Music News: Woodstock 50 is off. Or is it?


A festivalgoer at the original Woodstock in 1969.
A festivalgoer at the original Woodstock in 1969. (Three Lions/Getty Images)
Woodstock 50 is off. Or is it?
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Since our last episode, you may have heard that Woodstock 50 was off. Then, you may have heard that it's actually still happening. Then, you may have heard that no, it's definitely not. What the heck is going on with this festival?

Basically, what happened is that the festival's financial backer, Dentsu Aegis Network, announced that it's pulling out and so therefore the festival is off. They cited production delays and a reduction in capacity from 100,000 to 75,000 attendees...which of course means that much less profit.

The festival's promoter Michael Lang, co-founder of the original Woodstock festival, insists that just because the money's gone, that doesn't mean the festival isn't going to happen. He told the New York Times, "We need to replace them financially. Frankly, I think it will be a much easier process going forward, because all that baggage gets left behind. We are a few days away from permits; we are in talks with investors who are anxious to come in."

The tumultuous process is of course inspiring comparisons to the infamously disastrous Fyre Festival, but even the most epic visions of that event were small potatoes compared to what's planned for Woodstock: the already-announced lineup is full of massive stars like Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, and of course returning Woodstock stars like Santana. Lang's attorney is telling everyone, including the artists, to proceed as planned...but the Black Keys have already pulled out.

Even as the sharks circle, Lang swears he's unconcerned. "Funnily enough," he says, "this kind of fits the legacy of Woodstock in a way. In 1969, we got kicked out of Wallkill a month before the festival was to happen. One of the miracles was that we found a site the next day."

It sounds like he'll need an even bigger miracle this time.

Spotify reaches subscriber landmark, still losing money

Remember how long Amazon lost money before it started to make all the money? So does Daniel Ek, head of Spotify. The streaming service reached a landmark this week, hitting 100 million paying users worldwide...and, in the first three months of the year, it lost over $100 million.

Its biggest rival in the ongoing battle for streaming supremacy is Apple Music, which is up to 50 million paying subscribers. With the U.S. and Europe largely saturated, the giants are competing for earbuds in new markets like India.

Spotify is also watching companies like Netflix, which as you may have noticed if you're a fan of shows like Stranger Things and Orange is the New Black, has figured out there's more money in original content than in stuff made by other people. For Spotify, that means podcasts, but they're not paying off for the company...yet. (New York Times)

Drake cleans up at the Billboard Music Awards

Top Artist, Top Male Artist, Top Billboard 200 Artist, Top Hot 100 Artist, Top Streaming Songs Artist, Top Song Sales Artist, Top Radio Songs Artist, Top Rap Artist, Top Rap Male the 2019 Billboard Music Awards on Tuesday night, they all turned out to be the same guy, and his name is Drake. Some other artists also picked up tropies — Juice WRLD for Best New Artist, Ariana Grande for Best Female Artist — but who watches awards shows for the awards anyway?

It's all about the big production numbers and the viral moments. Taylor Swift and Brandon Urie brought out a pink marching band for their new single "ME!" (more on that song later), Halsey joined BTS for "Boy With Luv," and Mariah Carey accepted the Billboard Icon Award by performing a medley of hits that — as presenter Jennifer Hudson was quick to point out — Carey wrote herself.

And then, those viral moments. The biggest surprise guest was MC Skat Cat, who showed up to duet with Paula Abdul as she closed the show with "Opposites Attract" and other hits.

When he accepted his award for Top Billboard 200 Album (I know, I didn't even mention that one), Drake gave a shout-out to the hero we've all been talking about this week. (Billboard)

This week in music history

16 years ago this past Sunday, the iTunes store opened. When the store went live for music purchases on April 28, 2003, it was the only legal place on the internet to buy music from all five major labels, and until 2007, all songs were the same price: 99 cents. By 2010, iTunes was the largest music vendor in the world. Paid downloads have now largely been replaced by streaming, but the store has sold over 35 billion songs worldwide.

40 years ago this week, Elton John became one of the first western rock stars to play in Israel. That fact's been cited in recent years as John's returned to play shows there despite a boycott campaign, but at the time, the Rocket Man's Middle Eastern tour was overshadowed by his subsequent shows in the Soviet Union. John's successful visit was seen as a hopeful sign that the Cold War might finally be thawing.

24 years ago this Saturday, the Apollo Theater reopened after an extensive renovation that gave new life to a historic venue that had fallen into disuse and disrepair. 60 entertainers performed at the nationally televised reopening show. Bill Cosby emceed the Motown-themed show, and there was music from legends including James Brown, Cab Calloway, Sarah Vaughan, Stevie Wonder, and Little Richard. The very first act to hit the stage that night in 1985, though, was the hottest Motown pop star of the moment: El DeBarge, who sang "Rhythm of the Night." (New York Times)

Alan Parsons shares The Secret

Alan Parsons is a true music legend. He came up in the music world as an engineer, helping shape the sound of classic albums like the Beatles' Abbey Road and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Then, he took the mic as a singer-songwriter and found critical and commercial success with a string of releases as the Alan Parsons Project, hitting the Top 5 with the 1982 single "Eye in the Sky." Now, Parsons is back with a new album, The Secret. He talked with me about his past and present; hear the interview via the player above.

This week's new releases

First we've got to talk about L7, who are out with their first new album in 20 years. The L.A. foursome are riot grrrl royalty, and they still have something to say: one of their comeback singles was titled "I Came Back to Bitch." After a couple years of successful shows, the band are dropping their seventh studio album and heading out on a national tour that will very possibly be shattering a town near you over the next several weeks. Here's "Stadium West," a loud and proud single from Scatter the Rats.

We also have to talk about Vampire Weekend, although it seems we've been talking for literally years about their new album, Father of the Bride. The quintessential prep-pop band's fourth album, a double, is also their first without multi-instrumentalist Rostam, but bandleader Ezra Koenig hasn't lost the ability to make fans swoon with tunes that keep your toes tapping and your ears guessing, with adventurous textures underlying his accessible melodies. Here's "This Life," which samples iLoveMakonnen and features guest vocals by Danielle Haim.

Yes, the Felice Brothers are actually brothers — but it's not just co-founders Ian and James Felice you hear on the Americana band's latest album. Undress unfurls a rich acoustic tapestry over which the band's politically pointed new songs unfold. The title track rhymes "chain of collusion" with "endless confusion," with references to Kellyanne Conway, Bank of America, and "conservatives in lobster bibs." Maybe don't wear your Nantucket reds to their national tour, which is now underway.

Singer-songwriter Rhiannon Giddens fronts the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and this week she's releasing her third solo album. There Is No Other is a collaboration with Francesco Turrisi, a multi-instrumentalist from Italy, and it has a distinctly cross-Atlantic vibe. It's an intimate collection of songs that draw on a global palette. Here's the aptly titled slow-burn stomper "I'm On My Way."

Viral clip: Taylor Swift gets extra extra in "ME!"

You may have heard: there's a new Taylor Swift song, with a video that's epic because, as BuzzFeed puts it, "Taylor Swift is extra AF." The song is called "ME!", and it's a collaboration with Brendon in Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco, as the song credit reminds you in case you didn't know.

The video is a color-splashed fantasia that pays tribute to classic movie musicals from The Wizard of Oz to Mary Poppins, but if you're a Swiftie, that's just scratching the surface. BuzzFeed cataloged a lot of the video's Easter eggs, noting the Dixie Chicks portrait in tribute to Swift's longstanding admiration, the third cat she receives in the video because she just got a third cat IRL, and the Christmas tree because she grew up on a Christmas tree farm.

Then on top of that there are the references to her forthcoming, yet-to-be-officially-announced album. She says the title is hidden in there somewhere, but the opening sequence with a snake that transforms into butterflies seems to be the direction she's taking with the new record's iconography. When will it be released? Maybe August 30, because a clock in the video is set to 8:30.

Reading too much into it? Oh no, not this one. BuzzFeed even caught specific visual references to previous Swift videos, and you unlock them by freeze-framing the videos at the exact same timestamps. Pause the "Delicate" video at 3:32 and then pause the "ME!" video at the same moment, and you'll see how it works.

The song's lyrical theme is nothing new, but it's still true: there's definitely no other like Nashville's pop queen.

Audio sampled in podcast
Jahzzar: "Comedie" (CC BY 4.0)
James Scott: "Frog Legs Rag"
DeBarge: "Rhythm of the Night" (live at the Apollo Theater)
BoxCat Games: "Against the Wall" (CC BY 3.0)
Drake at the Billboard Music Awards)
L7: "Stadium West"
Vampire Weekend: "This Life"
The Felice Brothers: "Undress"
Rhiannon Giddens: "I'm On My Way"
Alan Parsons feat. Jason Mraz: "Miracle"
Taylor Swift feat. Brendon Urie: "ME!"

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