Pop Music’s Comeback Queens

Everyone loves a good comeback story, and pop culture is full of them. But while actors can easily bounce back from a flop film or short-lived TV series, recording artists tend to find it much harder to reverse directions once they start sliding down fame’s slippery slope. Here however, are three divine divas who managed to not only buck the odds, but to crush them underfoot with their comebacks of the highest order.

kylie light yearsKylie Minogue

The Rise: In 1987, Kylie Minogue, then starring on the Australian soap opera Neighbours, launched her pop music career. From 1987 to 1995 she managed to send over 20 singles into the Top 20 of the UK music charts, including her worldwide hit “The Loco-Motion”, which became a smash in North America, reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The Fall: After fulfilling her contract with PWL Records, Minogue wanted to move to a less-controlling label, one that would allow her to branch out in a new direction and hopefully help her be taken more seriously as an artist. She signed with Deconstruction and released two albums with them. The second set, Impossible Princess, has since become a fan favourite, but upon its release it was noted mainly for being Minogue’s first big “miss”. The lead single from the album, “Some Kind of Bliss” not only became her lowest-charting lead single, but it became her lowest charting single ever, missing the UK Top 20 completely (peaking at #22). Her follow-up singles, “Did It Again” and “Breathe” faired slightly better – both peaked at #14 – but the message was clear, radio didn’t care much for “serious” Kylie and without radio support, a UK artist is pretty much in a sinking ship (at least back in the pre-YouTube/iTunes age). It seemed that Kylie’s days of big hits were behind her, and Deconstruction dropped her from the label.

The Comeback: Minogue managed to pick herself up, dust herself off and get herself signed to a new label, Parlophone. However, there was one caveat – they wanted “fun” Kylie back. Her resulting Parlophone debut, 2000’s Light Years, featured a confident, bold, disco-tinged sound. Lead single “Spinning Around” was quickly embraced by Minogue fans old and new and debuted at #1 in the UK. Her comeback then became a full-fledged career resurgence with her next album, Fever. That set included the smash single “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”, which not only hit #1 in dozens of countries around the world, but also returned Minogue to the top U.S. charts, landing her in the Billboard Top 10 for the first time in almost 15 years.

mariah mimiMariah Carey

The Rise: From 1990 to 2000, Mariah Carey dominated the airwaves and sales charts, releasing a non-stop barrage of hits (15 of which topped the Billboard Hot 100), including “One Sweet Day”, her 1995 duet with Boyz II Men that spent a record-breaking 16 weeks at #1.

The Fall: After signing with Virgin in 2000 for a highly publicized $100 million contract, her first product was the soundtrack to her motion picture debut. Glitter became a double debacle, the film flopped at the box office and the soundtrack under-performed on the charts. Virgin quickly cut their losses and bought out Carey’s contract. She then signed to Island Records but her first album for them, Charmbracelet, did little to reverse her fortunes. Poorly received by critics and avoided by radio, the set’s lead single, “Through The Rain” only managed to limp to #81 on the Billboard Hot 100. Two follow-up singles, including a cover of Def Leppard’s “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” failed to make the Hot 100 at all.

The Comeback: Island Records stuck by Carey though, and she went to work with a number of different songwriters and producers for her next album, 2005’s The Emancipation of Mimi. Things got off to a promising start with lead single “It’s Like That” charting at #14, but no one could have expected what happened next. Her follow-up single, “We Belong Together” was heralded as a return to form for the songstress and not only did it bring her back to the #1 spot on the Hot 100, it stayed there for 14 weeks, making it her biggest solo hit ever. It was such a massive hit that Billboard eventually crowned it “Song of The Decade”. Carey kept the momentum going, sending third single from the set, “Shake It Off” to #2 and then the fourth single (from a re-released deluxe version of Mimi), “Don’t Forget About Us” once again brought her back to the Hot 100’s penthouse position.

pink deadPink

The Rise: Pink burst on the music scene with her tough-girl swagger in 2000 and in short order released two hit albums along with a handful of Top 10 hits like “Most Girls”, “Don’t Let Me Get Me” and her #1 collaboration with Christina Aguilera, L’il Kim and Mya, “Lady Marmalade”

The Fall: Experimenting with a rawer, rock-tinged sound, Pink’s third album, 2003’s Try This, didn’t catch on with radio or music buyers. Only one of the set’s three singles, lead release “Trouble” (which would eventually nab her a Grammy for best female rock performance), managed to make any chart impact, peaking at a lowly #68 on the Hot 100. This only furthered the notion Pink was already on her way out – which was sparked earlier that year  when “Feel Good Time”, her contribution to the soundtrack to Charlie’s Angel’s Full Throttle stalled at #60 (which was especially harsh since the soundtrack to the first Charlie’s Angels had produced a #1 smash hit in the form of “Independent Women” by Destiny’s Child).

The Comeback: Never to take anything lying down, Pink resurfaced in 2006 with her fourth set, the knowingly titled I’m Not Dead. Lead single “Stupid Girls” climbed to #13, bringing her back to the Top 20 for the first time in 4 years, and subsequent releases “Who Knew” and “U + Ur Hand” broke into the Top 10, both peaking at #9. And just as Kylie Minogue before her, Pink proved with her next release that she wasn’t just having a comeback, she was having a career resurgence. After embarking on a massive world tour, she released Funhouse in 2008 and lead single “So What” became her first solo #1 hit. She’s since topped the charts two more times – with “Raise Your Glass” in 2010 and with her duet with Nate Ruess, “Just Give Me A Reason” in 2013.

When Lightning Doesn’t Strike Twice

When the following pairs of artistic professionals initially collaborated, they didn’t only find success, but they also managed to create landmarks in the world of pop culture. So of course it seemed only natural for them to collaborate again. Unfortunately, their subsequent projects proved just how hard it is to make lightning strike twice.

John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John

The Hit: Grease (1978)

The Miss: Two of a Kind (1983) 

After the smash success of Grease (with an initial domestic gross of $159 million – at the time one of the top money-makers ever) the Twoofakindduo who immortalized the summer lovin’ Danny and Sandy reunited onscreen for another tale of romancin’ – albeit this time without the dancin’…or a sensible plot. Two of a Kind involves Travolta as would-be inventor who bungles a bank robbery and Newton-John as the teller who gives him a bag of deposit slips instead of cash and takes the loot for herself. The film then follows this upstanding duo on a series of chase scenes and musical montages while they randomly start falling for each other. Oh, and the whole thing is being observed by a gaggle of heavenly beings who have made a bet with God that if this misguided duo can reform, then he won’t wipe away mankind and start all over, like he’s been itching to do. Yup.

Needless to say, movie-goers didn’t really go for this pairing of the former Rydell High lovebirds, and critics didn’t go for the film’s nonsensical story. Two of a Kind managed to eke out $23 million at the box office before going off to celluloid heaven. (However, as with her previous flop, Xanadu, Newton-John fared much better with the music from the movie. Her rendition of the film’s lead single, “Twist of Fate” peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100).

 

Wes Craven & Kevin Williamson

The Hit: Scream/Scream 2 (1996/1997)

The Miss: Cursed (2005) 

Director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson did the near-impossible back in 1996. Not only did their collaboration, Scream, become a mainstream hit horror movie (domestic gross: $103 million), but it also resurrected the long-dead “teen slasher” sub-genre, deconstructing and updating its tropes along with help from a witty script full of savvy characters and filmed with genuine shocks and scares. Striking while the iron was hot, the duo re-teamed for Scream 2 just one year later, and it was just as big a success as the first, pulling in $101 million.cursed_poster

Commitments to his show Dawson’s Creek kept Williamson away from working with Craven on Scream 3, but the two were still itching to collaborate once again, but this time on something different. Thus, Cursed was born – and if ever there was an apt title for a film, this was it. The movie, concerning a brother and sister (Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg) who stumble across a werewolf attack was plagued by one problem after another: production delays, script rewrites, characters being recast or just cut completely (some even after they had filmed their scenes). Mandy Moore, Skeet Ulrich, Omar Epps and Scott Foley are just some of the many actors who were originally in (or intended to be in) the film at one time or another. After more than a year’s delay, Cursed was finally released, but not without one last stumbling block. The studios wanted this film about savage werewolf attacks to come with a PG-13 rating – which is pretty much the kiss of death for any horror movie – so Craven had to go back to the editing room and comply.

When this bloodless, scare-free, jumbled mess of movie finally limped into theatres, critics killed it and movie-goers buried it. Cursed closed with a gross just shy of $20 million (or about 2/3 of what Scream 2 made in its opening weekend).

 

Brandy & Monica

The Hit: “The Boy is Mine” (1998)

The Miss: “It All Belongs To Me” (2012)                                                                                                                                                                                                          

In the summer of 1998, you couldn’t turn on a radio or channel surf past MTV and VH1 without hearing Brandy and Monica smoothlyBrandy Monica staking their claim for the same man. “The Boy is Mine” spent a staggering 13 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the biggest single of the year and eventually netting the songstresses the Grammy award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group.

So while it wasn’t surprising that they reteamed for another single, it was surprising how long it took for them to do it. 14 years after their first collaboration, the duo released “It All Belongs To Me”. Now, in the music biz, 14 years is a lifetime – heck, two lifetimes even – and the pop music scene itself is ever-changing. When “The Boy is Mine” topped the charts, Brandy and Monica were both entering the peak of their careers (it was the lead single for each artist’s second album) and most importantly, R&B and Hip Hop artists were dominating the crossover charts.

Monica BrandyCut to 2012 – with Brandy and Monica both having much lower profiles, R&B not enjoying as much crossover success as it has in the past and a song itself that was roundly dinged for being lacklustre, and the end result was pretty much “too little, too late”. “It All Belongs To Me” became a moderate hit on the R&B charts (#23) but didn’t even manage to crack the Hot 100 at all.

Movie-Inspired Music Videos

Many music videos have looked to key scenes or memorable sequences from films for inspiration. Madonna’s “Material Girl” video (a nod to Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) and Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted” (a take on the “Airotica” sequence from Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz) are just two of many notable examples.

However, some music videos go that extra mile and don’t just use a scene for inspiration, but rather the whole film, and end up becoming mini-remake masterpieces. And one such video just happens to belong to the current #1 single atop the Billboard Hot 100. So, in honour of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”, let’s take a look at some of the more exceptional movie-inspired music videos.

Iggy Azalea ft Charli XCX – “Fancy” (2014)

Australian newcomer Iggy Azalea no doubt owes part of the chart success for her debut single “Fancy” to its video, which is a spot-on redux of the classic comedy, Clueless. Azalea and her crew deftly navigate key scenes and fashions that Alicia Silverstone and company first did a lap with in 1995.

Faith No More – “Last Cup of Sorrow” (1997)

With Jennifer Jason Leigh stepping in for Kim Novak, the members of Faith No More give their melodramatic best in this homage of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. “Last Cup of Sorrow” from Faith No More’s final studio release, “Album of the Year” peaked at #14 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.

Paula Abdul – “Rush Rush” (1991)

While Keanu Reeves’ floppy hairstyle is so totally 90s, everything else about this Rebel Without a Cause-inspired video, from the fine n’ flirty fashions to the vintage vehicles hits that 50s sweet spot. “Rush Rush” spent 6 weeks at #1, and while they may not give Natalie Wood and James Dean a run for their money acting-wise, Abdul and Reeves still make a damn fine good looking couple.

Berlin – “No More Words” (1984)

For the video for what became their first Top 40 hit, Berlin chose to give their take on 1967’s iconic outlaw flick Bonnie and Clyde. Faye Dunaway was certainly fashion-forward in the film, but she still managed to “look period” — however, much like Keanu Reeves anachronistic hairstyle in “Rush Rush”, the two-toned hair of Berlin’s Terri Nunn is so totally 80s.

Resurgence Requested: Movie Soundtracks (80s-style!)

While movie soundtracks are still “a thing”, they are nowhere near being the pop culture touchstones that they were back in the 1980s.

There once was a time when a major film simply would not be released without an accompanying well-promoted radio single – let alone a tie-in soundtrack full of original songs from multiple artists. But with the decline of physical album sales and the rise of the internet, social media and outlets like YouTube, there are a number of less costly options available to film studios to cross-promote their releases. And it seems that these days the only soundtracks that seem to really get the push from studios are for musicals (animated or otherwise) or music-centered films, which means we’ve gone full circle back to the 1950s and 60s.

Back then, hit soundtracks were solely the domain of the movie musical and  their showtunes. But as the musical film genre began to fade in 1970s,  the soundtracks to films like Saturday Night Fever (1977) and later, Flashdance (1983) stepped forward to prove that not only did a film need not be a musical in order to produce a hit soundtrack, but that a heavily promoted tie-in single (or singles) was great for profits and advertising. Thus, the modern movie soundtrack genre was off and running.

For the next decade, it seemed that a major movie couldn’t be released without an accompanying single, and soon the music charts were beginning to resemble the box-office charts – with such diverse films as Against All Odds, The Woman in Red, Ghostbusters, The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire, The Goonies, Back to The Future, White Nights, The Karate Kid Part II, Beverly Hills Cop II, Mannequin, Cocktail and Batman – just to name a few – all producing signature hit singles.

However, there were some films that spawned multiple hit singles and whose soundtracks went on to become some of the biggest selling albums of their decade and now stand as a perfect snapshot of their era – the likes of which we have yet to see happen this millennium for a non-musical film:

Footloosefootloosebonus

The soundtrack for the 1984 film starring Kevin Bacon as a toe-tappin’ high schooler that rebels against authority was a massive success, selling 9 million units in the U.S. and spawning 6 Billboard Hot 100 hits, including the #1 singles “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins and “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” by Deniece Williams as well as the #7-peaking “Almost Paradise” by Mike Reno and Ann Wilson. Other hits to climb the charts included “Holding Out For A Hero” (Bonnie Tyler, #34), “Dancing In The Sheets” (Shalamar, #17) and another entry from Loggins, “I’m Free [Heaven Helps The Man](#22)

Top Guntop gun

The soundtrack to Tom Cruise’s high-flying hit of 1986 has also been certified for sales of 9 million. And also like the Footloose soundtrack, it was propelled by a hit single from Kenny Loggins – in this case “Danger Zone” which reached #2. Even bigger though was “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin. Not only did it reach #1, but it also took home the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Subsequent singles emerged in the forms of  “Heaven In Your Eyes” (Loverboy, #12) and yet another release from Loggins (“Playing With The Boys”, #60).

And can we just take a moment here to acknowledge something – specifically, how in the 80s, Kenny Loggins became the undisputed king of movie soundtracks? Because, in addition to his multiple singles from  Footloose and Top Gun, Loggins also scored hits that decade with songs from Caddyshack (“I’m Alright”, #7), Over The Top (“Meet Me Half Way” #11) and Caddyshack II (“Nobody’s Fool”, #8). And just to show that he’s no slouch, in 1996 Loggins proved that he still had the movie-magic touch when his single “For The First Time” from the film One Fine Day hit #1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts (and the song itself went on to be nominated for an Oscar). Clearly, a soundtrack could do no wrong once Loggins  was added to the roster of artists.

Dirty Dancingdirtydancing

Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey’s little film about dancin’ and romancin’ at a Catskills resort in the 1960s was an unprecedented phenomenon at the box office in 1987, and the soundtrack was no different, eventually shifting over 11 million units domestically. Buoyed by hits from Eric Carmen (“Hungry Eyes” #4) and Swayze himself (“She’s Like The Wind” #2), the soundtrack is most remembered for its #1 smash “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, which would also go on to snag the Best Original Song Oscar.

And speaking of the Oscars, there’s perhaps no better example of just how sharp the decline of the “hit single-infused” movie soundtrack has been since the 80s than this look at the 1984 Academy Award nominees for Best Original Song:

I Just Called To Say I Love You – Stevie Wonder (The Woman In Red)
Footloose – Kenny Loggins (Footloose)
Take A Look At Me Now – Phil Collins (Against All Odds)
Let’s Hear It For The Boy – Deniece Williams (Footloose)
Ghostbusters – Ray Parker Jr. (Ghostbusters)

Not only were these all hit singles, they were all #1 hit singles. Which means that in 1984, the number of Best Song nominees that also hit #1 on the singles charts is greater than the number that have done so in the last 15 years. *sigh*