Somebody please give a cake with 29 candles on it to Christina Aguilera, who celebrates her birthday today. Aguilera has certain crammed a lot into a career for somebody who hasn't yet turned 30 years old. Like contemporaries Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, Aguilera got her start on "The New Mickey Mouse Club" when she was only 12 years old. Pop stardom came calling in 1999 when she dropped her self-titled debut, which featured the chart-topping smash "Genie in a Bottle." From the beginning, Aguilera separated herself from the teen-pop pack with an incredibly technically proficient voice and a super-sexualized look.
More hits followed, like "What a Girl Wants," "Come on Over Baby (All I Want Is You)" and "I Turn to You." After a Spanish-language album and a Christmas record, Aguilera returned with the amped-up Stripped in 2002, which featured a more varied, grittier sound on tracks like "Dirrty" and "Fighter." She got some heat for appearing scantily-clad just about everywhere (that sounds familiar), but it only made her a bigger star. But Aguilera has wisely kept herself out of the spotlight for most of her career, putting fame away for a while to have a kid (her son Max Liron Bratman, with husband Jordan Bratman). Her albums have been consistently excellent but sporadic — there are only three proper Christina Aguilera albums, whereas Spears has twice as many in the same time period). Still, one of those albums, 2006's Back to Basics, was a double-disc affair, and she also had no trouble filling 2008's greatest hits collection Keeps Gettin' Better: A Decade of Hits.
Aguilera will be back in 2010 with a new album supposedly called Light & Darkness, which means that she'll produce new music videos. For now, we'll just have to live with the technicolor throwback "Candyman."
There are some feats that man must accomplish in order to advance the exploration of the universe, help the race evolve or expand the limits of human understanding. That is why we go into space, dive deep into the ocean and created powerful technologies that can let us observe the world's smallest particles or re-create the Big Bang. However, some feats of human accomplishment are simply attempted because they are awesome. Such is the case of Stan Barrett, who on this day in 1979 became the first person to break the sound barrier while traveling on land.
Barrett, a race driver and Hollywood stuntman, got behind the wheel of a three-wheeled rocket powered vehicle in Rogers Dry Lake, California and climbed to a top speed of 739 miles per hour, putting him at Mach 1.01. The stunt was sponsored by Budweiser, and the car was powered by the equivalent of a Sidewinder missile. It was an impressive feat, although Barrett's record has always been called into question, as there was no third party present to record the time. Eyewitness reports also don't include a visible shockwave or a sonic boom, two things universally present when the sound barrier is broken. Still, Barrett was certainly willing to go where no man had gone before. His legacy is in tact, too: His son, Stanton Barrett, is a NASCAR driver and has coordinated stunts for some of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters of all time (including the "Spider-Man" films). Coldplay's "Speed of Sound" isn't an homage to Barrett, but it is a fitting anthem for a guy who always felt the need for speed.
You know whose 30th birthday party we'd really like to get invited to? That of Tramar Dillard, the man otherwise known to the universe as rapper Flo Rida. He celebrates the bit 3-0 today, and you can bet he's going to do it in style.
The MC's meteoric rise can be traced to last year's massive chart-topping single "Low" (which featured a well-timed guest appearance by T-Pain). Though it landed on top of the Billboard Hot 100, it also seemed like it had the potential to be a novelty smash, forever casting Flo Rida into the abyss occupied by so many discarded rappers. But as it turns out, he's got staying power. He immediately followed up his hit debut Mail on Sunday with this year's R.O.O.T.S., a stout collection of party jams that took Flo's already-huge sound and blew it up into an intergalactic spectacle. And the hits just keep on coming, as he has scored big with the tracks "Jump" and "Sugar." But the cornerstone of R.O.O.T.S. is most certainly "Right Round," Flo Rida's second chart-topping single. The spectacular club tune not only helped launch the career of Ke$ha (who provides backing vocals on the song) but also helped re-introduce the music consuming populace to Dead or Alive, the New Romantic combo from the '80s whose "You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)" provides the sample around which the track was built. It's one of 2009's best singles, and has a wildly entertaining video to boot.
When you think about it, the idea that we sort of take flying for granted is a bit absurd. Consider just how amazing it is that if you wanted to, you could get from New York to Los Angeles in five hours, a trip that would take days by car and months via covered wagon. Sure, airports are annoying and security measures are alarmist and insane, but the fact that most of the world is open to you at generally affordable rates should not be overlooked.
Air travel continues to evolve, and the introduction of personal entertainment systems, wireless Internet and blue potato chips have all made flying a smoother, more pleasant experience. That evolution jumps forward a significant amount today, as the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner will make its maiden voyage from Seattle (provided that the weather cooperates). Though the plane is nearly two years behind schedule, excitement has been running high, as the lightweight airframe (made out of state-of-the-art carbon composites) will use less fuel and is set to revolutionize the way airlines can operate. Boeing is banking on the Dreamliner being a success, as the company already has 840 standing orders from 50 customers around the world.
It's likely that the 787 Dreamliner will become the standard for international travel. In fact, there are several design details that are specifically focused on preventing jet lag. It's a remarkable leap forward for engineering, physics and the way we have access to the rest of the world. In honor of the 787 Dreamliner's maiden voyage, enjoy Jim Jones' "We Fly High."
Shots are on the house for Vanessa Hudgens for the next 24 hours, as the actress and singer celebrates birthday number 21 today. Her ascent from TV commercial actress to her role as a supporting player in the cult his "Thirteen" to international superstar at the forefront of the "High School Musical" series has been nothing short of incredible, considering all that ground was covered in about five years or so.
Hudgens first appeared on the scene in 2003 in the teen drama "Thirteen," in which she starred alongside Holly Hunter, Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed. The critically-acclaimed film got her a leg up in the film world, and she soon found herself in the Disney system. She eventually ended up in a starring role in "High School Musical," the now-legendary made-for-TV movie that drew massive ratings for the Disney Channel, morphed into a worldwide franchise and made instant stars out of its cast. Hudgens parlayed that success into a pair of pop albums: 2006's V and 2008's Identified. Hudgens has a voice best suited for the theatrical tunes on the "High School Musical" soundtracks, but she adapts to pop and R&B quite well on each of those records.
Despite her vast wells of talent, Hudgens unfortunately may be best known for the nude photos of her that ended up online a while back. She has apologized over and over again and clearly beats herself up for the lapse in judgment, and hopefully a string of upcoming movies and another album can eclipse that particular bump in the road. In the meantime, we can all enjoy "Come Back to Me," a single from V with a clever sample and a particularly infectious hook.
If you're in Los Angeles, swing by Nikki Sixx's house to wish him a happy birthday, as the Mötley Crüe bassist turns 51 years old today. Of all the self-destructive rock stars who emerged from the '80s hair metal scene (and there were no shortage of casualties), Sixx's survival is nothing short of miraculous. While most of his bandmates in the Crüe were content to drink too much Jack Daniel's and crash expensive cars, Sixx spent most of his quality time experimenting with heroin. According to his excellent book The Heroin Diaries, Sixx believes he overdosed at least six times in his life, with one of those incidences coming on December 23, 1987, when he was legally dead for two minutes before paramedics revived him with a pair of adrenaline shots directly to his heart (this incident is memorialized in the Crüe hit "Kickstart My Heart").
But Sixx is sober now, and even in the haze of addiction, he still managed to carve out one of the more impressive catalogs of the glam metal era. As Mötley Crüe's chief songwriter, he carved out the riffs for modern classics like "Shout at the Devil," "Too Young to Fall in Love," "Too Fast for Love" and "Dr. Feelgood." On the band's most recent album (2008's Saints of Los Angeles), Sixx teamed up with songwriters James Michael, DJ Ashba and Marti Frederiksen for a batch of highly underrated slabs of hard rock (including the swaggering "Down at the Whiskey"). Even though Sixx is clean, he still knows how to party, which is why you should crank up "Girls Girls Girls" in his honor.
President Barack Obama will receive his Nobel Peace Prize today, an award that recognizes exceptional progress and accomplishment on the international stage. There has been plenty of debate as to whether or not Obama deserved the award, but regardless, he's receiving it on a day that holds a lot of history for the Nobel Prize. The first set of awards were given out on this day in 1901. The prizes were named after Swedish physicist Alfred Nobel, who established the awards in his last will and testament (he had acquired a sizable fortune, based mostly on patents on his many inventions, the most famous and notorious of which was dynamite). The first awards were handed out in five categories: Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature and Peace. (A sixth prize, for Economics, was added in 1969.)
Coincidentally, today also marks the first time that an American won a Nobel Prize. On this day in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in brokering the end of the Russo-Japanese War, a conflict that threatened to tear apart the Pacific. Roosevelt mediated the discussion that lead to the war-ending Treaty of Portsmouth, so named because it was brokered at a U.S. naval base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The only other U.S. president who was also a Nobel Peace Prize winner was Woodrow Wilson, who helped broker the Treaty of Versailles (which ended the first World War) and worked to set up the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations).
That puts Obama in quite good company. In honor of the award, enjoy the Flaming Lips' "Race for the Prize," which is probably the only psychedelic anthem about two scientists attempting to win the Nobel for Physiology.
Nowadays, it seems that Billy Joel only makes headlines for unsavory reasons. There have been divorces, substance abuse issues and his daughter's recent suicide attempt. All told, you have to feel bad for the guy, as even when he ruled the pop charts, all anybody could talk about was the fact that he managed to become huge in spite of himself, suggesting that it was something of a novelty for a guy that unattractive and goofy to become such a massive pop star. And make no mistake: Billy Joel was (and in many respects still is) a massive star, with a number of multi-platinum albums, dozens of hit singles and at least one song ("Piano Man") that will outlast all civilization on Earth.
Just how brightly did Joel's star shine in his heyday? On this day in 1989, he saw his song "We Didn't Start the Fire" ascend to the top position on the Billboard chart. It was his third chart-topper (after "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me" and "Tell Her About It") and by far one of the most absurd songs to sit at the top of the heap. The song's lyrics reference dozens of famous historical events and characters, all laid out in rapid-fire fashion with a shout-along chorus sandwiched in between. It must be the only #1 single in history to reference thalidomide, Richard Nixon and the Brooklyn Dodgers all in the same track. Joel never made it back to the top of the charts, but on the other hand, the video for "We Didn't Start the Fire" is one of the best of the 1980s.
There are a handful of dates in American history that are held as turning points in the nation's philosophical direction. July 4. November 23. September 11. December 7 is one of those days, as it marks the day that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, an event that dragged the United States kicking and screaming into World War II. Prior to the attack in Hawaii, the U.S. had taken an isolationist stance, as the effects of the Great Depression were only just starting to lift and the toll taken by the first World War seemed to great to bear a second time. A total of 353 aircraft descended on Pearl Harbor as a preventative attack, as the Japanese wanted to keep the American Pacific fleet in check while they took over the Dutch East Indies. The blitzkrieg took out dozens of ships and nearly 200 aircraft and killed just over 2,400 soldiers.
The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt went to Congress and gave one of the most memorable speeches in American political history. "Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of American was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces by the Empire of Japan," he said. Just a few hours later, Congress made a formal declaration of war and the U.S. found themselves engaged in a conflict that would last four years (and would ultimately free the world).
The date has indeed lived in infamy, as every December 7 the U.S. recognizes Pearl Harbor day. It isn't just meant to remember the lives that were lost, but to acknowledge that the world is a typically unstable place, and that peace is not a given but something that must be worked at and earned. So reflect on peace and loss today with the help of Neil Young.
No matter what you call him (Mr. Carter, Hova, Iceberg Slim or Jigga), be sure to raise a glass to Jay-Z today, as he'll be turning 40 years old. At this point, it's almost a given that the man born Shawn Carter is one of the two or three greatest rappers of all time, but he's also the first MC to age gracefully. Most rappers lose their edge by the time they hit 40, but Jay might be at the top of his game right now. He put out one of the best albums of the year in The Blueprint 3, had his first Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper in "Empire State of Mind," just got nominated for a Grammy (for "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)" and was selected as the hottest MC in the game. In fact, when you consider he also has a successful clothing line (Rocawear), his own label (Roc Nation) and a stunning wife (Beyoncé), you have to think that Jay-Z might be living the most ideal life possible. (Though there is some balance to his life: He is part owner of the New Jersey Nets, who recently broke an NBA record for the worst start in league history; the team is currently winless through its first 18 games.)
Jay's music video legacy is vast and impressive. His back catalog is full of iconic images and big, cinematic backdrops. But to celebrate his birthday, check out the clip for "I Just Wanna Love U (Just Give It to Me)," perhaps Jay's greatest party jam.