I lost my keys today.

While I’ve lost my keys, J.D. Matthews over at Musical Ramblings seems to think that Katharine McPhee has lost quite a bit more than that. Here’s what he has to say about her two-side single (“I Lost You,” which will not appear on her album, and “Dangerous,” which will):

It’s almost as if the single’s producers got together and said “hey, let’s go find the two crappiest songs we can get, throw a shorted-out synthesizer program into the computer, and put out the most poorly instrumented and packaged performance we possibly can.” Katharine’s vocals are spot-on on both songs. The only problem with that is that you can’t HEAR her half the time…And the musical accompaniment quite often sounds like my little sister when she was five banging on a busted Casio keyboard.

While I disagree with J.D. about Kat’s vocals being “spot-on” (true, she may technically be hitting the notes to precision, but her voice becomes weak, tinny and nasal, taking on an almost pre-adolescent quality, when reaching for those soprano notes), I agree that for the money that RCA must have to be shilling out for the likes of Nate Hills, Uness, The Underdogs et. al., the results so far (with the exception of “Love Story,” which I actually think is really good) are not that impressive.

J.D. also believes that the single is obviously a “gap-filler,” a sort of conciliatory release for all those people who missed the memo about her CD delay (indeed, my local media outlets were promoting her CD as just having been release on December 19). Interesting. I’ve been thinking something similar myself about the whole marketing strategy surrounding Katharine McPhee. Whenever you see Taylor Hicks, he’s, you know, performing–whether it’s at pre-booked gigs like the Orange Bowl or Christmas in Washington, showing up unexpectedly to accompany Snoop Dogg or Widespread Panic, or sitting in with jam bands. Katharine’s made a few singing appearances, too (most notably CBS’s Home for the Holidays special and the Tournament of Roses parade), but she can unquestionably most often be found posing on a red carpet or in a magazine. It’s almost as if RCA needs to market her as a celebutante first, to establish her as a fixture in the public eye, before releasing her album (either that or the girl just reeeeally likes having her picture taken). That could work, but then again, Paris Hilton’s CD didn’t fare so well.

Which brings me to J.D.’s final reflection:

…[S]ince the beginning of last year’s Idol, she hasn’t appeared to really know who she is. There’s so much about her that looks like a mask. Whether it’s her sultry look, her “I can swallow my own fist” smile, or her performances, you’re never really sure what you’re going to get out of her.

It’s true; Katharine’s image has undergone several drastic transformations, and she hasn’t even been famous for a whole year yet. From the sweet, wholesome girl with somewhat dowdy fashion sense, to the sultry siren who flaunted her assets but still maintained an aura of class (at least with regards to her physical appearance; her personality’s another story), to the omnipresent micro-minied, kissy-faced, squat-posing, leg-spreading Katharine of present, Kat’s appearance is evolving and transforming more quickly than necessary. Her vocal style has been overhauled, too; she listed belters like Whitney, Christina and Mariah as her personal idols early on, then became Queen of the Standards on American Idol, talked about putting out an album that could bring jazz and blues back to the Top 40…and then turned around and reinvented herself as the new diva of “rhythm pop,” a kind of hybrid between bubblegum sweetness and urban edge. I’ve heard her songs; she’s basically Lawrence Welk-ified Beyonce, with a few touches thrown in here and there for “street cred” (most prominently, her incredibly affected verb conjugation; “Love Story” contains the lyric “you was flirting with some guy”). No doubt Katharine has a fair amount of loyal fans who are enamored of her talent and beauty and who will stick with her even if she decides to release an album of polka music, but as Taylor’s recent sales numbers have proven, your fan base is only your first step. Kat will need to reach out to new fans in order to reap numbers even close to Taylor’s, let alone Chris’s, and add into the mix the fact that some of her Idol fans may be confused or turned off by her new musical identity, and…I have no idea what’s going to happen with this album. I can’t predict a flop (breathy-voiced pseudo-R&B is pretty popular these days), but I don’t see sales numbers blowing everyone away, either. Then again, I could be wrong on either count.

And in normal circumstances, I’d even throw out the old line that Taylor fans know so well–“it’s not about the sales, it’s about the music”–but Katharine’s songs seem so tailor-made for What’s! Hot! Right! Now! that she needs the airplay, the TRL appearances, the magazine covers and the red carpet walks to even come close to matching the career of a Beyonce, a Jessica or a Britney in her heyday. Besides, this style of music doesn’t tend to have that long of a shelf-life, and that’s even assuming that the performer doesn’t outgrow it–no TRL viewer is going to want to watch a 35-year-old Katharine shake her booty in a music video; by that time she’ll have to have moved on to singing a more timeless form of music if she wants longevity in the music business. But then again, there’s always acting, which she’s been vocal about wanting to segue into. Without the celebutante aura, though, Kat will lose a bit of her luster, and I’d hate to see her have to Janice her way onto a show like The Surreal Life, or act in fetid movies like Employee of the Month to keep her star shining (no, I really would hate to see it; maybe I don’t like her personality much, but hey, I don’t have to pay to see her movies). When the full album is released, we’ll have more to judge on, but for now, I doubt that Katharine can sustain a musical career on what I’ve heard so far. Then again, she’s already proven herself adept at overhauling her image in the blink of an eye, so maybe there’s hope for her yet.


8 Responses to “I lost my keys today.”

  1. 1 J.D. January 7, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    I agree with you for the most part, but I have to say, I don’t think the dance pop artists like Britney/Christina, etc. are selling all that well anymore. That trend peaked around the turn of the century, and it’s falling off now. That’s why Kat needs to turn it around.

    Thanks for the link love…great place you have here!

  2. 2 Winnie January 8, 2007 at 2:10 am

    It seems unfair for you to make full judgement on two songs or even all the songs that have been leaked. So far, her single is doing quite well and it has only been out for 4 days. Let’s face it, r & b pop is what sells right now and singing Celine does not make a superstar. After all she is not Celine. She is Katharine that is very talented that can sometimes be more of a cameleon. Let’s just wait and see how she does when her cd finally drops at the end of the month. I have saved your page on “my favorites” and I dare you to look at the charts then and let’s talk again.

  3. 3 idolicious January 8, 2007 at 7:58 am

    Let’s just wait and see how she does when her cd finally drops at the end of the month. I have saved your page on “my favorites” and I dare you to look at the charts then and let’s talk again.
    Winnie, I will definitely wait and see until the full CD drops. Don’t forget that there are many measures by which to measure the “success” of an artist–media attention, CD sales, radio airplay, and of course, the loyalty of fans. I have no doubt that Katharine will excel in AT LEAST one of those areas.

    I did pay attention to your comment, though, that “R&B pop is what sells right now and singing Celine does not make a superstar.” Does Katharine want to be a singer, or a superstar? Don’t forget, it was Katharine herself who wanted to sing jazz and blues. Did she suddenly wake up and realize that she wasn’t going to get anymore magazine covers singing Billie Holiday covers? Though I think the girl’s talented, I do remain convinced that she has no special love for singing; she just sees it as a vehicle to have her face splashed across TV and print media. And I’m generally not a fan of people like that.

  4. 4 J.D. January 8, 2007 at 9:02 am

    There’s a difference between a debut album being a brilliant chart success and having long-term success. Sure, a debut album might blow up the charts, but what happens after that? Is there any staying power? With the “pop princess” variety, the average shelf life is two MAYBE three albums. And then obscurity.

    And I daresay Celine would tell you that singing Celine has in fact made her a superstar with multiple albums and a long rewarding career, not just a flash in the pan.

  5. 5 PayTheDevil January 8, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    Popular music is in transition. I believe that because of the increased access to different forms of music, folks are jumping from genre to genre, artist to artist. The days of CDs are over. The music world belongs to singles. The record industry has not caught up with the technology. So entrenched in old school marketing and profit margins, the record industry is not strategically flexible. Most rec execs are still trying respond to the insurgence of urban music. It is a tough time now to be a singer/songwriter.

    And they haven’t yet dealt with new technologies effectively.

    OH, sorry about the key thing. That can ruin your entire morning.

  6. 6 talktocarllewis January 8, 2007 at 9:24 pm

    Sorry about you losing your keys, but what does that have to do with anything in the post? :)

    I believe you’re being way too harsh on Ms. McPhee. Granted, Katharine’s current style may not be the next big thing five years from now, but that’s why she will evolve her style into what is hot then–she certainly has the ability to mold herself. Because she has talent to fall back on, she can down the line become a Celine type singer. But right now she needs to do what will give her immediate credibility and sell CDs. Her first CD is the most critical part, even more so her first single, because she has to prove herself as an artist instead of a talent show runner-up. Even if that means picking the safe route, she needs to do it.

    As for the comments about the typical shelf life of a “pop princess,”
    as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, Katharine has talent to fall back on. Your typical “pop princess” doesn’t.

    In fact, and not to be immature since I know Idol is over, I think it will be Taylor that won’t have lasting currency. I’ve always viewed Taylor as a mediocre singer who was more of a novelty than a true talent. Sure he has a behemoth fan base, but as Clay’s and Fantasia’s did, his fans will eventually evaporate. After listening to Taylor’s CD, it only reaffirmed that view in my mind. It may be great music, but it’s simply not marketable. It’s too poppy for the eclectic crowd, while too niche for mainstream. Both Katharine and Chris, however, have succeeded in making a current album that will be immediately accessible to a large array of listeners.

  7. 7 idolicious January 9, 2007 at 8:22 am

    Sorry about you losing your keys, but what does that have to do with anything in the post? :)
    ‘Cause I lost my keys, and Katharine lost you. ;-)

    As for Taylor vs. Chris vs. Katharine, only time will tell. I do love Taylor, but I can’t predict the future. Maybe my interest in him will wane, but I see myself really enjoying his music for the long haul, because I’m just not the type of person who replaces one celebrity flavor of the month with another. I’m not sure what you mean by “lasting currency,” though. I can see Taylor having a long-term musical career. It may not be one that garners a lot of attention from the media, but I think he’ll always be putting out albums. If “lasting currency” means “in the public eye,” well, yeah, Kat’s got the monopoly on that right now.

    As for the popularity of music, that could hurt Chris and Kat more than it could hurt Taylor. Taylor’s fans, much as we’d like to see him on the radio, ultimately don’t care whether Taylor’s music is popular or not. Are Chris’s fans really fans of rock, or are they just fans of current trends? Will they stick with him five years down the road, when the musical pendulum swings the other way and another genre of music is at the forefront of Top 40 radio? And what about Kat? She can’t stay 22 forever, and it might be difficult for her to all of a sudden say “Oh, I’m Celine” after starting her career as a pop/R&B queen. Very few artists are able to constantly re-invent themselves to keep relevant. Katharine hasn’t yet proven herself that popular. She might down the road, but she’s not there yet.

    And two notes on Katharine’s “versatility.” I personally don’t think she’s all that versatile. She sounds weak, breathy and strained on many of the cuts I’ve heard off her album and the Wal-Mart single. On Idol, she bombed on most of her power ballads and did so-so with country night. Her “Black Horse” was not the musical masterpiece it was touted as, but it was fun, catchy and passable. The only two songs she really excelled on, IMO, were “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Someone to Watch Over Me” (although even THAT wasn’t as great as the judges made it out to be). If Katharine really thinks she’s incredibly versatile, her standards are awfully low. Sure, she can put out a CD for each different genre of music and be known as mediocre and passable in each one of them, or she can concentrate on an area she really excels at–jazz, blues, and the standards–and do something with that, maybe try to modernize the genre.

    My second note is that obviously we disagree about Taylor vs. Katharine’s voices. I consider Taylor a phenomenal singer, and far superior to Katharine. I think his voice is interesting, layered, melodic and emotional. Katharine’s voice, to me, always seems to be lacking something. Her delivery is always calculated, and I am constantly underwhelmed by her performances. But, I guess that’s just a matter of taste. I’m glad she has a fan in you. :-)

  8. 8 J.D. January 15, 2007 at 1:17 am

    Honestly, the buzz this year is not Taylor vs. Kat. To my way of thinking, this is the first year that both the winner and the runner-up have been completely overshadowed by performances from earlier eliminees (Kellie Pickler and Chris Daughtry.)

    One problem…how does one establish credibility while at the same time morphing to every single flavor of the month as it comes along? It doesn’t really work that way. Unfortunately, the nature of the road ahead of Katharine is filled with the inevitable “reinventions,” which almost always destroy an old fan base while trying to cultivate another. Just ask another similarly talented teen pop princess by the name of Debbie Gibson how it works. (Not only did Debbie write, produce, and record all her own music, but she also had the pipes to sing them.) One reinvention and you alienate all the fans who liked what you were in the hopes of broadening appeal. Whereas Kellie will be fairly safe and likely successful in the country field, and Daughtry will be good for at least four more albums before going on to produce other acts, Katharine has the monumental task of constantly struggling to remain relevant ahead of her. I envy her not.

    And with regard to her versatility, I re-watched a couple of her performances last night, and while she’s talented, I noticed some rather glaring flaws that I hope she overcomes.

    I guess time will bear the tale.

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January 2007
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What the kids are sayin’

"I hate them all. The judges, TPTB, the blatant manipulation, the songs, the contestants, everything. I'm a die-hard Cook fan, but for the love of god, at least try to look like you're enjoying yourself up there! Please? Syesha was awesome but she ruined it by being completely shameless and disgusting. Yes, being on American Idol is exactly like the civil rights movement, except for the part where you're fighting to make the world a better place."

"All I can say after the disgusting display tonight of favoritism towards the mediocrity that is David A. - good luck trying to market and make money off of that kid, American Idol. (Not to mention good luck dealing with his father.) All the teeny boppers may buy up his American Idol coronation single, but they will quickly forget about him before the album comes out. And I shudder to think of a David A. album - song after song of unrelenting sameness and heavy breathing. Why they are pimping him for the win is beyond me."

"This show was simply a hot buttered mess tonight. And Jason "needs to be arrested for what he did to I Shot the Sheriff. But I hope he stays. He amuses me. "

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