Music News: Elton John biopic 'Rocketman' hits theaters

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Taron Egerton as Elton John in 'Rocketman.'
Taron Egerton as Elton John in 'Rocketman.' (Paramount Pictures)
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Elton John biopic 'Rocketman' hits theaters
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Rocketman, a new biopic about Elton John, opens in theaters today. It stars Taron Egerton as the British pop star, and it's directed by Dexter Fletcher, who took over for the fired Bryan Singer on last year's Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. "I felt like this was a film that Bohemian Rhapsody wanted to be," says Jade. "It had the glitz and the glamour, but also that raw honesty."

"The thing that I was most immediately surprised by," says Jay, was that "it's not exactly a conventional biopic. It tells the story of Elton John's life, yes," but it also "bleeds into this alternate type of movie that's more like a jukebox musical."

Jade guesses that the story's headed to Broadway. "In about a year, perhaps two years, we will see the musical Rocketman. I mean, there's one number where the whole set looks like a stage presentation, and then the actors are sort of edging their bodies towards the audience. It makes it feel like you are watching a musical on stage."

It's not all fun and glitz: there's some deep character development, says Jay. "The central drama is really Elton John versus himself. It's Elton John coming to terms with who he is and getting the help he needs to take ownership of his own mental health."

"It's just a movie that lifts you up and makes you feel happy and hopeful," says Jade. "It's fun and lively, but there's real sadness in it."

Why are biopics booming?

Today we're talking about Rocketman, and it seems like we spent half of last year talking about the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. The biopic flood isn't going to stop anytime soon: get ready for upcoming movies about the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, and Boy George, plus documentaries like a Martin Scorsese film about Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue and a Showtime film about the Go-Go's.

What's behind the biopic boom? A pure love for the music, of course! Oh, and also...money. As a new Billboard cover story points out, musicians, estates, and labels are pushing movies for the same reason they're making ever-bigger tours happen: traditional record revenue isn't what it used to be, so the music industry is looking to capitalize on other revenue streams.

Don't think any of this is easy, though. Jeff Jampol, who manages several late stars' estates, says that "putting together a biopic is like organizing a box of snakes." You've got to please the estate, the heirs, the label, and the studio. Licensing, obviously, can be a nightmare — and you've got to have the songs, as the producers of the movie Jimi: All is By My Side learned. Despite André 3000 in a starring role, the film flopped. When all is said and done, the results can feel a little safe and sterile, although that didn't stop audiences from paying over $1 billion to see Bohemian Rhapsody.

So, the music industry is going to keep straining for celluloid...or, more precisely, its digital equivalent. The Sony/ATV publishing catalog has a 275-page color book highlighting the most famous songs in its collection, and it's circulating copies to producers and filmmakers, just in case anyone is looking for ideas. (Jay)

Labels are paying more to sign and develop artists

New data show that in 2017, the most recent year for which numbers are available, record labels collectively spent $5.8 billion to sign, develop, market, and promote artists. That's up 30% in just two years, amounting to nearly a quarter of total industry revenues.

Given that artists have complained for decades that record labels don't spend enough on them, why is the situation changing so quickly now? The short answer seems to be that artists have more leverage these days. Social media and digital distribution mean that artists are much less dependent on record labels than they used to be, so when it comes time to negotiate signing fees and promotional budgets, they're in a better position. (Music Business Worldwide) (Jay)

"Old Town Road" continues its wild ride

Maybe it's too early to call the song of the summer, but the huge momentum behind the viral Lil Nas X hit "Old Town Road" shows absolutely no sign of slowing. The popularity of the song's duet remix, which currently sits atop the Billboard 100 for an eighth week, has made it Billy Ray Cyrus's biggest hit, easily eclipsing "Achy Breaky Heart." In fact, it's the biggest hit by any member of the Cyrus family, also out-charting every single Miley's released.

It's featured in a new trailer for Sylvester Stallone's — yes, seriously — Rambo: Last Blood, and a video of Lil Nas X surprising a gym full of Ohio kids shows that today's elementary students know literally every word. Can't nobody tell them nothing! (Consequence of Sound) (Jay)

Book news: Debbie Harry, Moby, Iggy Pop

It's a bumper week for book news — not all of it happy news. Let's start with the bad news, at least for Moby: he's canceled his book tour behind his new memoir Then It Fell Apart, which turns out to be all too aptly named. The cause of the cancellation is blowback from Moby's public dispute with Natalie Portman over the way the book characterizes their relationship. "There is obviously no one else to blame but me," says Moby, adding that he's now going to "go away for a while." (Rolling Stone)

In happier news, Debbie Harry has announced that her long-awaited memoir Face It will be published Oct. 1. The 73-year-old Blondie frontwoman says the book will span her entire life, but there were way more stories than she could fit into a single volume — so if the book is well-received, there may be more. (Rolling Stone)

Iggy Pop is also publishing a book, but in his case it's a book of lyrics. 'Til Wrong Feels Right, which also hits shelves on Oct. 1, takes its title from a 2003 song by the punk legend. According to publisher Penguin Random House: "Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the first and eponymous The Stooges record, this new book will bring together for the first time his selected lyrics, beautifully illustrated with artwork, photos and complete with his and others' reflections on a genre-defining music career." (Rolling Stone) (Jay)

The iPod is back

Do you miss the iPod?

The handheld music player was introduced in 2001 after Apple decided that all the existing digital music machines were "big and clunky or small and useless" with user interfaces that were "unbelievably awful." The tech giant wanted the us to hold, as their slogan went, "1,000 songs in your pocket."

I remember those iconic ads with a shadow dancing wildly against techno colors to catchy songs like Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" and couldn't wait to get my hands on my iPod Nano. But now?

Well, times have changed and now that I have a slim and light device that lets me send any type of correspondence I want immediately, access all the knowledge of the known world, and take very cute selfies — do I need a separate device to simply play tunes, when I've got an app for that?

In 2019, Apple is banking on you wanting to simplify your life and maybe reach for the nostalgia of the iPod. The seventh-generation iPod Touch is said to run "twice as fast" as its previous model due to an A10 Fusion chip.

According to Apple's website, "The A10 Fusion chip brings up to twice the performance and three times better graphics to the new iPod Touch2 — while still delivering great battery life. It powers augmented reality games and apps. And it makes everything you do feel faster and more fluid."

The new iPod is out now. (NME) (Jade)

This week in music history

This week in 1956, Buddy Holly went to a movie theater in Lubbock, Texas, and saw The Searchers, the John Ford Western where John Wayne's character says, "That'll be the day."

A few days later, Holly said to Jerry Allison, the future Crickets drummer who saw the movie with him, that the two should write a song together. Allison responded jokingly, "That'll be the day!" A half-hour later, the pair had a song that would hit the top of the pop chart the following year. (Jay)

This week in 1992, Paul Simon and Edie Brickell were married in Montauk. They'd been dating for three years, and their first child was born in December of that year. Simon had just played a controversial show in South Africa, facing protesters who were still angry that he'd broken the cultural embargo to record Graceland, and he was also working on new songs for his Broadway musical The Capeman. Brickell had recently retired her group New Bohemians to live a more settled life, but she would launch her solo career with the album Picture Perfect Morning two years later. (Jay)

By 1999 the Welsh band Manic Street Preachers had released two commercially and critically successful albums, 1996's Everything Must Go and 1998's This is My Truth Tell Me Yours (with its big hit "If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next") — with the latter taking home the 1999 Brit Award for Best British Album, and nominated for the Mercury Prize that year. But the thing that makes us remember them most from that year was a gig that they turned down. The show was a televised outdoor festival attended by 10,000 to mark the opening of the national assembly for Wales.

What would make the band turn down this huge show? The guest list included the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Prince of Wales. And why? The band's spokeswomen at the time, Terri Hall, stated, "They turned it down because they have never and will never play in front of the monarchy." Simple as that. (Jade)

This week's new releases

Bedouine, Bird Songs of a Killjoy

Warm, intelligent, and intimate, Bedouine's music evokes the classic singer-songwriter sounds of Carole King, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell. Her sophomore album, Bird Songs of a Killjoy, adds new instrumental color to the sparse acoustic aesthetic of her 2017 debut. You might hear some familiar voices handling harmonies: Lucius are among the album's guests. Appropriately, the Los-Angeles-based artist adds a little vocal echo to "Echo Park," her tribute to the beloved neighborhood. (Jay)

Patti Smith and Soundwalk, The Peyote Dance

Berlin based avant-garde "found" sound collective Soundwalk seeks out experimental noise — in the past they've taken sounds from a Moscow nightclub, recorded a shaman in the Amazon rain forest, and taped the rush of the Black Sea in the past. For their new album with Patti Smith, Soundwalk unspool sounds from the canyons of Northern Mexico while Smith recites the thoughts and words of French writer and director Antonin Artaud. It's by turns terrifying, surreal, and mind-opening. The closing track is a calming wander called "Ivry." (Jade)

Sinkane, Dépaysé

The latest word in Krautrock is a British-Sudanese-American musician...and no, he doesn't sing in German. Sinkane's work occupies the intersection of rock, jazz, funk, and electronica. You may not have heard of him, but for a sense of how cool this guy is, he's the music director of a William Onyeabor cover band with David Byrne, Blood Orange, Damon Albarn, and Pharoah Sanders.

Sinkane's new album Dépaysé takes its title from a French word suggesting disorientation. He calls it "the story of an immigrant's journey of self-discovery in the Trump era. The music is loud and raw, and it's bursting with an energy, unlike anything I've ever done before." Here's an uplifting track called "Everybody." (Jay)

Ian Noe, Between the Country

There's something bubbling up in Kentucky: Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, and the new buzz name, Ian Noe. The Kentucky native sings about life as he sees it for the downtrodden, the hard-working, the forgotten stories of the Appalachian people. Working on Between The Country with Dave Cobb (who's the go-to producer in Nashville, working with Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Shooter Jennings, and Jason Isbell), Noe has crafted a series of vignettes that feel like a stumbled-upon classic from days gone by. Take a listen to "Letters to Madeline." (Jade)

Viral clip: Billie Eilish gets remixed

Like a lot of the viral clips we feature on the podcast, this one takes some explaining. So, Billie Eilish. Teenager of the year, DIY sensation, first major music star to be born in the 21st century. The biggest single from her debut album is a song called "Bad Guy," and it's proving endlessly mutable, spawning memes left and right.

One popular activity is to splice the music video with footage of other famous "bad guys": Homer Simpson, Korg from Thor Ragnarok, a dancing Darth Vader.

Other people have made their own versions of the song by sampling songs that include, in one case, Eilish's own belches and farts while eating hot sauce. Yes, really.

Basically, what we learn from all this is that the song is such a jam, that bassline is a banger with basically anything. The clip that made me laugh the hardest is this one, where a guy syncs the beat with samples of "Old Town Road," Drag Race contestant Jasmine Masters, and even dialogue from The Room. (Daily Dot) (Jay)


Audio sampled in podcast
Jahzzar: "Comedie" (CC BY 4.0)
James Scott: "Frog Legs Rag"
Buddy Holly: "That'll Be The Day"
Edie Brickell: "Picture Perfect Morning"
Manic Street Preachers: "If you tolerate this your children will be next"
BoxCat Games: "Against the Wall" (CC BY 3.0)
"Lil Nas X surprises fifth graders with Old Town Road performance"
Lil Nas X feat. Billy Re Cyrus: "Old Town Road"
Jesse Spillane: "Ruffling Feathers" (CC BY SA 4.0-02)
Iggy Pop: "'Til Wrong Feels Right"
Jet: "Are You Gonna Be My Girl"
Elton John: "Rocket Man"
Ian Noe: "Go Rest Easy (Letter to Madeline)"
Bedouine: "Echo Park"
Soundwalk Collective with Patti Smith: "Ivry"
Sinkane: "Everybody"
Billie Eilish memes


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