Archive for the ‘Country’ Category

Music, when combined with television, results in an art form that allows both forms of entertainment to shine. There are currently two television shows running that take a good hard look at the music industry, from all angles possible. Nashville deals with country music, Empire with hip-hop. Here’s how they compare.

The Leads

Rayna James (aka Connie Britton) is a country music superstar. Nashville focuses on her personal and professional lives. A typical old country singer, who is more concerned about her family and the quality of music she’s making, than fortune and fame (after acquiring a plethora of said fortune and fame.) A tiresome do-gooder whose only flaw is a fickle mind when it comes to matters of the heart.

Lucious Lyon (aka Terrence Howard) is a hustlin’ thug drug dealer from the Philly streets, turned founder of multi-millionaire music label/media corporation Empire. He thrives on making money and does what he needs to do to stay on top. He has strained relationships with 2 out of his 3 sons, and pits them all against each other to prove to him who is most worthy to take over the company.

The Exes

Deacon Claybourne (aka Charles Esten), is Rayna’s guitar player/co-songwriter, ex-lover. They have one of those tumultuous, on-again/off-again love stories that is constantly plagued by bad timing, wrong choices, and Deacon’s penchant for alcohol.

Cookie Lyon (aka Taraji P. Henson) is Lucious’ ex, who starts the series fresh out of jail, after a 17-year stint. Her and Lucious used to make beautiful music back in the day, and she did in fact help him start he label before going behind bars. She puts family first, and can be kind of whack; but she’s also easy to love.

The Underdogs

Nashville has Juliette Barnes (aka Hayden Panettiere.) Your typical, bratty, new country entitled diva. Always barking orders, and making everyone cater to her. She’s also a crazy talented artist, with huge appeal to younger fans (think a more spoiled Taylor Swift.) You can’t stand her, but as you get to know her, you feel for her, and just wish she would stop making bad decisions.

Empire has Jamal Lyon (aka Jussie Smollett), the middle of the 3 sons. He’s musically gifted, can produce a track out of the nighttime noises of Brooklyn, and has the voice of an angel. He’s also gay, which causes his alpha male father to resent him, and treat him like crap. He’s on a mission to make Lucious recognize his talent and give him the praise he deserves. You root for him the entire time.

The Conflicted Ones

Andre Lyon (aka Trai Byers), the eldest son of Lucious and Cookie, and the most accomplished. Ivey league school-educated, smart, ambitious. He’s already CFO of the company, but Lucious doesn’t think he has it in him to be CEO because 1) he’s not musically talented; 2) he sold out by marrying a white woman; 3) he’s weak because he suffers from bipolar disorder.

Will Lexington (aka Chris Carmack, previously of The O.C. fame) is gay, but only a select few actually know that. He keeps his cards close to his chest, in paralyzing fear the country music industry won’t accept him if they found out. He tries hard to maintain his reputation as a womanizer; but struggles with the image too.

The Young’ns

Empire, rather Lucious, wants his youngest son Hakeem Lyon (aka Yazz the Greatest) to be the heir to the throne. He’s spoiled, and grew up with money coming out of his ears. He’s your stereotypical rap artist, who’s all about the bling, the money, the girls, the drinking. He doesn’t think before he acts, and lacks the maturity of his older brothers. His rhymes, however, are pretty tight.

Nashville has Scarlett O’Connor (aka Clare Bowen),  Avery Barkley (aka Jonathan Jackson) and Gunnar Scott (aka Sam Palladio). All are trying to make it in the country music industry through songwriting, producing and/or performing. They’re still trying to navigate the country music scene, and sometimes you like them, sometimes they’re insufferable.

The Music

In both shows, all those singing (apparently) use their own voices. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Nashville is white country, Empire is black hip-hop. Two completely different genres, but each show handles their own so well, that you’re bound to become a fan, regardless of your taste in music. It is due in large part to the attention they pay to showing viewers all the processes involved in putting a song together. The ins and outs of the industry; the good, the bad and the ugly.

Both shows also have guest stars ranging from Vince Gill, The Band Perry, and Luke Bryan; to Snoop Dogg, Courtney Love and Estelle.


Nashville puts a lot more female characters in the spotlight, and is a little more adult, more dramatic, with much more character development. Empire boasts a lot more black characters up front. It’s more new school, trendy, but also more superficial. Several story lines are kind of dangled around and toyed with, but without much resolve. Having said that, it has only had 1 season compared to Nashville‘s 3.

Both shows are essentially the same story, just told differently. Different worlds, different surroundings, but the same issues. They both focus on the importance of music and its ability to heal and support. They both deal with multiple social issues, and the benefits and downfalls of fortune and fame. They both place a large emphasis on family too.

Either way, you’re going to be hooked.


Jimmy Fallon has it all. A young comedian/actor/writer/producer/father from Brooklyn who landed a coveted spot on SNL, followed by a stint on Late Night, and now the ultimate dream job as host of The Tonight Show. He has the ability to reach millions of people every night, and the luxury of making his stage whatever he wants it to be. Now, he can add full fledged musician to his portfolio. Here’s a look at some of his best work.

8. Dancer

Fallon started a segment called The Evolution of Dance, during which he performs dance moves of any genre, as it changes over the years. Fallon holds his own, whether it’s hip-hop dancing with Will Smith, end zone dancing with Justin Timberlake, or even Mom dancing with the First Lady herself.

7. Singer

Fallon seems to understand music so well, even in pitch and tone, that he’s able to completely revamp songs enough to make them original, but not too much so they cannot be recognized. An all-clucking version of  The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey” with the help of Blake Shelton. A barbershop quartet version of Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up.” And we can’t forget the ragtime version of R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix).” It will make you cry tears of joy.

6. Band Member

Fallon does not always need to be in the spotlight, and is just as comfortable blending in the background. When a star musician appears on his show, he lets them belt out their tunes, while he enlists superior quality classroom or office instruments to provide just the right sound. Robin Thicke took part, as did Christina Aguilera. It’s genius. It’s catchy. It’s delightful. Just like this.

5. Mashup DJ

Fallon got the idea to take clips of NBS newscaster Brian William’s broadcasts, and splice them together to make it sound like he’s rapping. From Snoop Dogg, to Marky Mark, to Sugarhill Gang. Props to the editing guy.

4. Lip Sync Superstar

The almighty lip sync contest. No celebrity contestant holds back, each bringing their A game. They add drama, choreography, pelvic thrusts, and serious stage presence to the studio. It’s literal laugh out loud hysterical. Paul Rudd annihilated the competition, but Joseph Gordon Levitt surprised us all (and Jimmy wasn’t half bad either.)

3. Rapper

The whole world has seen this duet with Justin Timberlake. In fact, there are five installments of it. They take turns singing snippets of famous rap songs, with the appropriate amount of gusto. The chemistry between the two of them  is the epitome of what every bromantic relationship should be. Priceless is an understatement.

2. Impersonator

Lots of comedians can do impressions. But not as many can mimic musicians both vocally and instrumentally. Fallon has some of the biggest stars down pat. He performed Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” as Neil Young, and got Bruce Springsteen to play along. He came up with the idea of an infomercial trying to sell a navigation system with Dave Matthews’ voice. He’s eerily accurate.

1. Fanfare

Being such a big fan of music himself, Fallon gets to interview his idols. Yet he always manages to humble them, by convincing stars like Billy Joel to sing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” with him a capella. He put U2 on the spot to perform an acoustic version of “Ordinary Love.” He even put together a protest song against the 2010 BP oil spill, and rallied the likes of Eddie Vedder and Florence Welch to help him sing it. As icing on the cake, he gets The Roots as his house band.

Music appeals to so many people in so many ways all over the world. We all have our reasons for listening to the music we do. Be it to be popular, to be part of something, to be able to dress a certain way (that’s you emo kids), to be closer to someone, to be farther away from someone, to be different, to stand out, to blend in.  But with so many genres out there how do we develop a taste in music? Why do we like the music we like? And does the music we like define who we are?                                                                                                                                                                                     My earliest memories of music come from when my brother used to bring home cassette tapes of whatever one hit wonder was on heavy rotation on the radio (ie Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer). Every once in a while though, thanks to the recommendations from my older cousins, he would bring home some good old classic 80s music (a la U2, Duran Druan, INXS). And so began my love affair with U2. As I got older and reached middle school, music started to become more prominent in developing one’s personality. Naturally, I was influenced by those around me. Although I consistently listened to U2 (and still do), beyond them, I found myself listening to whatever music was considered “cool” at the time. In my school it was early-mid 90s rock/grunge/alternative. Head banging made an appearance at every birthday party, as did flannel shirts, band t-shirts and mosh pits. My high school years were essentially the same music-wise and so many songs that I heard during those years would go on to become classics, at least to me.

Then came University, and all hell broke loose. Music started to become more a way of labeling people and putting them into categories; a way of separating the cool kids from the uncool kids. The people in the school I went to predominantly listened to hip-hop/r&b/rap, genres which I had very minimal exposure to. Going from a place where everyone listened to the music I did, to a place where no one did was eye-opening to say the least. I was often assaulted with the line “Oh. You listen to that kind of music”. What does that even mean? Does my taste in music in some way say something about me or how I should act or dress? Who knows. But it made me realize that a lot of the music I listen to appealed to me because of the sound, the lyrics and the way it made me feel. I know it sounds corny, but no other music at the time really had that effect on me. As such, I held on to “my” music even more; almost like a purposeful denial of what was popular and cool. I went from listening to music because it was “cool” to then listening to the same music even though it was “uncool”.

Then came my mid-late 20s where I started to expand my taste in music and listen to everything. And yes, I mean everything. I noticed that a lot of the music I was listening to was angry, or depressing. Not sure what that means exactly (maybe I’m an emo kid??), but my interpretation is music helps me express myself. I am not a very emotional person, and I rarely express how I’m feeling, not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t know how. Musicians seem to know what I’m feeling and say it way better than I ever could. And so I can relate and feel like someone understands. The Dixie Chicks have some of the most moving songs I’ve ever heard – sure it’s country, but does that matter? Does that mean I have to start showing up at hoedowns and rocking cowboy boots? I also have this unbelievable admiration for Eminem. Sure he’s a rapper (not a genre I tend to gravitate toward), but he’s an angry one and his rhymes are arguably some of the best out there. There’s nothing more satisfying to me than hearing someone else venting and getting loud, when that’s exactly all I want to do. Sometimes when I have a bad day, I throw on some Ben Harper or Damien Rice (uber depressing stuff), but they get those feelings out of me so I don’t feel that way anymore; it’s like instant therapy.

My taste in music first came from the people around me, then developed into something I wanted it to be. I still find it ridiculous (though I get that it’s human nature) how people are defined by what music they listen to, because everyone has their personal reasons. Sure every genre has its own subculture that surrounds it but just because one likes a certain type of music, it doesn’t mean they are that music. I’ve said before that having similar taste in music can bring people together, but that doesn’t mean dissimilar taste in music should pull people apart. So open yourselves up a little, try talking to an emo kid for a change. Music has not defined who I am, but has actually helped me find who I am. And in the end that’s what we’re all trying to do – so does it matter how we get there?