The lives and careers of pop stars can sometimes be very fleeting. Pop music is a cruel mistress who can sometimes declare things here today and gone today, with few second chances available for those who slip. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, there are some artists who simply cannot be destroyed, who transcend labels and are free to experiment with whatever they fancy. Beyoncé is certainly the in the latter category, as she has racked up hit after hit both as a solo artist and as a member of Destiny's Child. Her most recent album, the split-personality-concept-exploration I Am ... Sasha Fierce, is her best and boldest work yet, and on this day in 2008, it debuted at the top of the Billboard album chart.
I Am ... Sasha Fierce is Beyoncé's third solo album and most certainly her strangest. Broken up into two discs (one representing herself and the other depicting the outlook of her vaguely futuristic cyborg alter-ego, the titular Sasha Fierce), it explores a cavalcade of styles and genres that all manage to have that fundamental Beyoncé twist. The "I Am..." disc is excellent by itself, with anthemic torch songs ("Halo"), mysterious mid-temp numbers ("If I Were a Boy") and plenty of futuristic sounds ("Satellite"). But it's the second disc (titled "Sasha Fierce") that really blows the doors off. There's the signature hit "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)," the rocking "Sweet Dreams," the stuttering "Video Phone" and the trippy, head-nodding "Diva," which twists Lil Wayne's "A Milli" into a girl power anthem.
On an evolutionary scale, 10 years is considered beyond insignificant. Consider that the Earth is around four billion years old, and human beings have only been present on the planet for roughly 200,000 years. So 10 years is absolutely nothing. But in the music world, where everything happens faster and evolution moves at an extremely accelerated rate, 10 years is pretty massive. Case in point: On this day in 2000 (only 10 years ago), Backstreet Boys' Black & Blue debuted at the top spot on the Billboard album chart, having sold 1.6 million copies in its first week of release. Despite the fact that they moved so many units and became the first group in history to have million-plus first week sales on back-to-back releases, Black & Blue was, at the time, considered something of a disappointment.
Of course, that's insane to think about now, in an era when million-plus weeks are seriously few and far between and even Taylor Swift — a cross-genre household name — can barely eek out six figures in her first week. Black & Blue did manage to eclipse the opening-week sales of their previous album Millennium, but it could not eclipse rival group 'NSYNC, who posted an incredible number with their second album No Strings Attached earlier in the year. No Strings Attached sold nearly a million copies on its first day of release, shifting 2.4 million in the first week (a record that still stands today).
Still, Black & Blue might be the most consistently excellent album of the Backstreet Boys' career. It has some fantastically funky anthems (including the album-opening "The Call") and some sweet, smooth ballads. It also has "Shape of My Heart," a track that will hopefully be a centerpiece tune when the group hits the road with New Kids on the Block (as NKOTBSB) in the spring of 2011.
It's possible that there's no such thing as the perfect crime, though for a while the executives behind Enron couldn't be convinced of that. Even though nobody could quite determine exactly what Enron did (it had something to do with energy futures), they managed to fleece the world for years with phony accounting and layers upon layers of fraud. The name Enron has become associated with all that is wrong with American corporate culture and the first crack in the pavement that lead to the ongoing economic crisis. On this day in 2001, despite posting record profits for years, Enron filed for bankruptcy and began to pull back the curtain on one of the most incredible pieces of white collar crime in history.
The Enron scandal began to unravel in early 2001, but really took a nosedive in the fall of that year. With investor confidence plummeting, the stock price in a free fall and investigators poking around their accounting practices, Enron slowly began to cough up revelations about their actual worth, readjusting their earnings statements for the previous four years (though always noting that the losses accrued were mostly "investment losses" and didn't have anything to do with the actual performance of the company). In the end, it was revealed that Enron (in collusion with their accounting firm Arthur Anderson) hadn't really constructed an elaborate scheme of deception. Rather, they had simply made the numbers up, and it took years for anybody to notice.
In the wake of Enron, more massive conglomerates began to tumble (including WorldCom and Tyco), which created a series of chain reactions that helped unravel an already-fragile economy. Still, despite some new regulations, certain lawmakers remain adamant that the free market can exist unchecked. In honor of Enron's staggering crimes, enjoy Jane's Addiction's "Been Caught Stealing."
Back in 2000 when the Supreme Court essentially ended up deciding who won one of the most contentious and absurd presidential elections in the history of the United States, it seemed thoroughly unprecedented. But for all the systems in place in the Constitution to streamline and protect our elections, there is a deep history of problematic results and questionable conclusions littering the American political landscape. Just such a thing happened on this day in 1824, when Congress decided that John Quincy Adams would become the sixth president of the United States despite the fact that he had only picked up 84 electoral votes.
Of course, the political landscape then looked much different than it does today, as voters were given four viable candidates that year: Adams, war hero Andrew Jackson, Speaker of the House Henry Clay and conservative southerner William Crawford. Each candidate represented a different part of the political spectrum, with Adams representing the Federalist movement (they believed in strong centralized government) and Jackson sticking up for the rights of the states (which was an ideal of the Democratic party back then). Crawford and Clay each represented slightly more extreme versions of either of the two front-runners.
On election day, the division of the electoral votes prevented any one candidate from picking up a winning majority. Jackson had the most with 99 and Adams was just behind him with 84. Because there was no clear winner, the 12th Amendment to the Constitution demands that the election be decided by Congress. Because Clay had a great deal of influence in Congress and aligned more with Adams, he convinced the body to vote for him and appoint him to the office. Not only did that enrage Jackson, but it helped galvanize his party, who easily took the White House four years later. In honor of this delightfully chaotic scene, enjoy Cobra Starship's "Hot Mess."
Before he earned the reputation as "the Jay-Z of the south" (a well-earned title bestowed upon him by Neptunes and N.E.R.D. mastermind Pharrell Williams) and long before legal troubles threatened to derail his career, Clifford Harris (better known to the hip-hop world as T.I.) was merely a hungry rapper from Atlanta with a serious flow and a knack for wordplay. His first two albums — 2001's I'm Serious and 2003's Trap Muzik — were spotty but inspiring, clearly the work of an artist learning how to master his craft. He finally found the groove with 2004's Urban Legend, which found its way to the streets on this day in 2004.
Though T.I. had scored some buzz from his first two albums, he was mostly a well-kept secret in the hip-hop community for the first few years of his career. The first time most of the general population heard his unique voice and signature flow was when "Bring Em Out" found its way into heavy rotation on radio and on MTV. Produced by Swizz Beatz, "Bring Em Out" is a spectacular contrast in styles, marrying low-fi keyboards, brassy horns and a killer disco whistle to a stream of boastful (and frequently violent) lyrics. Consider the lyric that kicks off the song: "Bring 'em out/ It's hard to yell with the barrel in your mouth." That's a pretty savage (and often censored) line for a song that was as big as "Bring Em Out" was.
In fact, it was the first of many big hits for T.I., who would later pile on success on the back of singles like "Big Things Poppin' (Do It)," "Whatever You Like" and "Live Your Life." But it all began with "Bring Em Out" and its fun, almost manic video.
Were you aware that one of the most massive singles of 2010 was Shakira's "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)"? As one of a handful of anthems dedicated to the World Cup, it was a chart-topping hit in just about every country except the United States. Such has been the case for Shakira since the beginning of her career, as while she is extremely popular here, she is a true superstar on the international stage, able to sell out stadiums without breaking much of a sweat. Though she has had a handful of hits in the U.S. (like the current single "Loca" and last year's "She Wolf," for example), she came closest to ubiquity in this country when she released Oral Fixation Vol. 2, which came out on this day in 2005.
"The title comes from the fact that I have always lived through my mouth," Shakira said of the title when the album dropped. "It is my biggest source of pleasure and my most accessible vehicle to discover and enjoy the world." The album (a sorta-sequel to her Spanish language record Fijacion Oral) featured her strongest music to date. It built on the sound she had established with her breakthrough 2001 album Laundry Service (which spawned the hits "Whenever, Wherever" and "Underneath Your Clothes") and spun her production into new places. Oral Fixation Vol. 2 was notable for its collaborations, including tag-teams with Carlos Santana ("Illegal"), Argentinian rocker Gustavo Cerati ("The Day and the Time") and Wyclef Jean (the ultra-massive hit "Hips Don't Lie"). The latter managed to top the Billboard Hot 100 on the strength of its killer hook, a performance on the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards and the ultra-sexy video that features little more than Shakira shaking her hips (which, as she insists, always tell the truth — and we believe her).
On this day in 1859, Charles Darwin published a book that would change the way people think about the history of human beings on the Earth and remains a controversial tome to this day. Darwin's "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" first appeared in England on November 24, 1859, and it argued that organisms evolve through a process he termed "natural selection."
The concept breaks down as such: Over great periods of time (thousands and millions of years), species with certain attributes will survive to pass along their genetic material, which then creates evolved variations among that species. Darwin came to this conclusion following a five year sea-faring expedition to exotic locales like the Galapagos Islands and New Zealand. Darwin himself didn't come up with the theory of evolution (it was actually contemplated by both French naturalist Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck and English scientist Erasmus Darwin — Charles' own grandfather), but he was the first to apply proper scientific and practical evidence to properly support the theory.
Of course, the text of "On the Origin of Species" (as well as his later tome "The Descent of Man") was considered heresy by Christians, as the ideas (including the concept that man evolved from apes) flew in the face of Biblical creationism (wherein God was supposed to have created all the species on the planet). The theory itself has continued to evolve since Darwin's death in 1882, but he remains a key figure in modern science. In his honor (and to give yourself a little energy boost to push through your half day of work or your travel day), crank up Pearl Jam's "Do the Evolution." It's evolution, baby!
For such a small country (only around nine million people at last count), Sweden has a remarkable knack for exporting culture around the world. Some of the best metal bands in the world come from the Scandinavian nation, including At the Gates and Opeth. The Swedes have produced some remarkable films, especially the work of Ingmar Bergman ("Scenes from a Marriage," "Through a Glass Darkly"), Jonas Akerlund (many music videos, including Madonna's "Ray of Light" and Lady Gaga's "Telephone"), Tomas Alfredson ("Let the Right One In") and Lasse Hallstrom ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape," "Chocolat"). They've also got a great tradition of indie rock (The Hives, the Cardigans) and deliciously streamlined (and insanely catchy) dance pop from the likes of ABBA and Ace of Base. The latter group stormed the American charts in the early '90s, beginning with their debut album The Sign, which was released on this day in 1993.
Ace of Base consisted of musicians Jonas "Joker" Berggren and Ulf "Buddha" Ekbergsinging combined with singing sisters Malin Berggren and Jenny Berggren. The Sign (which was called Happy Nation in the rest of the world) crashed the American market in the fall of 1993 on the back of a handful of killer singles, including the instantly memorable "All That She Wants," "Don't Turn Around" and the title track. In fact, The Sign became the first debut album to put three singles on the top of the Billboard chart. In North America alone, it went platinum nine times and ended up at number 34 on the Billboard end-of-decade chart for the 1990s. The bottom line is that The Sign was gigantic, and you won't be able to get the title track out of your head all day.
No matter what you think of Mike Tyson (and considering his checkered past, there are many reasons not to like him), you absolutely cannot dispute the fact that on his best night, he was the greatest heavyweight fighter ever to step into a ring. His combination of speed, power, conditioning and tenacity was unmatched by any other boxer in his prime, and it was unfortunate that Tyson seemed to peak at exactly the wrong time, as there were rarely other elite heavyweights for him to battle between the ropes. Still, he had one of those huge nights on this day in 1986, when the 20-year-old Tyson knocked out Trevor Berbick to become the youngest heavyweight champion in the history of boxing.
The heavily-hyped fight between Tyson and Berbick ended up being not much of a fight at all, as Iron Mike knocked Berbick out cold in the second round. Tyson wasn't a patient fighter — he was a tornado of power and finesse, and as soon as the bell rang, he danced around Berbick and peppered him with crushing blows. Berbick had decided to try the old rope-a-dope technique (where you take shots from an opponent in the hope that he tires), but Tyson had an infinite reserve of energy and absolutely pounded Berbick. The champ got knocked down in the second round but popped back up, and a few punches later he was down for good (though he managed to answer the 10 count, the referee still stopped it, recognizing that Berbick wasn't fit to continue).
Tyson improved to a record of 28-0 with 27 knockouts, and he held the belt through nine title defenses until he was upset by James "Buster" Douglas in 1990. His life went south after that, though he has recently made quite a public recovery (despite having retired permanently from the ring in 2005). In honor of the greatest fighter who ever strapped on a pair of gloves, crank up Christina Aguilera's "Fighter."
When Soundgarden first broke up in 1997, frontman Chris Cornell — who has one of the best sets of pipes in the rock singer business — initially embarked on a solo career (he released the underrated Euphoria Morning in 1999). But really, it seemed like he was just waiting for Zack De La Rocha to exit Rage Against the Machine in 2000, leaving bandmates Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk searching for a new voice. They were introduced to Cornell by superstar rock producer Rick Rubin, and the rest is history. The band hit it off immediately, adopted the name Audioslave, recorded 19 songs in three weeks and shortly thereafter dropped their self-titled debut album, which hit the streets on this day in 2002.
Prior to the release of Audioslave, there was a great deal of speculation regarding what the band would actually sound like. Would the Rage boys flip to a more classic rock sound in order to play to Cornell's strengths, or would the singer try a rap or two? The reality was that neither of those things ended up being true, and Audioslave sounded a lot like the guy from Soundgarden singing with Rage Against the Machine.
Of course, that's exactly what a lot of people wanted. Audioslave is full of big, powerful riffs, thudding percussion and Cornell's incredible wail. First single "Cochise" was an excellent introduction into the world of Audioslave, as it wrapped savage riffing around a gorgeous chorus. In fact, the most remarkable moments of Audioslave (which went on to sell over three million copies) are the quiet, prettier ones, like the slow-burning "I Am the Highway" and the power ballad "Like a Stone," one of the band's biggest hits.