Saturday, June 30, 2012

Puttin' On The Ritz

There's nothing like a nice relaxing vacation to recharge one's batteries, right? On Friday, my longtime pal Aliceee flew up from Florida to NYC for the 4th of July holiday and on her first night, for business, she stayed at the five-star Ritz Carlton Battery Park City in Manhattan.

But what fun is it to spend the evening at such a swank destination all by oneself, right? I'll be smacked up the noggin if she didn't invite me to join her for an ooh la la Brooklyn getaway.

So Friday afternoon I crossed the river and we had nearly 24 hours of blissful R&R, along with beautiful views of the Battery Park area and a journey through the Wall Street area and lower western-most edge of the island. Join me for a stroll, yes? *
 Your diddy was taking a nap in one of the nearby parks, on right! We said hello. He belched.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Who’d ‘Believe’ It? Bieber Fever Pervades The World

The Biebs just got bigger. As expected, tween idol Justin Bieber’s fourth studio album “Believe” slid into the top spot on this week’s album chart with all the ease of a tub of pomade. Sales of 374,000 were significantly below expectations, but lofty enough to deliver the biggest debut of 2012 on the Billboard 200, trumping the 359,000 start of Madonna’s “MDNA.”

There are plenty of other accolades for “Believe.” First, the set gives Bieber his own personal best sales week, beating the 291,000 in second-week sales for "My World 2.0" in April 2010. It’s his fourth No. 1 album, following "My World 2.0," 2011’s "Never Say Never: The Remixes" and "Under the Mistletoe" (his two other sets, “My World” and “My Worlds Acoustic” both hit the top 10, at Nos. 5 & 7, respectively). That makes the 18 year old the first artist in history to land four No. 1 albums while still in his teens.

He’s also only the second Canadian act ever to score four No. 1 albums, after Neil Young’s solo and Crosby, Stills Nash & Young efforts. (Michael Buble has three.) And Bieber is the youngest artist ever to have an album reach No. 1 in both the U.S. and the U.K., according to Paul Grein’s Yahoo! Music “Chart Watch.” He erases previous record-holder Avril Lavigne, who was 19 when she topped both charts in 2004.

Around much of the world, “Believe” is a chart-topping sensation, debuting at the summit in 30 nations, including the U.K., Canada, Australia, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Sweden.

And a rather obvious factoid: Bieber delivers the No. 1 Top Digital Album, where 139,000 of its 374,000 total were downloaded. It’s the biggest one-week sales total in history here for a teen act, beating Taylor Swift’s “Fearless.”

Not to pooh-pooh the accomplishments, but one can’t ignore industry projections last week that predicted a debut in the range of 400,000-440,000. That forecast was based on huge first-day sales and a bounty of pre-orders, which obviously eased during the chart tally week. But tie into that the fact that almost 3.5 million tracks from “Believe” have already sold—an extraordinary number for a brand-new record—and detractors really have little ammunition.

Perhaps the more interesting debate is just how long the Bieber juggernaut will maintain its fervor. Few teen acts are able to make the kind of transition to respected adult artist, a la Justin Timberlake or Michael Jackson. For reference, Biebs’ first hit “One Time” introduced the U.S. to the singer when it debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 July 25, 2009—fewer than three years ago. Justin Bieber was 15 years old at the time.

Among the cascade of young acts that pervaded the single charts at the beginning of the millennium—Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Hanson, Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, 98 Degrees, Jessica Simpson and the like—only Spears continues to be a formidable music force today (despite various train-wrecks in her pop culture memoir). Aguilera has arguably become a reality TV star, as a judge on “The Voice” (along with her fine co-starring performance with Cher in 2010’s flop flick “Burlesque”), while the rest have settled into hawking various products or hosting B-level TV shows. Among them, Simpson is the exception, having created a multi-million-dollar brand empire—without the benefit of current hit records.

Certainly, no one is expecting Bieber to equal the sales figures of his predecessors, who thrived in a very different industry landscape (pre-iTunes, no single sales, for one). The biggest sales week ever still belongs to ‘N Sync’s “No Strings Attached,” which sold a magnanimous 2.4 million copies in the U.S. in its March 2000 launch week. Even Adele can’t muster that, and it’s likely no artist ever will again.

Bieber’s “Believe” accomplishes what it needs to: his subtle metamorphosis into a slightly more adult sound and lyrical signature, with songs like “Love Me Like You Do,” where he teases, “Hop up in the bed… if you like to snooze”—suggestive but hardly explicit. “Catching Feelings” hints at blossoming young love, albeit sweet and sugar-coated: “Could it be a possibility?/I’m tryin’ to see what’s up," he sings. And in “Out Of Town Girl,” the most sensual song on the set, Bieber gets his swagger on: “Girl don’t be shy, you won’t know if you never try/When you walk by you’re the only one that catches my eye.” It’s not bumping and grinding, but does amp the sexuality… just enough to hold the interest of his core audience without frightening their moms.

And remember, Bieber also recently appeared on the cover of “Fortune,” where he and his business partners discussed the young entrepreneur’s investments in tech start-ups and the worth of his brand. Dressed in a business suit for the pictorial, that whole affair was certainly a deliberate allusion to Justin’s coming into manhood.

Meanwhile, on the radio side, the spanking new “Believe” has already muscled five tracks on the Hot 100—a feat worthy of the “Glee” franchise. First single “Boyfriend” debuted and peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Bieber’s biggest hit to date, with 2.5 million downloads, 60 million YouTube views and 5.5 million on-demand streams. It also became his first top 10 at Mainstream Top 40—after nine previous singles. In its 13th chart week, it dips from No. 10 to No. 18. It also peaked at No. 9 on Pop Songs and No. 11 on the all-format Radio Songs chart.

In addition, Bieber garnered the Hot 100’s top new entry for three consecutive weeks before “Believe” was released: Last week, "As Long as You Love Me" (featuring Big Sean), launched at No. 21 (debuting at No. 5 on Digital Songs); previously "All Around the World" (featuring Ludacris) crashed in at No. 22; and the week before, "Die in Your Arms" came to life at No. 17. And this week, “Beauty And A Beat” (featuring Nicki Minaj), becomes the fifth song to appear on the list. The official next single is “As Long As You Love Me,” which begins promotion at radio July 9.

Stepping away from Bieber fever, let’s take a glance at the rest of the chart week: On the Billboard 200, all four top slots are debuts—ironically the first time this has occurred since November 2011, when Justin Bieber’s “Under the Mistletoe” launched at No. 1. After “Believe,” Kenny Chesney comes in at No. 2 with "Welcome to the Fishbowl," his 10th top 10 album on the Billboard 200. It starts atop the Top Country Albums chart, his 11th leader there.

After seven years, folkie Fiona Apple returns with her highest-charting album ever at No. 3, "The Idler Wheel Is Wiser." The Smashing Pumpkins’ "Oceania" is No 4, after the group last appeared on the chart in 2007. And moving up four to No. 5 is the "Rock of Ages" soundtrack. Last week’s No. 1 from Usher—Justin Bieber’s muse—plummets to No. 6.

And on the Billboard Hot 100, Carly Rae Jepsen logs her third week at No. 1 with “Call Me Maybe.” She’s Canadian, you know—just like Bieber. See, there really is no escape. You may as well give in… and “Believe.” *

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Civil Servant: My Day Of Serving Jury Duty

On Wednesday, I was called to offer due diligence as a civil servant of Kings County, N.Y.—for jury duty. This marks the third time I've been beckoned for the joyful task... once in the 1990s in Manhattan when I lived in Tribeca, and six or so years ago here in Brooklyn. In both cases, I was never so much as interviewed to be on a jury.

But this time was a little different. I came within a hyena's hair of being selected for a litigation trial that begins July 10. (Fortunately), it appears my big mouth and tendency to have an opinion about any & all likely kept me from duty.

I arrived at the Kings County Courthouse on Adams Street in Brooklyn Heights at 8:30 a.m., and joined at least 400 others in a large auditorium, which was actually quite modern, offering free wireless access and comfortable seating. After watching the requisite film about how important jury duty is blah blah, a gentleman explained the lay of the day. We were expected to sit until 5 p.m., waiting to be called for potential jury service by any number of trial attorneys.

If our name was called and we weren't present, we were punished by returning to the jury pool again. If we left before 5 p.m. or were late returning from lunch, shit outta luck.

I sat from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and scratched my butt, as dozens & dozens were called out... Finally, around 3:30 p.m., my name was called and I joined about 25 others in "Room 5." We sat in the sterile gray square box, as two attorneys representing opposing sides explained that they were involved in a litigation trial for personal injuries. Attorney 1 represented Plaintiff X, who had been "injured." Attorney 2 represented Port Authority, which oversees transportation between New York and New Jersey.

The case, which has been treading water for 4-1/2 years, would now go to trial to decide if the woman deserves a big-ass cash settlement from Port Authority, or whether she had either lied or exaggerated the extent of her injuries, and would thus receive nada.

All of us filled out one-sheet questionnaires, asking about education, the neighborhood you live in, where you were born, career, hobbies and whether you've been the victim of a crime, been convicted, served on a trial previously, work as a doctor, lawyer or in the insurance biz...

First, among the 25 or so of us, about 6 or 7 alleged they'd be on vacation and out of town when the trial is scheduled in July. While they thought they were clever enough to dodge duty, the attorneys then let them know they'd probably go back in the pool and their Wednesday duty wouldn't count on the books (oh, har har!).

From there, six of us were called to the front row to be grilled for 30+ minutes about our opinions regarding litigation cases. Yup, I was among them. One of the questions: "Do you feel like we are an over-litigated society?" That's when my gums started flapping. I said that I believe many New Yorkers actually hope they might trip on a sidewalk crack so they can sue the city: "People stump their toe and start sniffing for money." I also noted that every morning I hear ads on the radio for lawyers fishing for folks that have been injured, promising lucrative settlements.

The grilling continued, asking whether we had prejudice against folks with foreign accents, knowledge of the McDonald's hot coffee-granny case, whether we read the news media... on and on... We then took a break, returned and the attorneys informed us that the 15 or so who (were not taking vacation during the trial and) had been sitting quietly behind the in the front row were all dismissed... And that among we six that had been interviewed, four had been selected to be on the jury (among what will ultimately be a total of six jurors and two alternates).

The first name called was a barely audible painfully shy guy of Asian descent... Second was a barely audible shy young white American woman. Then a very intelligent, college-educated former Wall Street black woman from Barbados... And then (deep breath)... a well-spoken black 20-something American guy. The two omitted: ME and a woman who worked for the criminal justice system and had served as a witness in several trials.

With that, my duty was done and I returned to the auditorium to wait another 15-20 minutes until we were  released at 4:30 p.m. As I walked into the beautiful sunny late afternoon with my "Juror's Proof of Service Certification," good for eight years, I felt pretty invigorated. I soaked up an experience that is certainly far from any ordinary day. And I had done my duty, come out clean on the other side and now don't have to give this another thought until 2020.

I figure by then I'll be twice as opinionated... or barely capable of remembering my name or how to tie my shoes and zip my britches... so that no attorney would give me a second glance. Right? *

Joe Manganiello In 'Magic Mike'... The Wait Is Over!

At last! Friday is the long-awaited opening of stripper flick Magic Mike, which has gotten just the kind of press it needs to be a potential box office smash. The media has been having a BIG time with the fact that its A-level cast—Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer and, of course, Joe Manganiello—is taking it all off, curious about the routines we'll see in the film and giving it props for direction by renowned Hollywood A-lister Steven Soderbergh.

So for Big Dick Mike, the character Joe is playing, we'll see him appear in costume at stripper club Xquisite as a fireman, a gold statue and a businessman. In fact, there is a scene where his winkie swings in full view in silhouette (see gif below the jump).

PopcornBiz offers: "With his sexually charged role in director Steven Soderbergh’s foray into the world of male exotic dancers, Magic Mike, in which he struts on stage in approximately half of a fireman’s uniform and his turn as the strong, sensitive and frequently shirtless werewolf Alcide Herveaux on True Blood, Manganiello has cultivated a legion of admirers who admittedly may be focusing more on his form than his technique. But the 35-year-old actor, who graduated from the prestigious Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, tells PopcornBiz that he’s confident that with each new role audiences will see beyond his six-pack."

Manganiello: "The only hesitation was just that voice in my head that said, 'Okay, everybody makes such a big deal out of you being shirtless on True Blood. Now you're going to be a male stripper.' So there was just a thought about that... but who cares? I'm known for being shirtless in projects helmed by Oscar winners. So what? Fine. I think that if it was a male stripper movie with most anyone else you probably would look at it cross-eyed, but it's Steven. Then you go, 'Okay, it's Steven. It's Channing. It's McConaughey. It's penis pump and it's Fireman. It's Gold Man.'"

Joe also tells the Detroit Free Press about his businessman routine: "I have one that's a silhouette behind a screen that's pretty complex, because, it's a tear-away suit. It's a full suit with suspenders, shirt, tie, shoes, briefcase and it's all tear-away and it all has to be removed to a piece of music without busting through it while you're doing it." Hurrah!

And finally, he shares in Hollywood Reporter: "It’s hard to take yourself seriously with an American flag thong on with a strategically placed sparkler on the end of it. Honestly, the hardest part of this movie was biting the inside of my mouth to keep from laughing, especially watching Matthew in a yellow Spandex top and tiny bike shorts, grinding on Alex Pettyfer in front of the mirror.”

Manganiello says he was almost cast in the role of Superman, but his True Blood schedule prevented it. He says he would love to do a "smart" superhero movie. And how. *