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From The Vault: Mariah Carey – ‘Heartbreaker’ Live

Though it is now a feat most closely associated with Rihanna, Mariah Carey was the master of snatching #1 records left and right in the 90’s.

Today’s From The Vault pick focuses on a memorably live showing of her 14th chart-topper, 1999’s ‘Heartbreaker.’

Written and produced by Carey alongside DJ Clue and featuring a rap verse by Jay-Z, ‘Heartbreaker’ was the debut single from the diva’s seventh album ‘Rainbow’.

Likened to previous smash ‘Fantasy’ because of their similar hooks, the cut also received a re-work courtesy of Missy Elliott and Da Brat which was sent to radio and included on the album.

Its music video – directed by longtime friend and collaborator Brett Ratner – saw Mimi go head to head with her arch nemesis Bianca.

Reaching the top of the US chart, it was also a Top 5 single in the UK as well as France.

The performance we salute here was held at Mimi’s high-school making it a literal homecoming. Opting for a cheerleader’s theme, the occasion saw pompoms and leather jackets were out in full force. Jay Z and Da Brat even made appearances sending the audience into a frenzy.

So why this showing? We love seeing Mariah take advantage of her scenography and not being static in the middle of the stage with only hand gestures as “choreography”. Though she’s not exactly dropping it like it’s hot, she makes for a compelling moment by just… performing. Clearly we’re not the only ones who feel as such, indeed her ‘Sweet Sweet Fantasy Tour’ saw the mother-of-two employ a similar strategy delivering her most entertaining performances in years.

With a new team on deck, a successful Vegas stint, as well as a critically-acclaimed European jaunt, the future is looking brighter than it has for a long time for the songstress. We say it’s a good thing as it seems like she’s not going anywhere, and frankly we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ready when you are, MC!

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From The Vault: Robin Thicke – ‘Lost Without U’

Though the past few years have brought testing times for Robin Thicke – both personally and professionally, there’s no denying that he’s all sorts of gifted.

This week, From The Vault reacquaints with the crooner’s breakthrough single ‘Lost Without U.’

Serviced as the second single from the star’s 2006 sophomore set ‘The Evolution Of Robin Thicke’, the love-lorn song was written at a time when Robin felt insecure following the underperformance of his debut LP and its singles. Thankfully, history had not repeated itself with this single as it was a sleeper hit in the US peaking at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Hip Hop/R&B tally – which had not happened for a White artist since George Michael almost twenty years prior. The cut also reached the 11th spot of the UK Singles Charts.

Because he thought it could be his last video if the song tanked, Thicke chose to cast his then-wife Paula Patton as his love interest in the track’s Benny Boom lensed visual.

Needless to say, the chemistry displayed throughout the sensual video veered off the Richter scale. Bittersweet, somewhat, given the eventual fate for the much-loved (and “in love”) couple.

With ‘Blurred Lines’, Robin Thicke managed to gain a new audience. Yet, as many loyalists would agree, he (in the process) also lost that particular qualitative aura that was omnipresent on previous projects. We hope next go around he manages to mix and match the playful Pop elements of the ‘Lines’ album with some heartfelt and vulnerable moments akin to his first few bodies of work.

Sure, he’s already had a few missteps on that path, but songs like this remind us why we’ll willingly wait.

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From The Vault: Mariah Carey – ‘Fantasy’

Though Christmas is Mariah Carey‘s usual holiday of predilection, this year sees the premium diva serve as the Queen of Easter as she is celebrating her 46th birthday today.

For the occasion, From The Vault takes it all way back to the year 1995 when the songbird released what was to be one of her biggest singles to date. ‘Fantasy’ is our chosen pick of the day.

After four albums in as many years, Mariah clearly had no plan to slow down anytime soon. Seizing on her monstrous momentum, she released blockbuster effort ‘Daydream’ led by  ‘Fantasy’ – which was produced by Carey alongside Dave Hall.

Keen on bridging the gap between R&B and Hip-Hop, an Urban remix was produced, masterminded by Puff Daddy and featuring guest vocals by Wu Tang Clan’s Old Dirty Bastard. Though the idea of having girl-next-door Mariah and gangsta rap king ODB on the same song puzzled many initially, it proved rather beneficial to both the artists’ catalogues and careers. More broadly has changed the music industry forever from a  fusing genres standpoint.

To this day, ‘Fantasy’ is Mimi’s fifth biggest release in the US where it has reached the top of the Billboard chart – her ninth at the time – for 8 consecutive weeks. Elsewhere, it achieved commercial success too peaking at #1 in Canada and Australia and #5 in the UK.

Disappointed with the outcome of some of her previous videos, the diva added yet another title to her already impressive resume when she chose to direct the video for the single.

Set at an amusement park, the visual captures that care-free aura the song evokes and sees Mimi letting her hair down on a rollercoaster, roller-blading and partying. An alternate edit for the remix featured ODB interwoven.

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Though the world can be tough on her – sometimes justifiably – no one can diminish Mariah’s influence in Pop Culture as we know it. During her 26 years in the industry she has been through the highest of highs as well as lowest of lows but somehow has managed to consistently remind the masses why they fell for her. How? By way of her timeless talent and iconic hits such as this.

Two decades on, we’re still bopping to ‘Fantasy’ – which still sounds oh so sweet.

Happy Birthday Ms. Carey!

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From The Vault: Gwen Stefani – ‘Cool’

With Gwen Stefani set to top the charts with her third studio album, this week’s From The Vault pick salutes a  Gwen gem from her first LP.

Cue ‘Cool’ from ‘Love.Angel.Music.Baby.’ 

Serviced as the fourth cut from the blockbuster project, the New Wave inspired track was released in 2005.

Produced by Nellee Hooper and Dallas Austin, the latter also co-wrote the song with Stefani.

While ‘Cool’ only reached Top 40 status overseas, was a hit in the US peaking at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #9 on the Pop tally.

The lyrics pull from real life in its centring on Gwen’s relationship with No Doubt-bandmate and former-bae Tony Kanal and how (after the ups and the challenges of life) they’ve remained more than colleagues but good friends too.

Sophie Muller helmed the video, which was shot in Lake Como, Italy and features the singer playing opposite Spanish actor Daniel Gonzàlez — and Erin Lokitz… who happens to be Kanal’s girlfriend.

It plays like a literal, yet creative take on the song’s resonating lyrics.

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After a series of missteps, Team Gwen finally seem to have things in check and we couldn’t be happier. For, Ms Stefani is among the few artists who rose to prominence during the golden age of the 90s but somehow still possess all that is “required” to be successful in todays climate.

Hopefully the next chapter of her solo run is as colorful, captivating and game-changing as her first swing of the bat.

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From The Vault: Pink – ‘Stupid Girls’

The more things seem to change… the more they stay the same.

It’s that very sentiment that prevails when reflecting on a track released exactly 10 years ago.

This week’s From The Vault comes courtesy of Pink and her parodic ‘Stupid Girl.’

The launching single from Ms Moore’s 2006 fourth LP ‘I’m Not Dead,’ ‘Girl’ saw her team up with producers Billy Mann and MachoPsycho to vent her displeasure with modern society’s sexism and its habit of promoting “brainless bimbos” instead of strong and intelligent women.

[Sidenote: The irony about the girls Pink targets in this song is they are anything but “brainless” and very aware of how they are perceived… which in itself is the problem. But we digress]

Commercially, ‘Girls’ served as a solid comeback cut especially considering the dire performance of her previous effort ‘Try This’ and its singles; the track  peaked at #13 in the US and #4 in the UK and Australia.

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Frequent collaborator Dave Meyers was brought on-board to bring the song to visual life, which he – as ever – achieved amazingly.

Spoofing the likes of Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton, video embodied the tongue-in-cheek(ness) of the lyrics and showcased Pink prodding at the superficiality of society while stressing the importance of individualism and education.

The effort paid effort, as the clip won the Best Pop Video at the 2006 VMAs.

A decade removed from this release, the rise of vapid and talent-devoid celebrities has intensified and young girls – and boys – around the world are “following” them with even more eagerness than before.

Our main issue with the “it-girl” culture is how irrelevant the concept of a strong WORK ethic then becomes for the younger generation and how “FAME” is turning into a Mount Everest of sorts.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like the tide will be turning anytime soon, so let’s hope the Pinks of this world will always be given a platform to…well.. tell it like it is.

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From The Vault: Aaliyah – ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number’

Today’s From The Vault pick salutes the enduring impact of an artist that sadly left us way too soon – Aaliyah and her break-out hit ‘Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number.’

The title track from her 1994 debut album, ‘Age’ was serviced as the project’s third single and like the majority of its parent LP was produced by R. Kelly.

Interestingly, it was the artist’s first single to miss the Billboard Top 10 peaking at #75 on the Hot 100 and #32 in the UK.

In retrospect, because of its subject matter and lyrics about a girl wanting to pursue a relationship with an older man (and the fact that Kelly wrote the words to the song),  it was deemed controversial. No doubt because of the singer and the producer’s relationship — but that’s another day another conversation.
Millicent Shelton was in charge of the song’s visualization and delivered a vintage 90s clip, one that resonates and reminds why the era is helmed as golden by so many.

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Boasting a stellar debut LP, which displayed a musical maturity well beyond her youth, Aaliyah indeed proved to the world that, sometimes, age can quite literally be just a number.

One thing’s for sure, the singer embodied the concept, as she has accomplished way more between 14 and 22 than most of her peers have in the length and breadth of their careers.

Long live her impact!

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From The Vault: Jennifer Lopez – ‘I’m Real’

Singer. Actress. Entertainer.

After more than two decades in the industry, this year saw Jennifer Lopez add to her potent portfolio by slipping on her stilettos to scorch in Las Vegas.

Today, we celebrate the diva’s ability to diversify her craft. This week’s From The Vault is a special one as it pays homage to not one but two singles: ‘I’m Real’ – the original Pop version and its ‘Murder Remix.’

Following the success of  the ‘J.LO’ album’s launching single ‘Love Don’t Cost A Thing,’ second swing of the bat ‘Play’ didn’t fare as well commercially. It was time to shake things up. Cue ‘I’m Real.’

The 80’s-kissed incarnation of the song was serviced to radio first. Produced by frequent collaborator Cory Rooney, it lyrically leaned on the “independent woman” theme which was all the rage in the early 00’s.

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What really established ‘Real’ as a blockbuster hit, though, was its Urban remix, which saw Lopez link up with rapper Ja Rule for the first time (of many times). With its sonically summer sound, the track reached the top spot of the US Billboard Hot 100, where it shone brightly for five non-consecutive weeks.

It’s important to stress that although the two songs don’t sound anything alike, their airplay counted towards the very same chart position – a policy which has since been changed following arguments of unfairness.

Elsewhere, ‘Real’ peaked at #3 in both Australia and France but also at the 4th position of the UK Singles Charts.

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For both versions of the song, Dave Meyers was brought in to bring to fruition two dynamically different visuals.

While the Pop take saw the singer assume the role of a homecoming star  in town for a show, the ‘Murder’ mix (which nabbed an MTV VMA) re-affirmed her Bronx rooting. It crucially introduced the masses to the “Jenny From The Block” aesthetic; one that would become a staple in her career and one she would later revisit with louder volume on 2014’s ‘AKA.’  

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Fifteen years after this release, La Lopez is still making major waves in the entertainment world. For she and her team have ensured she is omnipresent in the media scape. Indeed, this year alone, one need not look further than her Vegas residency, American Idol, and her new show ‘Shades Of Blue’ – which has just been renewed for a second season.

Though her “Jack Of All Trades” trait may be unappealing to some, it’s the exact reason we’ll always respect her.

As of now, we’re not totally sure where Jen will go next… but that’s precisely why we can’t wait to find out.

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From The Vault: Boyz II Men – ‘I’ll Make Love To You’

Love is in the air!

Today’s Valentine’s Day edition of From The Vault fittingly spotlights R&B balladeers Boyz II Men.

The legendary vocalists established themselves as such with their impassioned performances of songs centered on the highs and lows of the “L” word; one of the most renown being their 1994 smash ‘I’ll Make Love To You.’

Baked by Babyface, the slow jam was rolled out at the lead single from the quad’s sophomore album – the aptly titled ‘II.’

Benefitting from the momentum of ‘End of the Road’ from their debut LP, ‘I’ll Make Love To You’ was a humungous hit and went on to best ‘Road’s” 13-week record at #1 on the Hot by spending 14 weeks in the pole position.

[Editor’s note: Follow-up single ‘On Bended Knee’ went on to replace ‘I’ll Make’ at #1, making the Philadelphia native’s the third ever act to boot themselves from the top spot].

Certified Platinum and winner of the 1995 Grammy’s for Best R&B Performance by a Group, the track serves as one of Boyz many signature numbers and undoubtedly one of their most commercially successful.  As at writing, ‘I’ll Make Love To You’ occupies the #19 spot on Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Chart.

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Today’s “turn-up” climate oftentimes sees any sign of male emotion classed as “corny” or effeminate. Yet, tracks like this have us yearning for a return of male vocalists who aren’t afraid to embrace their inner-gentleman and lyrically soar with subject-matter that is still so universal to all: love.

Pending its return, watch the video for ‘I’ll Make Love To You’ (starring actor Duane Martin) above.

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From The Vault: Michael Jackson’s Super Bowl Halftime Show

Another year, another Halftime show. With the latest Superbowl mid-game extravaganza just a few hours away, it’s the aptest of occasions to reflect on the undeniable blueprint of what a Halftime performance should be. As such, Michael Jackson‘s 1993 showing is this week’s From The Vault pick.

Hot on the promotional trail for his ‘Dangerous’ album, the late, great superstar was offered the slot following the lackluster ratings generated by his predecessors.

Already crowned the King, the genesis of modern Pop seized the moment to reaffirm why he was (and still is) the bar and the benchmark.

After making an explosive entrance (on a toaster….naturally), the stage titan stood still for 90 scintillating seconds before bursting into ‘Dangerous’ smash ‘Jam.’ Rousing renditions of classics ‘Billie Jean’ and ‘Black Or White’ quickly followed.

Famed for his philanthropical and humanitarian work, Jackson closed the set with a hymn-like sing-along to ‘We Are The World’ and ‘Heal The World’ – with a choir of comprised of over three thousand.

Like most things Jackson touched, this showing forever changed the scope of live performance and arguably the entertainment industry at large. Indeed, following the 1993 ratings touchdown, the Superbowl Halftime has become the definitive destination for high-octane showings by music’s biggest names.

What’s more, between interest in the big game and the buzz about Halftime, the Bowl has become a mecca of sorts for advertisers who plunge millions into commercials which run during the show. Put simply, the event has morphed from a sports phenomenon into a global, Pop cultural experience. Something Michael Jackson was instrumental in.

[Side note: Even the chronology of the setlist (cannonball opening into a mellower, ballad flavored end) has been adopted by almost every Halftime headliner that has followed – including Madonna]

With Beyonce and Bruno Mars set to return to rock the stage with Coldplay tonight, it’ll be interesting to see which way Mike’s influence will be used this time around.

Long live the King Of Pop!

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From The Vault: Melanie C & Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes – ‘Never Be The Same Again’

What happens when two artists from the two of music’s biggest girlbands join forces? Apparently, smash hit bliss!

This week’s From The Vault pick is Melanie C‘s ‘Never Be The Same Again‘ featuring the incomparable Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes.

A rather unlikely pairing on paper, it quickly becomes clear upon listening to ‘Same’ that the ladies were onto winner. Released in early 2000, the track served as the third single from Sporty Spice’s debut effort ‘Northern Star‘ and saw her showcasing a radically different facet of her artistry. Especially when compared to the sugar-coated sound that defined “Spice Mania,” which took over the globe (with the firmest of grips) during the latter 90’s.

Rhett Lawrence produced the track which he co-wrote with Chisolm and Lopes – who was in the midst of expanding her brand following TLC‘s blockbuster album, ‘FanMail‘.

The track proved to be a huge European success for the duo, hitting #1 in the UK and #5 in Germany. Sadly, it didn’t chart in the US but fared very well in Australia where it reached the second position of the ARIA chart.

With its futuristic feel and modern-design elements, the video for the single was very much carved in the vein of what could be seen on MTV in a post-Matrix reality.

Lensed by Francis Lawrence, the visual presents Melanie in a sterile, Feng-shui environment meditating to music, running (no doubt to the top of the charts) before being joined by Left-Eye for a synchronised Tai-Chi session. The latter dubbed as captivating “choreography” in itself.

With this collaboration, the girls showed that mixing Spice with touch of TLC can yield the most delicious of results. We yearn for more out-of-the-box pairings such as this. Hopefully, today’s top talent will do away with the rigid politics and oblige.

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From The Vault: Cassie Tanks On ‘106 & Park’ [Performance]

This week’s From The Vault selection comes courtesy of Cassie and her infamous 106 & Park performance of single ‘Me & U.’

Extracted from her eponymous first album, “Me & U’ was the model’s debut effort. Released in 2005, the Ryan Leslie production was a sleeper-hit peaking at #3 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Hip-Hop/R&B charts in the US in 2006. It hit #6 in the United Kingdom the following year.

Beyond club play, it was the track’s high-octane video (which drew comparisons to Janet Jackson’s ‘Pleasure Principle’) that catapulted the release to the upper echelon of the charts.

Yet, could Cassie replicate the fierceness on-stage?

Unfortunately for the Bad Boy belle, the answer was an emphatic, embarrassing, and resounding “NO!”

Taking to the stage of BET’s then-flagship show, the beauty gave the ugliest of performances – characterized and immortalized by stiff, lazy, and laxed stage presence and vocals that just did not show up. Many wondered if she was asleep.

From the attempted acapella intro to the look of “even I know this is a mess” plastered on her pretty face , it was all a dismal disaster and ultimately spelled the end of whatever quest she had to be taken seriously. Her music career, as the last decade has shown, has never quite recovered.

It’s just her luck that this has happened back in 2006, because in the current viral age (see: Instagram, Facebook, memes and the like) her career in the broader sense (modelling included) is unlikely to have recovered.

Still, by way of her relationship with Diddy and a number of fashion focussed campaigns, she remains one of the most desirable ladies in the spotlight. Not a bad consolation prize.

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From The Vault: Natalie Cole & Whitney Houston Perform ‘Say A Little Prayer’

2015 was a wholly eventful year entertainment-wise, yet sadly it climaxed with the passing of songbird Natalie Cole.
From The Vault  salutes the diva with a very special performance that saw her grace the stage alongside another premium vocalist – and one of That Grape Juice‘s favorite – Whitney Houston.
Taking on the Aretha Franklin classic ‘I Say A Little Prayer’, the two singers delivered what could only be described as a vocal masterclass. Verses were traded and sensational chemistry was displayed.
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This performance is only a brief reminder of just how much the music industry at large has lost with Natalie’s – and obviously Whitney’s – departure. Apart from shoulder pads and intricate hairstyles, what’s striking about this showing is the ladies’ raw talent and their dedication to the art of music and performance.
With social media’s influence in today’s pop culture at sky-high, we sincerely hope that Ms. Cole’s passing will encourage the next generation of vocal hopefuls to flip through her extensive catalogue and choose to focus on putting the talent at the forefront.
Ms. Cole, thank you for the music. Love always.

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