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<p>Rihanna on her Germany stop during the 777 Tour</p>

Rihanna on her Germany stop during the 777 Tour

Credit: AP Photo

Rihanna Recovery: Seven Things I Learned on the 777 Tour

A look back at a whirlwind week with the pop superstar

It’s been a week since Rihanna’s 777 Tour ended and it looks like everyone got what they wanted:  Rihanna’s seventh studio album, “Unapologetic,” entered the U.S. charts at No. 1 this week, giving the pop superstar her first chart topper.  The 150 journalists/bloggers embedded on the plane with her got a lifetime of bragging rights that they survived a chaotic week with the disappearing diva.

I covered the tour for MSN.com and I am a 777 survivor. By now, anyone who had any interest in Rihanna has already heard the tales of her relentless tardiness, as well as the streaker and the revolt on the flight from Berlin to London after we had no Rihanna sighting for five days. We also rebelled because we were exhausted: every flight was delayed anywhere from four to six hours. Rihanna must be the only artist in the world that can turn a 7-hour flight from London to New Rok into a 16-hour door-to-door ordeal Perhaps united by our trauma, one of the journalists on the trip started a Facebook page for all of us that has now been joined by members of her team, some of the fans who were on the plane with us, and even some of the amazing Delta flight crew who manned the charter for the week.

With a little hindsight and a lot of sleep, here are my final observations about Rihanna gleaned from the experience.

1. Rihanna has that undefinable quality that makes her a star. After spending a week with her, I still can’t put my finger on it, it’s just there. She doesn’t write her own songs, she isn’t a particularly scintillating performer, but there is something compelling about her that draws people into her orbit. They are obsessed not just with her music, but her attitude, fashion choices and lifestyle. I’m not sure she has staying power like Madonna and some of her antics don’t wear well, but for the moment, Rihanna’s star continues to ascend. What that says about the current state of pop music is a topic for another post.

2. Rihanna is constitutionally incapable of going on stage, or seeming anywhere, on time. Even when she had several hundred people waiting, Rihanna went on between 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours after the doors opened for each concert. Yes, only amateurs believe an act is going on around the time the doors open, but these were all private shows for concert winners, so going on an hour after doors opened seemed enough of a wait. As I can attest, crowds start to get a little surly after the four-hour mark has passed. Even when she had a inviolable curfew, she couldn’t do it: In Paris, she had to cut 20 minutes out of her hour-long show because she couldn’t get her ass on stage in time to do the full hour before the curfew. She was an hour late for a tree-lighting ceremony in London.

3. She is very good with her fans: As contradictory to No. 2 as that may seem, she has a connection with the Rihanna Navy that feels real and genuine. After we took off from Los Angeles on Nov. 14 and headed to the first show in Mexico City, she passed through the plane twice to say hi and she personally invited a number of the 30 or so contest winners on the plane. Plus, as we waited for our bags in Toronto --Rihanna included-- she was unfailingly polite to folks who wanted a photo--until her security crew put a halt to that.

4. Nothing good can come of seeing an act seven times in seven days:
  With the exception of one or two songs, Rihanna’s set was the same every night, including most of the “ad libs.” This next part is a little bit cruel, I admit. Before performing “What’s My Name,” she’d say, “What did you say? Did somebody call my name?” I swear to you that neither I, nor any of my colleagues, ever heard anyone call out her name. We started asking each other, “What did you say? Did somebody call my name?” as a joke and the night of the revolt, some folks said it very loudly, certainly loudly enough for Rihanna to hear way up in her first class cabin.  She dropped the song from the set list for the rest of the promo tour. Coincidence?

5. She wears well: “Unapologetic” is her seventh album in seven years and in that time, she has pumped out an unending stream of well-crafted singles, more than 20 of which have gone into the top 10. There seems to be absolutely no burn-out at radio on Rihanna, which is remarkable. There is no other artist active today who can churn out singles at such a rate and have the same level of success. Each song does its thing and then gets out of the way for the next.  Radio fatigue is bound to set in at some point, but there’s no sign of that.

6. Touring is hard: Yes, the scrubs were back in coach and that meant that for the four red-eye flights we were vertical, while Rihanna was horizontal. And, yes, this kind of touring is extreme, but the truth is even when you’re on a charter flight and you’re staying at five-star hotels, there’s a certain amount of wear and tear that starts almost immediately, as well as a bunker mentality. Nuno Bettencourt, Rihanna’s guitarist, said that touring by bus was much easier than what we were doing and I’m sure it is given that there is less schlepping, but it’s still exhausting.

7. Rihanna may be headed for trouble: This is solely subjective and I’m not basing this on anything other than my own observations. The label tried to get her to hold press conferences (as the journalists had been promised) on the plane, the manager supposedly tried to cajole her and we got nothing but two quick ones at the beginning and end. The journalists were bussed to the club early every night and just parked there, often waiting for hours, because the label admitted they had no idea what time she’d actually go on... When you have that much power and that much seemingly disregard for everyone else around you and you are only 24, that is a bad combo platter. Since the tour ended, Rihanna has given interviews saying she couldn’t party on the plane with us because she needed sleep. She didn’t need sleep when she was hitting parties at 3:30 a.m. Plus, and I cannot stress this enough, we did not need to “party” with Rihanna, we needed access and quotes. She could have accomplished that with a five-minute press conference each flight. She can blame her lack of time spent with the press on whatever she wants, but it was a bit like inviting guests over for dinner and then other than saying hi, ignoring them the rest of the evening. She may be “Unapologetic,” but much of the press is still waiting for an apology.

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<p>Taylor Swift</p>

Taylor Swift

Credit: AP Photo

Taylor Swift, Rihanna and Springsteen: Grammy predictions for record of the year

Who will get a coveted nomination on Dec. 5?

The Grammy for record of the year is among the most coveted trophies handed out at the annual music glad-handing awards. On Dec. 5, the five contenders for that category will be announced along with the nominees for the other 2,385 awards handed out on Feb. 10 at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards.

Over the years, the nominations have often reflected what were the biggest pop hits of the year with seemingly no separation between commercial and artistic values.

 However, there’s often an oddball, tastemakers' choice thrown in that no one can predict, such as Bon Iver’s “Holocene” this past year. The voters can also feel motivated by much more than the music. For example, in 1986, “We Are The World” won record of the year as a way for the industry to pat itself on the back for doing something good. In 2007, the Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready To Make Nice” snagged the golden gramophone because the voters wanted to show their support for the trio after country radio had tossed them aside for lead singer Natalie Maines’ negative comment about then-President Bush.

To be eligible a song must have been released between Oct. 1, 2011 and Sept. 30, 2012. That means that Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” an otherwise sure bet, should not be eligible since it was released in July 2011. Similarly, fun.’s “We Are Young” went to radio in September 2011, as did Rihanna’s “We Found Love.”  We’ll see how closely these rules are observed.

People often, understandably, confuse record of the year with song of the year. Record of the year goes to the artist, producer, recording engineer and/or mixer, whereas song of the year's sole recipient is the songwriter. Therefore, when thinking about record of the year contenders, it helps to think about the totality of the song’s sound, the production elements, the performance, etc., more than just the lyrics and melody.

Here are 11 songs that are contenders for the five slots, listed in alphabetical order by song title. These are not what I necessarily consider the best tunes, but they are what I think the voters will put forth.


“Burn It Down,” Linkin Park”:
Is it time to recognize Linkin Park in this category or will their start as a nu-metal band always haunt them? This track fused everything the band does: rock, hip-hop, electronica. It’s probably the least likely on the list, but it’s worth considering.

“Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen: This song was so much more than a hit single, it was a pop culture touchstone that spawned a life of its own through the dozens of remakes. While some folks never warmed to it, it’s punchy, sweet appeal is undeniable.

“Gold On the Ceiling,”  The Black Keys:
There aren’t a lot of clear-cut alternative contenders this year, but this retro, thumping track was a stand-out that was inescapable, not only from radio play, but from usage  for televised sporting events ranging from the NCAA basketball tournament to the 2012 Olympics.

“I Will Wait,” Mumford & Sons:
It’s certainly not the best track on “Babel,” but the rambunctious, albeit somewhat plodding, first single feels authentically rootsy and even though they’re only on their second album, Mumford & Sons feel like Grammy favorites.

“Mercy,” Kanye West Big Sean, Pusha T, 2 Chainz:
It may be hindered by its use of a sample, Super Beagle’s “Dust A Sound Boy,” but this in-your-face rap tune insinuated its way to the top of the hip-hop charts this year. Still, not so sure the Grammys are ready to reward a song that references “ass steak”...or Sarah Palin.

“Payphone,” Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifa:
It was locked out of the top spot on the Billboard 200 and voters may go for follow-up “One More Night,” which did reach the summit, but for my money, this is the far better record of the two with a much catchier melody and stronger performance by Adam Levine.

“Some Nights,” fun.: Fun.’s second biggest single, following “We Are Young,” is a smorgasbord of a song with lots going on and yet the gorgeous pop production never feels cluttered and none of the elements ever clash with each other. It’s a very well made record, as well as being tremendously catchy.

“Thinkin’ Bout You,” Frank Ocean: He’s more likely to win best new artist or album of the year for the stunning “Channel Orange,” but this swirling, sexy slow jam definitely deserves recognition.

“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Taylor Swift:
She’s been nominated once before here for “You Belong With Me.” “Red,” the album on which “Never, Ever” is featured, will be eligible for album of the year next year, but the Grammys want to pay attention to Swift this year, especially given that she is one of the few artists who still sells boatloads of records. Plus, this stompy pop song ushered in a new, rockier era in Swift’s sound.

“We Take Care Of Our Own,” Bruce Springsteen: He’s won 15 Grammys, and been nominated in this category three times before, but he has never taken home a statue for record of the year. He’s not this year either, but he may make it into the elite five with this impassioned, political rocker that details how we’d like to believe we act as a country.

“Where Have You Been,” Rihanna: Her monster hit, “We Found Love,” shouldn’t be eligible, so this stands in as a worthy candidate.  She reunites with “Love’s” Calvin Harris on this electro-pop, dance banger that lifts off like a rocket. 

What are your picks? See my predictions for best new artist here.

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<p>Hannah Simone and Zooey Deschanel in &quot;New Girl.&quot;</p>

Hannah Simone and Zooey Deschanel in "New Girl."

Credit: FOX

Review: 'New Girl' - 'Eggs'

In an outstanding episode, Jess and Cece have a fertility scare, Nick tries to finish his book and Schmidt has a sex problem

A review of last night's "New Girl" coming up just as soon as I eat my way out of a sandwich house...

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<p>Dax Shepard in &quot;Parenthood.&quot;</p>

Dax Shepard in "Parenthood."

Credit: NBC

Review: 'Parenthood' - 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'

Julia and Sarah both wind up in the wrong, Crosby meets the new neighbor, and Kristina wants Max to dance

A review of last night's "Parenthood" coming up just as soon as I can assemble an M-16 in the dark in under 35 seconds...

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<p>Jennifer Lawrence in &quot;Silver Linings Playbook.&quot;</p>

Jennifer Lawrence in "Silver Linings Playbook."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Jennifer Lawrence named Outstanding Performer of the Year by Santa Barbara fest

The Best Actress frontrunner will receive a tribute on February 2

In case you were worried that Jennifer Lawrence is going a little under the radar this season, don't worry: the Santa Barbara International Film Festival is taking care of the situation. Festival director Roger Durling announced yesterday that the 22 year-old actress will receive their Outstanding Performer of the Year honor of February 2, in recognition of her 2012 work in both "Silver Linings Playbook" and "The Hunger Games." ("The House at the End of the Street" went unmentioned, though I assume that's an oversight.) 

It's an award that has a reliable habit of going to Oscar frontrunners. Previous recipients Colin Firth, Penelope Cruz, Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron all received the honor en route to their eventual Oscar wins, while Kate Winslet, Heath Ledger, James Franco and last year's recipient Viola Davis were honored in years they were nominated by the Academy. (The only time the SBIFF selectors behind this award haven't seen eye-to-eye with the Academy was with Angelina Jolie in 2007, who missed the Oscar cut for "A Mighty Heart.")

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<p>Dominic West, Romola Garai and Ben Whishaw in &quot;The Hour.&quot;</p>

Dominic West, Romola Garai and Ben Whishaw in "The Hour."

Credit: BBC

Review: BBC America's 'The Hour' turns to crime in season 2

Romola Garai, Dominic West and Ben Whishaw are back in the '50s news drama

When "The Hour," the drama about a BBC news program in the late '50s, begins its second season (tonight at 10 on BBC America), the show-within-the-show has some competition. We're told that rival network ITV has copied much of "The Hour" formula for a new show called "Uncovered," which our heroine, "Hour" producer Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) tries to dismiss as "just news with advertisements." When dashing anchorman Hector Madden (Dominic West) considers jumping ship to the rival program, Bel and others suggest that his work on the new show couldn't be as substantive as on the old one.

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<p>(left to right) Fox chairman Jim Gianopulos, French culture minister Aurelie Filipetti, Ang Lee, Melanie Laurent and Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler at the presentation of Lee's award.</p>

(left to right) Fox chairman Jim Gianopulos, French culture minister Aurelie Filipetti, Ang Lee, Melanie Laurent and Fox 2000 president Elizabeth Gabler at the presentation of Lee's award.

Credit: 42 West

Roundup: Honors on both sides of the pond for Ang Lee

Also: The unveiling of 'The Hobbit,' and Spielberg's missing Bond movie

As if the box-office numbers for "Life of Pi" over the weekend weren't enough, Ang Lee has found himself honored with two very different accolades over the past 24 hours. First, the French Ministry of Culture presented the Taiwanese-born director with the Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters for his contribution to the arts -- an honor previously bestowed on such non-French filmmakers as Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg. While that was going on, it was also announced yesterday that Lee will receive that 2013 Filmmaker Award at the Motion Picture Sound Editors' Golden Reel ceremony on February 17. MPSE president Bobbi Banks credited him with "continually break[ing] ground through the use of the latest technology both visually and sonically," adding that in "Life of Pi," "his use of Dolby Atmos guides audiences into the emotional intimacy of the sound experience." Is it one to watch in the sound categories?

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Charlie Hunnam on 'Sons of Anarchy'

Need someone to blame, Jax? Look in the mirror.

Credit: FX

'Sons of Anarchy' recap: 'Darthy'

Someone needs to give Jax a time-out

I'm kinda glad there's only one more episode of "Sons of Anarchy" left this season because I need a break. Not a break from the show, necessarily, but definitely a break from Jax Teller.

I've had enough of his smug self-serving schemes, spoiled child-like tantrums, and stubborn refusal to do anything about the constant threat that hangs over the head of everyone he supposedly loves as long as he remains in SAMCRO.

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<p>Rihanna's &quot;Unapologetic&quot;</p>

Rihanna's "Unapologetic"

Credit: Def Jam Recordings

Rihanna scores her first No. 1 album with 'Unapologetic' on the Billboard 200

Feat comes one week after first single, 'Diamonds' tops Billboard Hot 100

Seven would seem to be Rihanna’s lucky number.  “Unapologetic,” her seventh studio album in as many years, has become her first effort to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

She scores the feat one week after the album’s first single, “Diamonds,” became her 12th chart topper on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Unapologetic” dropped on Monday, Nov. 19, instead of the usual Tuesday release date, so the title benefitted from an extra day of sales in this week’s Nielsen SoundScan tally (SoundScan measures says from Monday through Sunday). The album sold 238,000 copies, a personal best for the singer, whose previous best week had been with 2010’s “Load,” which sold 207,000 copies in its opening frame to start at No. 3.

All seven of her studio albums had opened on the top 10, including 2007’s “Good Girl Gone Bad,” which peaked at No. 2, according to Billboard.
 
As Billboard notes, her arrival at No. 1 ends a rather dubious record she’s certainly happy to see end: until today, she was the artist who had scored the most No. 1 songs without having ever achieved a No. 1 album.


 

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<p>Sacha Gervasi at the New York premiere of &quot;Hitchcock&quot;</p>

Sacha Gervasi at the New York premiere of "Hitchcock"

Credit: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Sacha Gervasi refutes 'Hitchcock' criticism at Fox Searchlight holiday soirée

And Benh Zeitlin aims to be Herzog to Quvenzhané Wallis's Kinski

NEW YORK -- Fox Searchlight Pictures held its annual east coast holiday party this evening at Andaz 5th Avenue with a nice second-floor spread with principals from the studio's awards season hopefuls -- "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Hitchcock" and "The Sessions" -- on hand. Spirits were particularly high after "Beasts" and "Sessions" combined for six Independent Spirit Award nominations (with one each for "Ruby Sparks" and "Sound of my Voice").

I was glad to finally meet "Hitchcock" director Sacha Gervasi, a charismatic guy who spoke with me about film critics baring their teeth and declaring that he "made up" the events of his film. I would posit that hero-worship may have gotten the better of many -- like, say, Manohla Dargis, whose review basically refuted reporting done by her New York Times colleague John Anderson a week earlier. "It...takes extravagant liberties with the dead," Dargis wrote. "Stephen Rebello, author of 'Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,' the book on which 'Hitchcock' is partly based, interviewed many of Hitchcock’s collaborators on 'Psycho' and confirmed the film’s version of events," Anderson wrote.

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"Dancing with the Stars"

 "Dancing with the Stars"

Credit: ABC

'Dancing with the Stars' finale recap: The winning couple is revealed

Pamela Anderson, Joey Fatone, Kirstie Alley and other eliminated celebs return

So, tonight's the night. One couple will get the treasured mirror ball trophy and two couples won't. It's a big deal, but really, what do you do with a mirror ball trophy? Put it on the mantel? Hang it from your ceiling? Decorate your tree with it? Just wondering. Anyway, this is the night Shawn Johnson, Melissa Rycroft and Kelly Monaco will learn who made the final cut. And has to take that big, shiny thing home. I guess that at least if you get two, they could make nice bookends. 

First off, we see all of our eliminated celebrities, I think. Maybe not. There are a lot of people on the floor. Hey, there's Sabrina! Well, you knew she'd be available.  

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The Top 8 with Carson Daly.
Credit: NBC

Recap: 'The Voice' Tuesday - Top 8 Results

Two more are sent home after tonight's results show.

 

It’s time for another elimination episode of “The Voice”, or, as I like to call it, the “Carson Daly Puts Hopefuls Through The Weekly Emotional Ringer” episode. Last week’s unintentional fake-out for Sylvia Yacoub might have been the most awkward moment of the season that didn’t involve the one-hit wonder Cupid, so let’s hope the producers of this show have coached Daly on how NOT to impart information tonight.
 
Two are going home tonight, and last night I predicted those two would be Dez Duron and Terry McDermott. Cassadee Pope and Melanie Martinez enter the episode both still charting in the iTunes Top 10, so mathematically they are all but shoo-ins to continue. (Nicholas David was there for a while, but isn’t there now, which means he’s not eligible for the voting bonus that entails.) We’ll see how this play out over the next hour. Let’s do this, running dairy style. It’s like gangnam style, only with more of a cultural shelf life. 
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