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From The Vault: Madonna – ‘Human Nature’

This week saw us ask you who you who you considered to be the reigning Queen of Pop. For many, that title belonged to none other than Madonna!

By constantly reinventing herself, she has tackled numerous musical genres and has amazed the masses by being equally comfortable singing Pop-by-the-numbers tunes or fearlessly riding a Hip-Hop beat.

Today we will travel back to a time when her Madgesty was experimenting with R&B, cue this week’s From The Vault ‘Human Nature’.

The final single from her underrated sixth album, 1994’s‘Bedtime Stories’, the G-Funk tinged cut is an open-letter to the press after the backlash she had suffered following the ‘Erotica’ era (especially the Sex book). She adopts an unapologetic attitude and explains that she shouldn’t be stoned for exploring her fantasies, for expressing herself – urging the listener to do the same.

‘Nature’s accompanying visual is even more notorious than the song. Deemed by many as avant-garde, the latex-heavy video depicts a corn-rowed material girl as a bondage queen, backed by a group of dancers, executing intricate choreography and acrobatics. What sets it apart from other clips is its remarkable art direction and cinematography as well as its simplicity, once again proving that less can indeed be more.

No matter which blonde currently rules the world charts and no matter what her naysayers think of her, Madonna should forever be respected, if not for her impressive back catalogue, amazing videos and critically-acclaimed tours; at least for universally raising the bar for Pop acts, especially female acts, and making it the norm to constantly want to push social or cultural barriers release after release.

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From The Vault: Boyz II Men – ‘Motownphilly’

Long before American band B2K and UK’ers JLS began ruling the charts in their respective countries, R&B boyband Boyz II Men were serving quite the winning formula (“male-groups-who-dance-and-harmonize”).

Today, From The Vault will focus on the boys’ first ever single, ‘Motownphilly’ – lifted from their exquisite ‘Cooleyhighharmony’ LP.

The 1991 track, written by the guys themselves and produced by Dallas Austin, was a huge success, peaking inside the Top 5 and giving them a taste of the success which characterised much of their recording career.

A classic in every way, the New Jack Swing cut is the group’s claim to fame of sorts. Indeed, not only does it narrate how they got signed to Michael Bivins’ (of Bell Biv DeVoe fame) label, as well as how they never stopped believing in their dreams, but it also showcases their trademark “hip-hop doo-wop” style – which juxtaposed intricate retro harmonies with modern beats.

‘Motownphilly’s accompanying  visual is everything we love about the early 90’s: crazy hairstyles, bold colours, energetic dance routines, the whole nine yards.

Although many had tried to vie for their title, Boyz II Men remain the biggest selling R&B male group. Indeed, even though a commercial chart resurgence for the 40-somethings is truly unlikely at this point, no one can deny that they upped the standards for boyband’s (and R&B, moreover) on a global scale. Boys II Men, we salute you.

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From The Vault: Fergie – ‘Glamourous’

From the very moment she’d been heard singing lead vocals on ‘Shut Up’ with the Black Eyed Peas, the masses figured out that it was only a matter of time before Fergie pursued a career of her own.

Three years later, the songstress unleashed her solo debut, ‘The Dutchess’. A worldwide smash, the LP spawned five Billboard top 5 hits, including three #1 records.

This week’s From The Vault is dedicated to the album third single, the Ludacris-assisted ‘Glamorous’.

With producer Polow Da Don revealing that the instrumental was initially offered to Gwen Stefani (as a remix to her track ‘Luxuriou’s), this cut serves as solid proof that one person’s trash is indeed another’s treasure. For after Ms. Stefani’s refusal, it went on to become not only one of Fergie’s biggest hits (BEP catalogue included), but also one of 2007 highest sellers.

Although the “I’m-still-the-same-even-though-I-have-money” theme has been done to death and will undeniably continue to live on, Fergie-Ferg’s take on the subject sounds surprisingly “legit”. Trading her trademark belting for a  frank, almost talky tone, she seems rather detached from that “flossy” world that is the showbiz industry (whether actually true or not is another question).

The accompanying video compliments the song’s lyrics and production – albeit a bit too literally. Indeed, the singer is depicted living the high-life, movie sets and all, while reminiscing on her humble start.

With the Black Eyed Peas on hiatus, Ms. Ferguson is reported to use that time to concentrate on her family and not to further her promising solo endeavours. As such, for those who were waiting for some more Fergalicious flavour, you’ll have to wait a little bit more. Whether the industry will welcome her back as openly as they embraced her initial foray into solo stardom will be interesting to see.

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From The Vault: Ne-Yo – ‘Sexy Love’

2005 saw R&B crooner Ne-Yo burst onto the music scene – as an artist. Previously known as a songwriter (having co-penned Mario‘s ‘Let Me Love You’, which stayed at the top of the Billboard for 9 weeks), he released his first album, ‘In My Own Words’, to wide critical and commercial acclaim. As such,  the LP’s final single, ‘Sexy Love’, will make the object of this week’s From The Vault.

A global summer hit, ‘Love’ established Ne-Yo as a prolific and viable act after the touchdown that was ‘So Sick’, his breakthrough single. Indeed, as history has proven with acts such as Lil Mama, Mims and the underrated Amerie; it seems to be quite the task to sustain as much as half the momentum after a smash a la ‘So Sick’.

On the song and its accompanying visual, Ne-Yo is addicted to his lady that he doesn’t care about anything that doesn’t revolve around the two of them.

Mr. Smith delivers, with the song, smooth high-pitched vocals (a nod to his idol Michael Jackson) over a then-fresh sounding production courtesy of Stargate (who in 2006 were still seen as up-and-comers in the U.S. Fast forward 4 years and they are Stateside Pop royalty – a title they’ve long held everywhere else.)

With new material on the way and after the disappointment that was ‘Libra Scale’, his fourth LP, we seriously hope the Grammy winning singer-songwriter has retrieved his mojo. For, he is among the better talents, alongside Chris Brown and Ciara, to have emerged from the music and entertainment scene since the mid 00’s.

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From The Vault: Usher – ‘Pop Ya Collar’

Long before Usher decided to jump on the Dance-Pop bandwagon, he was the undisputed Prince of R&B. Churning out hit after hit from the mid-90’s through the mid-00’s, Mr Raymond could do no wrong.

This week’s From The Vault comes in the form of one of his most underrated gems, the danceable, yet inspirational ‘Pop Ya Collar’.

Originally slated to be the first single from the crooner’s shelved LP, ‘All About U’ in the 2001, ‘Collar’ was a moderate hit in the U.S., yet was very successful in the UK where it peaked at #2 on the Official Singles Chart.

An up-tempo with an uplifting message urging people to be themselves, and do what’s best for them no matter what others might say, the sizzling track was the entertainer’s first time serving up a more Pop-oriented sound, a pattern he would most definitely repeat during the latter years of his career.

With the ‘Yeah!’ singer on the cusp of having one of his biggest hits in the form of David Guetta’s ‘Without You’ (on which he is featured), and with his Rev-Pop project on the way, it’s rather refreshing to journey back to a time when he didn’t have to sacrifice the essence of his sound in order to score high on the charts.

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From The Vault: Alicia Keys – ‘A Woman’s Worth’

Ten years ago, the world first fell in love with Alicia Keys and has kept fallin’ (pun intended) ever since. This week’s From The Vault journeys back to one of Ms. Keys earliest smash, the neo-soul ballad, ‘A Woman’s Worth’.

Serviced as the second single from her near-flawless debut ‘Songs In A Minor’, the track underscores the importance of mutual respect in a relationship.

With Alicia’s vocal delivery on the track reminiscent of a certain Ella Fitzgerald, along with the jazzy undertones of the production, this could be considered yet another 50’s throwback.

Yet the subtle Hip-Hop vibe as well as the hooks and catchy chorus are exactly what took the song from “old-school” to “radio smash” territory.

Numerous artists have tried to take that route of “back-to-basics-with-a-modern-twist” that Ms. Beatz has built her career after, but her genuine passion for that era in music and the rawness of her voice (as well as heartfelt lyrics and great live showings) are definitely what make this young lady the leader of the pack.

AK is currently celebrating a decade of success and, we here at That Grape Juice think that the mother of one shouldn’t have any problem celebrating another 10 years should she continuing staying true to her music.

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*That Grape Juice is giving away 3 signed copies of Alicia’s anniversary edition of ‘Songs In A Minor’. Click here to find out how you can win!*

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From The Vault: Michael Jackson & Janet – ‘Scream’

This week’s From The Vault celebrates the careers of two of Pop-Culture’s biggest phenomenons: brother and sister Michael and Janet Jackson.

With the 25th of June (yesterday) marking the 2 year anniversary of the Legend’s passing, That Grape Juice once again tribute him and his unmatchable talent.

And since little sister is touring Europe at the moment and will be coming very soon to our hometown of London, what better time than the present to reflect on the output of two of music’s great stars. What better way to do that than with their 1995 epic duet, ‘Scream’.

Released as the first single from Michael’s ‘HIStory’ album and produced by Janet’s longtime producers Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, the track serves as an open letter to the press following MJ’s 1993 legal drama. Janet’s participation was her way of supporting her big bro’.

The high-octane cut  sees Mike and Jan flaunt a  more aggressive tone, which in tandem compliments their controversial lyrics (“Just stop pressuring me, stop f*cking with me”).

A dream collaboration on paper, the blissful reality was rendered ever better with the help of ‘Scream’s award-winning video.

At the time the most expensive music visual ever made, the futuristic black & white clip is a classic for many a reason, although it’s the iconic dance-break that generates the most praise to this day.

The world had been waiting for a joint performance of the track for years, but instead had to settle for a virtual showing in 2009 when Janet tributed her brother at the VMA’s. An amazing performance to say the least, yet still heart-wrenching knowing that we’ll never get to see them set the stage a ablaze together.

Many a fan have expressed desire for Janet to return to the creative force that are Jimmy & Terry. A sentiment we co-sign; they are after all the ones who’ll provide songs in the vein of this one (i.e. stellar production + non-standard lyrics), as well as the wealth of hits she amassed under their guidance.

As for Michael, this piece of art right here is one of the many reasons he will NEVER be replaced. Even though this vid saw the light of the day more than 15 years ago, it is aesthetically leaps and bounds better than most of what is out today.

MJ may be gone, but his art and legacy live on! Forever and a day.

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