was surreal and a violent attack on the senses in all the right ways.

On Day 2, I took the subway from Shinjuku Station to head over to Akihabara, the center of of Japanese geek culture. The area itself was a little disappointing. All I found were large, multi-level electronic stores bursting with endless amounts of electronics of all kinds from top to bottom. It was Best Buy on steroids. I was looking for some manga bookstores, but I could not find anything that seemed authentic. I ended up spending some time in a local arcade playing some of the new music games, including Groove Coaster which is a lot of fun.

On Day 3, I only had a few hours left before heading to Narita airport to take my flight back to Los Angeles (via sunny Honolulu for a four hour lay-over). I decided to take the metro from Tochomae (conveniently located right under the Hilton Tokyo) to Roppengi that is another ultra-luxe shopping area. Roppengi is also home to the Mori Art museum. After a quick 10 minute metro ride, I walked around Ropengi Hills but decided to skip the Mori Art museum which had a long line of people waiting to buy tickets. Instead, I decided to go 3 metro stops further on the red line to Akabanebashi to check out Tokyo Tower, a 250 meter high structure that is a carbon copy of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. After buying a ticket for the lower observatory level, I enjoyed more great sights of Tokyo from a different viewpoint that was the perfect goodbye to this massively fascinating city.

One Final Tip. Get a Pocket WiFi Device.
One of the many things that I love about Tokyo is that the city and its people are so technically savvy. Everyone is on cell phones and instant messages using the very popular LINE app (try it, it's so fun!). One of the things I did was rent a pocket wifi device to keep me connected everywhere I went using my iPhone 5 and Nexus 7 tablet. This was superhandy as I used Google Maps constantly to get directions and look up information about the sights I was visiting. I rented my pocket Wifi device from Rentaphone Japan. Cost was around $50 dollars for 3 days with unlimited data. The device ran for almost 8 hours with constant use. I ordered the little device online and it was delivered straight to my hotel. Impressive and truly convenient.

(Thank you Yota Ogura at Hilton Tokyo for the warm welcome, Dan Barnhardt for tipping me about Robost Restaurant.) 

TokyobyNight

January 6, 2014 | Permalink