Commercial radio seems to play its rundown of the Hot 100 ad nauseam; resident DJs of mainstream nightclubs at least shuffle the order, if not cast them out to save themselves. As these Billboard charts and DJs seemingly testify, whatever's classified as "pop" is always present and available — and, for those reasons, easy to take for granted. Remember, Whitney Houston recorded her stunning cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You" in 1992, which is now the top-selling single on iTunes. And only now, after her sudden death at age 48, is "Glee" even considering a tribute episode in her honor.
On Friday night, the day before Houston was found dead and its first-ever joint music showcase, Dazzle, party promoters Sorry Darlin' and Bedlam were set on reminding its Drunken Unicorn audience that pop music should be cherished. "Thank you for coming out and supporting real music," said Barry Brandon, Bedlam organizer and Dazzle headliner, after a keyboardist tapped out and repeated the first few notes of Houston's "How Will I Know?" ("Do you guys know this now?" he asked. Answer: A resounding yes, before almost the entire audience of several dozen chimed in.)
Brandon and most of his opening acts knew how to look and act like the pop stars they aspired to be, with Jean Kelley's backing band and her "Lana Del Rey" hair, as Brandon quipped; and Brandon's own intermission for a wardrobe change. The fierce Brie had even come prepared with a posse, including girlfriends who screamed, "GET IT BRIE," photographers persistently trying to catch every rapid-fire pop, and two sets of back-up dancers — one male and bare-chested underneath black blazers, and the other female, with Afros swaying as the hems of their sheer tank tops barely grazed their navels.
Brie's song and dance was dizzying, especially in comparison to NNXT. The one-woman electro band clicked two silver drumsticks together to build up energy — but only when she wasn't nervously hovering her hands over her laptop, its screen flapping back and forth to the booming bass. NNXT didn't have back-up dancers, or even a backing band. She did, however, have ridiculously easy-to-learn choruses, ones that didn't soar but instead wryly reveled in the ludicrous nature of her own debauchery: "Dru-, dru-dru-dru-drunk texting."
As both the opener and surprise closer — Sorry Darlin' founder Sarah Mincher's own suggestion — NNXT played to just a dozen or so people. Jean Kelley's crowd, slightly bigger and slightly older, huddled close to the stage as they tried to catch what she was singing. Each song started with sad piano chords then slowly expanded to include her two guitarists and drummer. The more self-deprecating Kelley's stage banter became, the closer people leaned in. "Like me on Facebook. Please. Because I'm lonely. As you can tell from my uplifting songs," Kelley said, a note far more endearing than the entirety of her most memorable song, a middling kiss-off that sends a guy walking to, gulp, his own "trail of tears." (By our count, this makes Bedlam a near-repeat offender.)
Like Kelley, Brandon's seemingly unstaged personality was more endearing than the actual songs. "Sounds like angels in here. God does love gays," he said, tickling the crowd into applause. But Brandon sings as he speaks, just without the wit — a trade-off that begs for the light synths normally featured in his recordings, or at least far more instrumental treatment than just a keyboard and songwriting partner Jose Luis Rodriguez on stage. And when he tackled covers of Adele's "Turning the Tables" and Houston's "How Will I Know," he reminded the audience both of what he does have (good taste) and what he doesn't (a thunderous voice, capable of conveying a huge range of emotion in just one note).
Even on Billboard's Hot 100, pop music often manifests itself in many ways. For instance, in this week's top ten, there's this year's biggest Grammy winner, the stars of Mac and Devin Go to High School, the first-ever "American Idol," and, um, "disco diarrhea." Dazzle became a somewhat useful reminder of this, too, with its featured artists citing Beyonce (Brie), Robyn (Brandon) and Nikka Costa (Kelley) as influences. Whether it's done with a roaring voice or enough over-the-top production to compensate, the best of pop music often begs to be heard and lusted after, commanding us to keep dancing until the world ends or to just feel the heat with somebody. With their dance routines and shiny costumes, the artists at Dazzle reminded their Drunken Unicorn audience what pop music can look and sound like — but not what it can feel like.
I am a connoisseur of this real soul music like the comment above I'm glad…
You've got a few of my faves listed here, plus a bunch I've never heard…
This is such a cool idea and the performance is great (I've been twice) but…
Ugliest bunch of girls I've ever seen.
Shuddup ya dumb beatnik