Monday, November 24, 2014

Usher Leans on Nostalgia and Second-Nature Moves at Madison Square Garden: Concert Review

The R&B master aims to put his "Voice" coaching back into practice with The UR Experience, a two-decade hit parade

Usher live 2014 P"Sometimes you gotta go through something to get to something," whispered Usher to the sold-out Madison Square Garden audience at Friday night's The UR Experience. It's an adage he included in the liner notes of 2012's Looking 4 Myself and remains appropriate, as the seasoned singer-dancer recently decided to delay the release of his eighth album indefinitely, after two under-performers. He's said he "just ain't ready" and wants more time to tinker with new material, and is stage-jumping in the meantime with the 90-minute arena spectacle that celebrates his 20-year career. But if the 36-year-old is hoping to move forward by thoroughly looking back, it might be a lost cause, because the tour doesn't adequately honor the performer's pop culture contributions and, therefore, his still-untouched potential.

Read more Usher on How He Gets Tough With Justin Bieber and Why He's Not Ready for a New Album
After sets from opening acts DJ Cassidy and August Alsina, the always cool and casual R&B man first triggered fireworks after gliding through smoke in a studded leather jacket and a pair of red sneakers (and later gray glitter, and then gold). From 1997's "My Way" to 2014's "She Came to Give It to You," his archive was beefed up with brass, bass and dance breaks — the latter being a big part of why the arena was packed to capacity for Usher alone. His routines were sharp, effortless and even playful at times, and he didn't need to rely on constant gyrating to entertain (he only showed his abs once, nearly an hour into the show). But outside of an eight-measure solo dance moment during "OMG" (which was censored, along with his other songs, a welcome contrast to August's countless F-bombs), audiences sparsely saw the expert spotlighting his uncanny knack for choreography, as he too often leaned on sporadic movements that must now be second nature to him.

Usher also shined vocally when he took the time to do so: bouncing his gold mic stand during "Caught Up," hitting the top of his range on "Climax," adding extra runs to "U Remind Me," impressively closing "Burn" a cappella, and returning with an encore of a full-out "Without You," which he dedicated to God. Did he really need the randomly activated risers, the 90-second drum solo or the distracting generic graphics of fish and Chinese dragons? A little smoke and fire is fine when watching the song-and-dance man — and even the interlude of asking five female attendees to show the best moves on "Bad Girl" was at least humorous in turning the "sing to someone onstage" trope on its head — but it's odd that the beloved coach of The Voice, on which he authentically encourages insecure contestants to proudly tout their individual strengths, would bring attention to anything but, when it comes to his own retrospective.

Even more so, his notable tracks were often shortened to hit the next memorable chart-topper; at one point, "Confessions Part II" was interrupted for a short chat with the DJ, who then spun snippets of Usher's hottest collaborations while the singer simply stood on the booth and sang along every now and then. And toward the end of the show, Usher brought out his now-signature Davy Crockett-like hat and had the audience loudly sing his set's remaining numbers with the nine-person band.

Though Usher Raymond IV wasn't properly "experienced" in the arena, the singer did thank his fans for gathering to watch him in his element. "Hello — it's been some time since I've been here at Madison Square Garden," he humbly admitted in the middle of the show. "No matter how long it has taken for me to get back here, it's like I'm right back at home." Hopefully on a future tour, MSG ticketholders won't be watching an artist sell himself short.
Set list:
My Way
Love in This Club
You Make Me Wanna…
Lil' Freak
Nice & Slow
U Remind Me
Caught Up
She Came to Give It to You
Dot Com
That's What It's Made For
Hey Daddy / My Boo / I Need a Girl
Lovers and Friends
I Don't Mind
New Flame
There Goes My Baby
U Got It Bad
Bad Girl
Good Kisser
U Don't Have to Call
DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love
Without You

YouTube's Refusal to Remove 20,000 Songs Leads to New Irving Azoff Warning

YouTube has apparently made the decision not to remove songs composed by popular musicians including The Eagles, Pharrell Williams and John Lennon, and as a result, the popular video website is being warned of the risks of "defiance."

YouTube's Refusal to Remove 20,000 Songs Leads to New Irving Azoff WarningLast week, just as YouTube announced the launch of a subscription service called Music Key, music industry heavyweight Irving Azoff was sounding the alarm that YouTube hadn't completed all of the licensing necessary. YouTube may have made deals with record labels, but to publicly perform songs, the company also has to take care of songwriters, which Azoff says are "massively underpaid" when it comes to digital services. Many songwriters are handled by publishers working through performance rights organizations like ASCAP and BMI, but Azoff is spearheading a new venture, Global Music Rights (GMR), which has managed to sign up about 42 songwriters like Smokey Robinson and Chris Cornell, who collectively have published about 20,000 songs.

According to a letter sent by GMR's outside lawyer Howard King to YouTube general counsel Kent Walker on Monday (see below), YouTube has failed to comply with demands to stop performing those 20,000 songs. Now the two sides begin a dance to the beat of copyright law.
The first question that arises from the escalating situation is whether YouTube has a right to perform these songs until proven otherwise. GMR thinks the burden of proving a valid license is on YouTube.
According to the Azoff camp, YouTube has come forward with word that it has a multi-year license for the public performance of works represented by GMR. The licensors aren't identified, but it's possible that YouTube thinks itself covered by prior deals made with ASCAP, BMI, SESAC or some foreign PRO. (YouTube hasn't publicly commented about the situation, although it did give us a statement. It's below.)
King writes: "Obviously, if YouTube contends that it has properly licensed any of the songs for public broadcast, a contention we believe to be untrue, demand is hereby made that we be furnished with documentation of such licenses."

The next issue to be debated will be whose responsibility it is for alerting YouTube about infringing works on the network. Azoff tells The Hollywood Reporter that GMR has sent takedown notices, but from what we understand, these appear to fall under the category of a general notice of 20,000 unlicensed works. Azoff says that YouTube is making GMR track down each instance of an infringing work in the YouTube ecosystem. "They hide behind safe harbor," he says. "But that doesn't protect a knowing and willful infringer."
Interestingly, the responsibilities of ISPs under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act began to be shaped by Viacom's lawsuit against YouTube. That litigation was settled earlier this year, leaving it to other cases like the record companies' dispute with Vimeo to further inform the discussion about precisely what kind of knowledge and awareness is necessary before an ISP like YouTube is disqualified from having safe harbor from copyright liability. (The Vimeo case will be argued before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals very soon.)
Although Azoff says he's not contemplating a lawsuit quite yet, the letter from King (a notable litigator) does raise the prospect of "willful copyright infringement." Statutory damages for willful copyright infringement run up to $150,000 per work, meaning that if a lawsuit does come, it could theoretically be a $3 billion case. 

Statutory damages more typically run between $10,000 to $50,000 per work, though. That still amounts to a lawsuit potentially worth somewhere between $200 million and $1 billion.

Of course, it's possible YouTube does have a prior license or can mitigate its liability another way. (For example, the company now uses content fingerprinting technology that could be a middle ground in the takedown process.) If not, this is Azoff's way of ratcheting up the pressure and making his formal invitation to YouTube to get to the negotiating table right away.

A spokesperson from YouTube gave us this statement: "We've done deals with labels, publishers, collection societies and more to bring artists' music into YouTube Music Key. To achieve our goal of enabling this service's features on all the music on YouTube, we'll keep working with both the music community and with the music fans invited to our beta phase."

Gwen Stefani Releases 'Spark the Fire,' New Pharrell-Produced Single

Stefani is attempting to reemerage as a solo artist after a lengthy hiatus -- her last full-length, The Sweet Escape, came out in 2006.  

Gwen Stefani
Recently she appeared on a Calvin Harris track and put out "Baby Don't Lie," a new song that came together with help from hitmakers like Benny Blanco and Ryan Tedder.

"Baby Don't Lie" was a shiny track with a big sound, but Stefani backs away from the sticky anthems on "Spark The Fire." This song has a thin, strange beat, combining an insistent triangle and a eclectic assortment of drum sounds. Stefani shows off the kind of chant-singing that made her a solo success during the '00s on hits like "Hollaback Girl." She also interpolates the Rolling Stones -- "hey, get off my cloud" -- and quotes another recent Pharrell production, Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines." 

Stefani's third solo album is due next month.

Fox Beats 'American Idol' Racism Lawsuit

Ten African-American contestants contended that their disqualifications occurred out of racial animus 

American Idol Exprience Kris Allen L
Fox Broadcasting, Fremantle and executive producer Nigel Lythgoe have prevailed over 10 former contestants on American Idol who alleged they were the victims of racial discrimination in the way they were disqualified.

The lawsuit was brought in July 2013, and it aimed to be ambitious — talking about how producers had allegedly dug up dirt on African American contestants, had disseminated information from criminal rap sheets to the media in order to justify DQs, how the popular singing competition show was manipulated, and how the contestants were forced to sign "unconscionable Willy Wonka contracts."

Earlier this month, U.S District Judge Naomi Buchwald heard oral arguments in the suit, and it was clear that the biggest hurdle that plaintiffs were facing was not bringing claims soon enough.

That definitely turned out to be the case.

"Here, each plaintiff's claims run from the date of his disqualification, as the adverse and allegedly discriminatory act of disqualification or elimination from competition is sufficient to put a contestant on notice that he should 'protect himself by seeking legal advice' and therefore to trigger the statute of limitations," writes the judge.

The plaintiffs attempted to argue that it wasn't until the discovery of the results of a statistical study that was commissioned after the disqualification of season 11 alum Jermaine Jones when the clock to sue started. The study allegedly shows that the disqualifications couldn't have happened by random decisions on the part of producers, that there is "a prima facie case of racial discrimination as a matter of law with absolute zero percent chance of error."

Judge Buchwald responds, "Apart from ignoring the clear law that knowledge of a discriminatory motive is irrelevant, plaintiffs have provided no explanation of how JXJ's disqualification made apparent discrimination that was otherwise obscure; rather, they simply state that JXJ's disqualification alone revealed an actionable disparity of treatment, ln a way that plaintiffs' alleged ten prior disqualifications did not. This conclusory assertion is not sufficient to toll the limitations period."

As a result, the statute of limitations makes all but season nine contestant Chris Golightly a loser in court for failure to move quicker. As for Golighty, he still can't win for other reasons.

"While the complaint asserts that defendants disqualified Golightly because he was an African-American man with a criminal record, it offers no facts beyond this bare allegation of racism to show that either Golightly's race or his criminal record motivated his disqualification. Rather, the complaint provides a clear motive for Golightly's disqualification that does not turn on racial animus: Golightly's participation in a preexisting music group."

The judge goes onto note that the contestant agreement that Golightly signed required him to warrant that he never signed a contract for his performing abilities before his appearance on the show. He had to be an amateur. "Moreover, the complaint admits that a white contestant was disqualified for the same reason in the preceding season," writes the judge, who also dismisses a claim based on a supposed rigged contest because she says there's no private cause of action for that, only a law allows review of FCC final orders.

In denying an opportunity to amend the lawsuit and dismissing federal claims with prejudice, the judge makes it nearly impossible that the case will continue, although an appeal is possible. The defendants were represented by Daniel Petrocelli at O'Melveny & Myers.

Drake Announces First-Ever Headline Tour of Australia & NZ

Drake’s first visit Down Under has evolved into a full-scale arena tour.

Drake hosting the 2014 ESPY Awards
Drake during the 2014 ESPYS oLive in Los Angeles, California. 
Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images
Rapper 2 Chainz will join the Canadian artist on his first-ever Australasian headline shows early next year, which will kick off in Auckland, New Zealand then go west for shows in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane. The hip hoppers are already confirmed to play the five-date Future Music Festival run, which begins Feb. 28 in Sydney.

Drizzy, whose third album Nothing Was the Same opened on the ARIA chart last year at No. 2, his highest charting release here, will tour Australia for Mushroom Group companies Frontier Touring and Illusive (Mushroom Group is also behind the Future Music brand). 
The general ticket on-sale starts Dec. 1, while pre-sales begin Nov. 27 at "This show," its producers boast, "is going to be huge."

Drake is also enjoying a huge result on the U.S. charts. His collab on OVO-signing Makonnen Sheran’s "Tuesday" recently landed the Toronto native his 72nd entry on the Hot 100, lifting him past the Beatles (71) for sole possession of the eighth-most visits all-time. Earlier, he extended his record for the most No. 1s on the Rap Airplay chart, as "0 to 100/The Catch Up" gave him his 18th chart-topping title.

Drake's 2015 tour of Australia & New Zealand:
Feb. 23 - Vector Arena, Auckland
Feb. 25 - Allphones Arena, Sydney
Feb. 27 - Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
March 3 - Perth Arena
March 5 - Brisbane Entertainment Centre

NEWS//How the Bill Cosby Story Snowballed

It took a new book, a stand-up's scorn and plenty of social media to reignite years-old claims of sexual abuse and derail the 77-year-old legend's career

This story first appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
AP Images
SEPTEMBER 16: Author Mark Whitaker publishes Cosby: His Life and Times. The book makes no reference to a civil lawsuit Cosby settled in 2006 in which a woman claimed he had drugged and sexually assaulted her, or to 13 other women who came forward with similar accusations when the suit was filed.
SEPTEMBER 17: Asked why he steered clear of the accusations, Whitaker responds, "I didn't want to print allegations that I couldn't confirm independently." Few outlets pick up the story.

OCTOBER 16: Comic Hannibal Buress says, "You raped women, Bill Cosby," as part of a Philadelphia stand-up show. He had done the bit before, but video of it begins circulating on YouTube.

OCTOBER 30: The video gains traction online; Cosby's appearance on The Queen Latifah Show is canceled. A rep for the show tells THR the move was Cosby's request.

NOVEMBER 10: Cosby's Twitter account requests followers "meme" him. It backfires, with users posting a rush of #CosbyMeme pictures with captions like "14 allegations of rape?! Zipzopzubittybop!"

NOVEMBER 13: Barbara Bowman, one of the women who made assault claims after the 2006 case, writes an editorial in the Washington Post questioning why the allegations only captured the public's attention when a man — Buress — brought them up.

NOVEMBER 15: Interviewed by NPR's Scott Simon, Cosby falls silent when asked about the allegations. He then states through an attorney that he will not "dignify these allegations with any comment."

NOVEMBER 17: Former actress Joan Tarshis claims on CNN Tonight that Cosby drugged and assaulted her.

NOVEMBER 18: Model Janice Dickinson claims to Entertainment Tonight that Cosby raped her in 1982. Netflix then shelves a special taped in July on Cosby's 77th birthday.

NOVEMBER 19: NBC scraps a planned comedy in which Cosby would play a grandfather. Bowman had called the project "irresponsible" in an interview with THR days earlier. When a parody news site writes that Cosby molested TV step-granddaughter Raven-Symone, she takes to Instagram, calling the story "a disgusting rumor."

NOVEMBER 20: After more than 10 women come forward, Cosby attorney Marty Singer fires back, calling the claims "utter nonsense" and showing one accuser, Linda Joy Traitz, to have a criminal record, including identity theft and drug possession. Lou Ferrigno's wife, Carla, claims Cosby forcibly kissed her in 1967.

NOVEMBER 21: Cosby's stand-up dates in Las Vegas and Arizona are pulled, but he gets a standing ovation at a Florida show.