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Big Voices, Ballads and Blockbuster Hits: How 1996 Became The Year Of The Pop Diva

(L-R) Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston

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Big Voices, Ballads and Blockbuster Hits: How 1996 Became The Year Of The Pop Diva

Shortly before Spicemania took hold, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Celine Dion ushered in a more grown-up wave of girl power

GRAMMYs/Mar 31, 2021 - 10:51 pm

MariahWhitney and Celine—a.k.a. the holy trinity of pop divas with pyrotechnic vocal ranges—had enjoyed triumphant years before. Carey scored the biggest-selling album of 1991 with her self-titled debut, which spawned four consecutive No. 1s. Houston achieved the same feat in 1986 and 1993 with her eponymous first LP and The Bodyguard OST. And the chart-topping success of Celine Dion's "The Power of Love" in 1994 helped push its parent album The Colour of My Love to sales of more than 20 million

In 1996, the stars aligned for all three powerhouse singers to reach the pole position on Billboard’s singles chart. The trio essentially monopolized its first six months. You had to wait until May 18—when the distinctly non-pop-diva-like Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s hip-hop eulogy "Tha Crossroads" replaced Carey’s "Always Be My Baby"—to hear someone else at the top of the US Hot 100. 

This remarkable pop diva merry-go-round had actually started back in September 1995 thanks to "Fantasy." Sampling Tom Tom Club and featuring Ol' Dirty Bastard, the sublime Daydream cut pioneered the soon-to-be ubiquitous hip-hop sound. At eight weeks, it also became the longest-running of Carey’s first nine No. 1s before being unseated by her biggest rival’s "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)." 

That, in turn, was knocked off the top spot after just seven days by another Carey collaboration, with the slick vocal harmonies of Boyz II Men replacing the gonzo, growling rhymes of ODB. A tribute to the loved ones who they’d lost to the AIDS epidemic, "One Sweet Day" remarkably remained the nation’s most popular single until March of the following year. The song’s record-breaking 16-week stint wouldn’t be surpassed until another much less likely duet 23 years later, Lil Nas X’s and Billy Ray Cyrus’ hick-hop smash "Old Town Road."

The artist who finally toppled "One Sweet Day" ended up truly dominating 1996. Although Dion had already released a string of albums before Houston and Carey had set foot inside a recording studio, the Canadian only began making waves outside the Francophone market with 1990’s Unison. It would be another four years before she started being mentioned in the same breath. But by the end of her fourth English-language album’s campaign, Dion had become the new queen. 

A true blockbuster of a record, Falling Into You reportedly shifted a colossal 32 million copies, placing it in the same bracket as The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Eagles’ Hotel California. It spawned two No.1 hits: the slow-building theme to the Robert Redford/Michelle Pfeiffer romance Up Close and Personal, "Because You Loved Me," and the epic-from-the-get-go "It’s All Coming Back to Me Now." And it saw Dion recognized at every major award ceremony, including the Oscars, Golden Globes, and, most notably, the GRAMMYs. 

Of course, Houston had previously shared the Album of the Year award for her contributions to The Bodyguard OST. However, Dion was the first of her peers to achieve the accolade entirely independently: despite some rather snooty predictions, Carey’s Daydream had failed to win the category, or indeed any of the five others it was nominated for, in 1996. Falling Into You, which was additionally crowned Best Pop Album at the same 1997 ceremony, even beat another Houston-heavy soundtrack, Waiting to Exhale, to the glittering prize.

Proving her double-threat credentials once again, Houston not only held her own against Angela Bassett in Forest Whitaker’s directorial debut, but she lent her unmistakable voice to three of its songs as well. "Why Does It Hurt So Bad" and CeCe Winans’ duet "Count on Me" later joined "Exhale" on Houston’s tally of Top 30 entries, as did "I Believe in You and Me" from The Preacher’s Wife OST later that same year, too. 

Houston wasn’t the only pop diva to score hits from the 12 million-selling Waiting to Exhale, which placed fourth behind Falling Into YouDaydream and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill on 1996’s year-end album chart. Mary J. Blige’s defiant slow jam, "Not Gon’ Cry," became the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul’s biggest single to date before the sweetly-sung funk of Brandy’s "Sittin’ Up In My Room" followed in its footsteps by also peaking at No.2. Meanwhile, Toni Braxton’s emotive ballad, "Let It Flow," effectively topped the charts thanks to its memorable double A-side. 

Braxton had a remarkable 1996 herself, following up the No. 1 success of "You’re Makin' Me High" with the year’s defining power ballad, "Un-Break My Heart" (its parent LP Secrets went eight times platinum, too). Although she wasn’t entirely averse to bombast, Babyface’s musical protégé proved you didn’t have to shatter glasses to be considered a ‘90s pop diva. Alongside Brandy, Monica and another Waiting to Exhale contributor, TLC’s T-Boz, Braxton’s strengths lay in the kind of rich lower register that could melt butter.  

On the other end of the spectrum, the featherlight vocals of Aaliyah had found their perfect foil in the shape of Timbaland and Missy Elliott’s futuristic production on One In a Million. The sparse robotic funk of "If Your Girl Only Knew" was a prime contender for single of the year. Then there was Lauryn Hill, busy sowing the seeds for her frustratingly erratic solo career as the gritty but beautifully melodic voice behind 1996’s biggest hip-hop act, Fugees.

And although the States would have to wait until the following year for Spicemania to take hold, there were still plenty of groups bringing the girl power. SWV scored their final Top 10 hit with "You’re the One," 702 put themselves on the map with the slick street soul of "Steelo" and Total provided the sugary melodic hook for LL Cool J’s bedroom song "Loungin’." The self-ordained funkiest bunch of divas, En Vogue, also launched their comeback single, "Don’t Let Go," which in 1997 saw them come agonizingly close to the top spot for the third time. 

The new guard of pop divas, however, hadn’t completely shut out the old. Barbra Streisand reached the Top 10 for the first time since 1981 with "I Finally Found Someone," the Oscar-nominated Bryan Adams collaboration taken from her self-directed starring vehicle, The Mirror Has Two FacesGloria Estefan’s soaring "Reach" was chosen as the official anthem for the year’s biggest sporting event, the Atlanta Olympics. And Cher ("One By One"), Tina Turner ("Missing You") and Chaka Khan & Gladys Knight ("Missing You") all made deserved returns to the US Hot 100. 

Perhaps the most interesting pop diva development, though, arrived at the tail end of the year. Madonna had already settled into the demure balladeer phase of her career with the hits compilation Something to Remember. But she made an even more concerted bid for respectability with the leading role in Evita. The First Lady of Pop’s performance as the First Lady of Argentina was deemed the strongest in her filmography. Simultaneously, the accompanying soundtrack—recorded with musical impresarios Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice—silenced those who believed she didn’t possess the range. 

Of course, Madge would soon reinvent herself as the Earth Mother of electronica on 1998’s magnum opus Ray of Light, completely abandoning the showboating love songs that had become Carey, Houston and Dion’s forte. Yet whereas the latter went on to double down on the histrionics with Streisand duets and disaster movie themes, her two vocal counterparts also began to explore much more credible directions.

Carey roped in Q-Tip, Missy and P. Diddy for the urban pop of 1997’s Butterfly, a clear statement of independence following her split with manager husband Tommy Mottola. Houston, meanwhile, surprised everyone with 1999’s My Love Is Your Love, a masterful comeback guided by a who’s who of contemporary R&B including Rodney Jerkins, Wyclef Jean and Soulshock & Karlin.

By this point, VH1 had belatedly recognized that we were in a golden era for female vocalists, launching their own charity concert series simply titled Divas. The annual show celebrated artists both established and emerging during its initial seven-year run, with Houston, Carey and Dion all making regular appearances.

However, thanks to their dominance of the Billboard charts and the emergence of countless names they inspired, 1996 remains the year when the pop divas—or perhaps more aptly, the elusive chanteuses—truly reigned supreme.

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

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"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

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Mariah Carey Tells Fans Fire Music Is Coming With New Album 'Caution'

Mariah Carey

Photo: David Crotty/Getty Images

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Mariah Carey Tells Fans Fire Music Is Coming With New Album 'Caution'

The sultry R&B/pop superstar has announced she will release her 15th studio album next month – what will she bring us this time around?

GRAMMYs/Oct 17, 2018 - 05:39 am

Never one to do things quietly, the GRAMMY-winning R&B/pop diva with the angelic voice Mariah Carey came boldly onto the scene in 1990 with her GRAMMY-nominated debut self-titled album. At the 33rd GRAMMY Awards she took home her first two wins: Best New Artist and for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female for "Vision Of Love," which she performed on the GRAMMY stage. The song was the album's first single and Carey's first No. 1 song. Since taking center stage at the beginning of the '90s the star hasn't looked back, releasing 13 studio albums and plenty of hits over the years. Four years after the release of her last album, she has announced that her next one is a month away. What will she serve up on her 15th LP?

The star recently shared on Twitter that her latest album is called Caution and will be released on Nov. 16, 2018. We first got a hint of a new album on Sept. 13 when she announced an album was in the works and released the lead single, "GTFO." The album's second single, "With You," followed on Oct. 4.

On "GTFO" she confidently asks a soon-to-be-ex lover "How 'bout you get the f* out?" in breathy vocals over a slow, melodic beat by GRAMMY-winning producer Nineteen85. "With You" feels like a classic Carey R&B love song with her angelic vocals backed by snapping and a melodic slow jam groove produced by hip-hop beat maker DJ Mustard, who lets her voice shine on an uncharacteristically mellow track for him. These songs hint that her latest release will give us songs that not only showcase her incredible vocal range and versatility, but also give us both nostalgia-inducing tracks as well as radio-ready hits.

"GTFO" gives us a taste of some of the new flavor that she is bringing to her new album, singing the song's coy lyrics completely in more-understated breathy vocals without belting any big high notes, not even during the chorus. It's a catchy, playful breakup song, as she confidently sings "get the f* out/how 'bout you take your tings and be on your merry way?/Fly off with the wind, bye bye baby/How 'bout you scusami, Mimi'll call you a valet."

The song was co-written and co-produced by Jeff Jefferies aka Nineteen85, who is half of OVO R&B duo dvsn and is responsible for producing some of Drake's biggest hits, including the GRAMMY-winning mega-hit "Hotline Bling." On the Drake's song "Emotionless" from his latest album, Scorpion, he samples Carey's lyrics from remixed classic hit "Emotions." Hopefully Jefferies has some catchy hits up his sleeve for Carey, and maybe even brings in some OVO artist surprises.

Carey has released some great collabs over the years, a majority with R&B and hip-hop artists, including Boyz II Men on heartfelt slow jam "One Sweet Day" from 1995's Daydream and Jay-Z on the upbeat classic belter "Heartbreaker" from 1999's Rainbow. We can only hope that the new album will offer some new, soon-to-be-classic hits with some of our other favorite artists.

Her most recent album, Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse, released in 2014, had more collab tracks than usual for her, which could perhaps point towards some hot features on Caution. The deluxe edition of the 2014 album had six songs with other artists, including rappers Nas, Fabolous, Wale and R. Kelly as well as R&B singers Miguel and Mary J. Blige. The  album's lead single, "Beautiful," has Miguel and Carey singing a soulful, feel-good duet, while "Dedicated" features a bounce-y, electronic-infused hip-hop beat with a verse from Nas. Seeing that she worked with big-time hip-hop producers on the new album's lead singles, we can only hope that they not only offered their production genus to more of the tracks, but perhaps brought some of their friends into the studio as well.

Fans only have to wait a month for the full dose of new music from Carey, but until then we will send our prayers to the music gods that the album will feature all of our dream collabs, perhaps some old and new friends, and offer up some new favorite songs, with some to slow dance to and others to belt out in the shower.

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Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures Exhibit Will Showcase The Surf-Rock Icons' Impact On Pop Culture

The Ventures

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Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures Exhibit Will Showcase The Surf-Rock Icons' Impact On Pop Culture

The exhibit, opening Dec. 7, will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run" and more

GRAMMYs/Nov 22, 2019 - 01:44 am

Influential instrumental rock band The Ventures are getting their own exhibit at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles that will showcase the band's impact on pop culture since the release of their massive hit "Walk, Don't Run" 60 years ago. 

The Rock Hall of Fame inductees and Billboard chart-toppers have become especially iconic in the surf-rock world, known for its reverb-loaded guitar sound, for songs like "Wipeout," "Hawaii Five-O" and "Walk, Don't Run." The Walk, Don't Run: 60 Years Of The Ventures exhibit opening Dec. 7 will feature late band member Mel Taylor's Gretsch snare drum, a 1965 Ventures model Mosrite electric guitar, the original 45 rpm of "Walk Don't Run," a Fender Limited Edition Ventures Signature guitars, rare photos and other items from their career spanning six decades and 250 albums. 

“It’s such an honor to have an exhibit dedicated to The Ventures at the GRAMMY Museum and be recognized for our impact on music history,” said Don Wilson, a founding member of the band, in a statement. "I like to think that, because we ‘Venturized’ the music we recorded and played, we made it instantly recognizable as being The Ventures. We continue to do that, even today."

Don Wilson, Gerry McGee, Bob Spalding, and Leon Taylor are current band members. On Jan. 9, Taylor's widow and former Fiona Taylor, Ventures associated musician Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and others will be in conversation with GRAMMY Museum Artistic Director Scott Goldman about the band's journey into becoming the most successful instrumental rock band in history at the Clive Davis Theater. 

"The Ventures have inspired generations of musicians during their storied six-decade career, motivating many artists to follow in their footsteps and start their own projects," said Michael Sticka, GRAMMY Museum President. "As a music museum, we aim to shine a light on music education, and we applaud the Ventures for earning their honorary title of 'the band that launched a thousand bands.' Many thanks to the Ventures and their families for letting us feature items from this important era in music history."

The exhibit will run Dec. 7–Aug. 3, 2020 at the GRAMMY Museum

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Alicia Keys Unveils Dates For New Storytelling Series

Alicia Keys

Photo by Isabel Infantes/PA Images via Getty Images

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Alicia Keys Unveils Dates For New Storytelling Series

The artist will take her upcoming 'More Myself: A Journey' biography on a four-city book tour

GRAMMYs/Mar 5, 2020 - 04:07 am

After performing her powerhouse piano medley at the 62nd Annual GRAMMYs, R&B superstar, GRAMMY-winning artist and former GRAMMY’s host Alicia Keys has revealed that she will set out on a four-stop book tour next month. The storytelling tour will support her forthcoming book More Myself: A Journey, which is slated for a March 31 release via Flatiron Books and is reported to feature stories and music from the book, told and performed by Alicia and her piano, according to a statement.

Part autobiography, part narrative documentary, Keys' title is dubbed in its description as an "intimate, revealing look at one artist’s journey from self-censorship to full expression."  You can pre-order the title here.

The book tour will kick off with a March 31 Brooklyn stop at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. From there, Keys will visit Atlanta’s Symphony Hall on April 5 and Chicago’s Thalia Hall with Chicago Ideas the following day, April 6. The short-run will culminate on April 7 in Los Angeles at the Theatre at Ace Hotel.

Pre-sales for the tour are underway and public on-sale will begin on Friday, March 6 at 12 p.m. Eastern Time. Tickets for the intimate dates and full release dates and times are available here.

Keys won her first five career awards at the 44th Annual GRAMMYs in 2002. On the night, she received awards in the Best New Artists, Song of the Year, Best R&B Song, Best R&B Album and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance categories respectively. She has received a total of 29 nominations and 15 GRAMMYs in her career.

This year, Keys will also embark on a world tour in support of Alicia, the artist’s upcoming seventh studio album and the follow up of 2016’s Here, due out March 20 via RCA Records.