Betty Who Sparks Joy, Captures Optimism on New 'Slow Dancing' EP [Review]

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There are many things that I admire about Betty Who. Her music is outrageously catchy, her songs are drenched in a delicious brew of '80s goodness and her live performance is a non-stop delight. What I think ultimately sets Betty Who's music apart is that it's dominated by a joyful quality that fills it with life and makes her lyrics so easy to relate to.

I'm not saying that all of the singer's music is about joy (she knows how to write a killer break-up tune too), but there's a hopeful spark and sense of optimism to her music no matter what the topic of the song is. I think much of that sentiment has to do with the love, care and passion Betty puts into crafting each and every one of her songs. 

Betty Who's joyful spirit is most prominent during her live shows that are filled with humor, off-the-cuff remarks and unscripted moments with fans in the audience. Leave it up to Betty Who to go from lamenting about a love lost to seamlessly segueing into a moment of hilarity that has the entire room bursting out laughing. It's her candor, sense of humor and optimism that fuels her brilliant pop mind.

After stirring up a storm of interest with her debut EP that included her breakthrough single "Somebody Loves You," the pop singer returns this week with her much-anticipated new EP Slow Dancing that was executive produced by Peter Thomas. It's a meaningful and cohesive effort that is about picking up the pieces after a break up and knowing that despite the disappointment it's possible to love again. In Betty's world, there's always a light at the end of the tunnel and the songs on Slow Dancing are solid proof of that.

Slow Dancing kicks off with her current single "Heartbreak Dream" that appropriately sets the tone for the rest of EP. Packed with a bittersweet sentiment, Betty reminisces about a shattered love. "In a moment/You were everything to me/In this moment/We're living in a heartbreak dream," she admits in the chorus that is set to an upbeat, high-energy melody that is clearly an indication that she's ready for brighter times.

On the lush "Alone Again," she carefully crawls back up to be able to commit again. She sings, "I'm gonna give you a break/Driving 'till you disappear and maybe then you'll say/Don't ever leave me alone again." She takes it few steps further on "Lovin' Start" when Cupid takes flight again. "Every minute I get a little closer to your heart/Because it's you who makes it right," she sings. 

The EP is anchored by the synthy smooth and shimmering "Giving Me Away" that is ruled by a soaring, candy-apple chorus that is set up by a very pretty pre-chorus. It's a song about falling in love all over again that's written in a way that people everywhere can instantly relate to. Betty sings, "Judging from how we've been/You should kiss me like you mean it again/'Cause I don't wanna be your friend/Call me pretty young thing/Make me weak until I'm speechless/Falling into you." 

The album closes on an atmospheric note with "Silas." It's seems to be an intensely personal song that Betty first performed during her early live shows with just a guitar in hand. It's another stand out moment for the rising pop sensation that shows there's a depth and scope to her artistry that will leave fans wanting more. 

Slow Dancing is proof that Betty Who pours herself completely into her music without compromise. It may be slightly dark at times but there's always a strong sense of optimism that things will be okay. In a our frenzied world filled with complicated relationships, it should come no surprise that Betty Who's music strikes a chord. She has found a way to harness the power of pop, and give it her own unique and meaningful spin.

April 9, 2014 | Permalink







A Few Words about Iggy Azalea, Trusting Your Struggle and Her Hit Single 'Fancy'

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When I talked with Iggy Azalea in London back in July of last year, one of the big take-aways from the interview for me was that you should never rule out Iggy. After moving from Australia to Miami, Florida at the age of 17 with a dream to become a musician, she has walked a long and winding road to finally end up with a massive hit on her hands.

I'm referring, of course, to her single "Fancy" (featuring Charli XCX) that is about ignite in a big way on pop radio in America and will turn Iggy from an underground siren into a breakout star. It's a moment long time in the making. Iggy understands what it means to pay your dues in order to get where you want to end up. "I've lived the struggle life for a long time," she said and the hip-hop artist embraces her journey with a "Trust Your Struggle" tattoo that reminds her everyday of the past while embracing the future.

After leaning pop with tracks like "Bounce" and "Change Your Life," "Fancy" brings Iggy back to her hip-hop comfort zone. Co-produced by the Invisible Men and the Arcade, the song is raw, honest and packed with confidence. "Fancy" may not be your typical top 40 fare, but it has a fresh and authentic edge that we're sorely lacking and Iggy arrives just at the right time to fill a void. This is Iggy's moment.

(Listen to Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX "Fancy" on Beats Music.)

April 7, 2014 | Permalink







Steve Angello Talks Music and Creativity at WMC Miami Panel Fueled by Illy Issimo

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(Arjan Writes, Chris Barnes, DJ Irie, Brad Gruen, Steve Angello and Alex Yanes)

Last week Friday, I moderated a panel discussion in conjunction with the Miami Winter Music Conference at the W South Beach that was fueled by the fine, coffee-loving folks at Illy Issimo. The panel was centered around the topic of the "Creativity Wake Up" to explore the things that inspire creators and artists in our fast-moving world that paves the way to many new forms of expression. Guests on the panel included Swedish House Mafia member and Size Records founder Steve Angello, DJ Irie, visual artist Alex Yanes and Chris Barnes of EDM Magazine.

The night before the panel discussion, Angello celebrated the tenth anniversary of Size Records with a blowout party at the RC Cola plant in the Wynwood Arts District of Miami. The Swedish DJ was joined by the rest of his Size crew including Thomas Gold, Sunnery James and Ryan Marciano, An21 and Max Vangeli, Norman Doray and Arno Cost, Third Party, Tim Mason and Nari and Milani. Size Records is very much a creative outlet for Steve Angello's passion for introducing new talent.

I kicked off the panel discussion by asking each of the panelists to talk about what drives creativity in their own artistic endeavours. Yanes talked a little bit about his desire as a young kid to think out of the box, and use a pen and paper to express himself. It wasn't like he had a choice. Creativity was innate and never a conscious pursuit.

Steve Angello talked in-depth about growing up in an underserved neighborhood of Stockholm where creativity was not particularly encouraged – specifically not in the schools that he went to. In fact, his creative instincts weren't nurtured at school but rather by his rough upbringing. His harsh surroundings motivated him to dream and develop other interests that ultimately made him one of the most influential DJs and producers in music today.

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I touched briefly upon Angello's experience in Swedish House Mafia and their larger-than-life stage productions. Swedish House Mafia was never only about the music. Their music and performance was a completely immersive experience that people everywhere were blown away by. Angello explained that he was very involved with many of the video animations that were used in the show during the group's final tour. A lot of that was produced by a design agency in Montreal that he selected. The fact that he could combine his love for music with his interest in visual art fueled his creative endeavours, which is proof that it's good to switch things up.

Another way to upgrade your creativity is to use new tools. Angello talked at length about his forthcoming new artist album, titled Wild Youth, that will be released via Columbia Records some time this year. The DJ explained he has gone back to analog tools to produce music. It was a liberating experience for Angello to recalibrate and focus on the craft of making music again even though it comes with certain imperfections. "It's okay if things aren't entirely perfect," he explained. "It's more like life that way. Computers will make things perfect, but the problem is that everything starts to sound the same."

Angello shied away from talking a lot about Swedish House Mafia, which is understandable the morning after Size Records' Decade event that has been a huge passion project for him. All he said was that Swedish House Mafia never had a long-term plan or vision. The way things started and ended was all without a whole lot of pre-planning. 

A recurring theme in the discussion about creativity was to always trust your gut instinct when it comes to creativity. Don't be sidetracked by naysayers and other people who says things aren't possible. The great thing about creativity is that there are no rules and you can carve out your own niche to pursue your dreams. DI Irie spoke very passionately about this. All of the panelists agreed that creativity cannot be taught but can be encouraged and developed.

It was an inspiring panel filled with insightful anecdotes and other stories from some of the leading creators in their field. It was great to have such a diverse group of people on the table and learn that regardless of what the artistic output is each one of them has the same experience when it comes to creativity, inspiration and imagination to drive their efforts. 

(Listen to the Best of Steve Angello on Beats Music.)

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April 3, 2014 | Permalink







Afrojack Presents New Music, Talks about Vision Behind His Forget The World LP

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Superstar DJ/producer Afrojack concluded a successful week in Miami with a smoldering set at Ultra Music Festival on Sunday that included a few tracks from his forthcoming debut album, Forget The World. It was a big moment for the hitmaker to share some of his new work with his thousands and thousands of fans who had come to see the Dutch artist at the festival's main stage. The crowd responded enthusiastically to Afrojack's new music, cheering along to brand-new songs like "Freedom," "Illuminate" and "Dynamite."

Last week Thursday, I was honored and humbled to moderate Afrojack's private VIP listening party at Wall Lounge (W South Beach's state-of-the-art nightclub) that was the perfect venue to listen to new music and quiz Afrojack about his journey, process and artistic vision of the album. There's much more to Afrojack than sizzling DJ sets and this event was the perfect occasion to showcase him as an artist with an authentic point of view and compelling story to tell.

Earlier in the week, I chatted with Afrojack (born Nick van der Wall) briefly to get a sense of the things that he wanted to get across in the interview at his listening event. One of the topics that immediately jumped out at me was his intent from the start to make an all-inclusive album that his "daughter, mother and grandmother" could enjoy without compromising his musical vision.

The result is that Forget The World is not just an EDM album, a pop record or a release with party anthems. The record is a mash of different styles that is reflection of the myriad of musical tastes today and Afrojack's interest in all kinds of different genres of music.

During our interview at Wall on Thursday, Nick and I talked at length about the meaning behind Forget The World. "Do you want to know the real story? Let me get real then," he said while he threw down his new G-Star RAW hat on the floor to make a statement while letting his guard down. "I want to people to know that everything is possible in life," he explained. "Follow your dreams and don't let the world judge you and tell you what to do."

He added, "Sometimes you have to forget the world to follow your heart and make your dreams come true."

Afrojack knows first hand how important it is to forget the world and stay true to the things you believe in. The tall Dutchman started his DJ and production career when he was a young teenager playing Greek vacation resorts until he was discovered by David Guetta who took him under his wings. Afrojack's rise to fame is an inspiring story that makes him a role model for everyone out there who wants to pursue their passion.

Even the fact that he often post photos of his posh lifestyle on Instagram and his other social networks is not to show off but it's purely intended to send a message. "I post those things so people know that they can achieve that success and lifestyle too," he explains. "If I can do it, anybody can. You just got to put your mind to it. I truly believe that."

With many music industry executives and other dignitaries in the room, Afrojack played nine tracks during the listening evening including his current hit single "Ten Feet Tall" featuring rising singer/songwriter Wrebel. That track was followed by the radio-ready "Illuminate" and "Keep Our Love Life" that feature Matthew Koma and have hit, hit, hit written all over it. Both Wrebel and Koma were in the audience as well. 

Another hit-to-be is Afrojack's collaboration with Snoog Dogg on the potent "Dynamite." The producer pays homage to his pal Avicii on "Freedom," a massively melodic tune that without a doubt will be be a go-to gem at festivals this summer. Another stand-out track on Forget The World is the track "Mexico" that is a deeply atmospheric tune that paints a gorgeous soundscape and shows off Afrojack's reflective side. One of the final tracks he played for the crowd was his epic remix of "Do Or Die" by 30 Seconds To Mars that will be included on the album as a bonus track.

While the world of dance music is splintering off into many other subgenres, production maestros like Afrojack help push the genre further into the American mainstream by combining sweeping grooves and hooky melodies with an authentic point of view and message that is instantly relatable and genuinely meaningful. 

Afrojack's Forget The World will be available on May 19. 

April 1, 2014 | Permalink







Presenting ARTIST#TALK with Armin Van Buuren at W South Beach

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I'm very excited about hosting a live audience interview with Dutch DJ icon Armin van Buuren at W South Beach on Saturday during the annual Winter Music Conference. Follow @wsouthbeach on Instagram and @wsobe on Twitter to find out how you can attend.

March 27, 2014 | Permalink