musicians

Interview: Rilan Wants to Bring Pop Music Back

Rilan has lofty goals. He wants to “save pop.” Bringing the joy back to a genre that’s caught up in moodiness will be difficult, to say the least. However, the Glee alumni and androgynously-voiced LGBT singer has a level of confidence that suggests he might just have the grit to do it. 

Photo: Edward Aninaru

Photo: Edward Aninaru

Derek: What did you take from starring as a Warbler on Glee that has helped you most in your career since?

Rilan: Do your job. That sounds obvious, but it’s forgotten by the majority of people in Hollywood. Working on the Paramount lot was incredible. There’s history and fame and glitz and glam all around you, but it’s a distraction from why you’re really there — to do your job. You have to focus, and you have to work. People really do forget that. When you don’t, you start to feel special, and then elitist, and then above criticism, and then you’re fired. I saw it happen. It’s a shame, but it happens all the time. I never partook in any on-set shenanigans. Honestly, the cast and choreographers nicknamed me “Quiet,” because I barely spoke unless I was spoken to. I’m a bit of a loner, but I’m not ashamed of it. It’s what makes me “me,” and I think a lot of people can relate. I think introversion is interesting. I’m more inspired by what goes on in my own head when I’m alone than sports cars and diamonds and LA bullshit. Art is what drives me, not fame or money or lifestyle. I’m an anti-socialite. 

D: Your new single “Love or Drugs” is super upbeat in a time where commercial pop is mostly mid-tempo and a little boring. What was your inspiration for the fun sound?

R: Thank you. That’s the biggest compliment to me. Music is boring right now. It’s all about “vibes” or whatever that means. I’ve never “vibed” before in my life, nor do I want to. Music should make you feel, not numb you. My goal as a writer is for my music to wake you up and move you, be that emotionally or physically or both. I grew up on ‘70s glam rock and ‘80s synth pop. The songs of yesteryear were exciting and dangerous and thought-provoking. That’s pop music, not “vibes.” I’m here to bring back pop, because it’s about damn time someone did. 

Photo: Edward Aninaru

Photo: Edward Aninaru

D: Your voice on “Love or Drugs” sounds androgynous in the best of ways. Was this a conscious stylistic choice?

R: I think my voice is naturally pretty androgynous. I have a bright tone and a higher range, probably a product of theatre. I always have. When I first moved to Los Angeles, every producer I worked with hated my voice. They said it was too theatrical and nasally and would always want to replace my background vocals with another singer’s to mask my voice. It made me insecure at first, but finally I just said, “Fuck it,” and found new colleagues who actually understood me. You see, most people in music are trend-followers. They want a hit, and they think that the quickest way to get one is to make a song that sounds like everything else. But that’s not what makes a hit. A great song makes a hit. An artist makes a hit, and an artist is someone who is unafraid to be different, go against the grain, and gives the world something they haven’t heard or seen before. That’s a hit — the new, not the trendy. I’ll never have a voice like the whisper singers of today who dominate the radio, and that’s okay. Like it or not, you will recognize my voice when you hear it. 

D: Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations, past and present?

R: I love artists who have their own perspective. I grew up on David Bowie, Prince, and Madonna. As I got older, I discovered darker artists like Soft Cell, Nine Inch Nails, and Marilyn Manson, and fell in love all over again. They were different, but not far from one another. My idols were all passionate performers. It’s passion that excites me. Whether it’s dance-pop or industrial rock, if it’s honest and palpable, I’m inspired. A point of view is what differentiates simply a performer from an artist. A performer imitates life. An artist creates their own world and invites you inside. Currently, that’s Marina and the Diamonds, Melanie Martinez, and Lady Gaga. Those are some artists I admire nowadays. They don’t live in this world, and I don’t think anyone should. I’m sure as hell never gonna. 

Photo: Edward Aninaru

Photo: Edward Aninaru

D: As a pop artist, are there any holy grail producers you hope to work with someday?

R: I will work with anyone who wants to work with me. To be honest, you never know what’s going to happen until you get in the studio with someone. It’s usually the people you never expect who surprise you the most. Still, there are always dream collaborators. I’d love to work with Max Martin. He’s the pop Jesus, only more reliable. Just the sheer amount of Britney Spears hits he’s done is a testament to what a fantastic writer and producer he is. It would be an honor. I’d also love to work with Bonnie McKee and Justin Tranter. Bonnie did almost all of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream hits, as well as her own music. She’s ’80’s-inspired, high-energy pop perfection, and her sense of song structure makes my OCD brain so happy. Her work has certainly influenced my writing. Justin Tranter is famous for writing for Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, but I’ve been a huge fan since I was in high school. He was the frontman of Semi Precious Weapons, an outlandish glam-grunge band from New York City who opened for Gaga through every leg of her Monster Ball. I saw them live ten years ago and fell in love. He’s ridiculous and perfect. I have a big list, so I’ll keep you updated. 

D: Is there an album in the works, and if so, do you have any tea to spill on it?

R: There’s always an album in the works. I feel like if there isn’t, why are you even releasing music? I think of writing songs as creating a new planet. Each project is an island in my fantasy world. Sometimes songs merge together to create a larger continent. Sometimes they stand alone in the sea of my ideas. Regardless, they’re all a part of my world. Right now, I’m on the “Island of Satire.” It’s Hollywood exposed. It’s everything people do here, but don’t want to talk about. I’m going to talk about it. It’s going to be weird and dark and artistic, but it’s going to be pop, and it’s going to be good. 

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D: What has been the response so far from people you’ve played “Love or Drugs” for?

R: It’s been good so far. People seem to move to the beat and start singing along before it ends. That’s honestly the best thing I can ask for. When my friends first heard it, they were like, “You’re antisocial and this is all about party culture. Why?” But if you listen again, you’ll get it. It’s satire. It’s about all the Hollywood parties I’m not invited to. This is the first stop on my “Island of Satire.” A lot more is coming and all of you are welcome here. 

Music Video


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Interview: Tina DeCara Reveals Her Inspirations and New Single "Solo"

The edgy-yet-bubbly new pop act reveals also her creative process.

Photo: Monica Spengler

Photo: Monica Spengler

The dark sweetness of Halsey meets the lyrical depth of SZA in Tina DeCara, an exciting new artist with her own spin on upbeat pop music. I caught up with the industry newcomer to talk about her first hit, new single and stars like Michael Jackson who inspire her.


Derek: “Illusion,” your collaboration with Thoreau, made a big splash. How was the experience of having a song blow up like that?

Tina DeCara: Yes! The experience of this song blowing up was incredible! I was so happy, because that song is different — and I was a little nervous — but the attention and feedback was so dope. I love Trap Nation and Thoreau, the song’s producer, is bad ass. 

D: The new single “Solo” is bubbly and catchy, with a good message. Describe the creation process?

TD: The creation process of this song happened real fast. The Drupes sent me this beat they had created, and I fell in love with the sound. I then drank a bottle of red wine in my room, alone one night, and wrote “Solo”! I am a pretty bubbly person usually, but I wasn’t that night. Writing the song helped me figure out that it’s actually okay to take time for myself and find my strength from within when I’m feeling sad.

You take New York City and Coney Island by storm in the video. Do you have any fun memories from the shoot?

TD: Heck yes I did! One funny memory was that it was like 0 degrees outside, and I was dancing around in a see-through shirt and sequin pants… so cold, but oh so fun.  Between takes, we all kept running back to the car to warm up! 

D: Who were some of your musical inspirations growing up?

TD: Michael Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, and Amy Winehouse. I fell in love with jazz music at a very young age.

D: On the flip side, who are some modern day musical artists you enjoy?

TD: Post Malone, Ariana Grande, and SZA!

D: How would you describe your look, and where do you take style inspiration from?

TD: I am inspired by so much! I love thrift shops more than the mall... David Bowie is beyond inspirational, same with 90's grunge... One day it’s Doc Martens, next night it’s [Christian] Louboutins [Laughs]. One day my hair is a short pixie, next day it’s pink and curly!

D: What message do you hope to send with your music?

TD: One message is confidence for sure. It took some time for me to learn how to think for myself, due to assholes in high school. Any kid who may be reading this, please know it does get better.

D: What’s your next big goal?

TD: To get on a tour, and keep making music that will be on the radio.

“Solo” Music Video


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Review: Mariah Carey Put Her Catalog on Shuffle in First Minneapolis Concert Ever

The chart-topping chanteuse served statistics and whistle notes galore.

Photo: Monique Sowinski

Photo: Monique Sowinski

Legend — Icon — “Hero”… No single descriptor can define the actual greatness that is Mariah Carey, the voice of multiple generations who graced Minneapolis with her genre-defying vocals last night. 

Carey released #1 to Infinity in 2014; the album and accompanying Las Vegas residency were a chronological setlist of her 18 number one hits. After subsequent tours also emphasized those chart toppers, fans were desperate for different material to be played live. 

Enter Caution World Tour, a fan service tour in the best of ways. It may not have “One Sweet Day,” but it has Glitter tracks sung live for the very first time. Not to mention new music from Caution, largely considered by critics and fans to be her best album since The Emancipation of Mimi

Last night’s Minneapolis show played at the State Theatre — an ornate and gorgeous venue — which is probably the closest match to the Colosseum at Caesars Palace that Minnesota offers. Fitting, as Carey has described Caution World Tour as her “most intimate tour yet.” 

Ever fabulously aloof, Carey seemingly did not realize this was her first full-length gig here, simply telling the crowd it was “good to be back.” Still, the crowd welcomed her with a deafening roar. With its domed ceiling and sloped walls, the State Theatre feeds crowd noise back to the crowd, causing a heightened effect. 

The sound mixing did not help; it was not good — and Carey herself agreed. The diva talked between virtually every song, and threw subtle shade at sound and lighting technicians along the way. Her in-ear monitors were distorted, probably much like the blaring audio coming from the arena-sized front-of-house speakers. This was the weak point of an otherwise great concert, although the engineers did seem to find their groove during the latter half of the show. 

The eclectic setlist was a shuffle-mode journey through Carey’s entire career, spanning from her debut single “Vision of Love,” to the current Caution single “A No No.” Minneapolis audibly favored the older material, which meant those songs were harder to hear over crowd noise. This allowed for her soothing, chill Caution album cuts to shine, as the largely Generation X crowd was experiencing these songs for the first time. It meant her pristine vocals were entirely audible, with every note coming through pitch perfect. Although she did not lip sync, her vocals were still studio-quality. Whistle notes and all. It’s her gift.

The Caution highlight was “8th Grade,” a confessional pop song that recalls the awkwardness around a middle school crush, something her twins Roc and Roe may experience soon enough. The twins made a cameo at the tail end of “Always Be My Baby,” microphones in hand, to sing along and say, “Hi, Minneapolis.” 

Photo: Monique Sowinski

Photo: Monique Sowinski

Visually, the show featured the edge-to-edge 4K video screen popularized by fellow Las Vegas theater acts like Britney Spears. Background visuals were tastefully done and never distracting. Things shown ranged from moody, screensaver-esque simplicity to photo booth-style family pictures. Carey stunned in five dresses designed by Johnny Wujek and The Blonds

There were moments of Mariah’s World-level over-the-top-ness, like Carey being joined on stage by makeup artist Kristofer Buckle and hairstylist Miles Jeffries for touch ups. She acknowledged it as a “diva” moment and said other female pop singers do the same, just backstage. The crowd did not mind, screaming all manner of RuPaul’s Drag Race-like affirmations at Carey. 

Although the length of the show seemed standard, a few songs from previous stops were axed; the slow-burn ballads “Portrait,” “My Saving Grace” and “Looking In." The final song on Caution, “Portrait” would have shown the oldies-loving Twin Cities crowd that Carey still can pen a poignant R&B track. The removal makes sense, though, as the midsection of the show is already heavy on similarly relaxed songs.

The much-hyped #JusticeForGlitter medley of Glitter soundtrack songs felt exhilarating. Carey clearly enjoyed giving some truly terrific tracks their just dessert moment; although just one minute of “Loverboy” wasn’t enough. One could have half-expected for Minneapolis-located Glitter production duo Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis to pop on stage for a cameo like they did at the last Janet Jackson show, but they did not — and were not mentioned. 

Maybe it was that the crowd universally knew the songs again, but the 2000s-throwback performances of “Touch My Body” and “We Belong Together” were the loudest singalongs of the night. Carey was sure to let the crowd know “Body” was her 18th #1 hit, which was not the first time she shared a statistic. Got to love a queen who knows her Billboard magazine trivia.

In the penultimate moments of the show, Trey Lorenz — backup vocalist and R&B star in his own right — introduced the band. Lorenz had a genuinely humble moment when the crowd roared for him; “You guys remember me?” The crowd did, and it felt like a missed opportunity that Carey and Lorenz didn’t recreate their MTV Unplugged duet version of “I’ll Be There” onstage.

Carey’s four male backup dancers broke it down with tight choreography and an endless supply of charisma. Julio Marcelino was the standout. In “Heartbreaker” — hands down the best performance of the night — Marcelino appeared on stage dressed as “Bianca,” Carey’s alter-ego and fake nemesis. The two duked it out in a staged fight, with the diva knocking Marcelino out in a hilarious “TKO.” 

Mariah Carey re-emerged for a two-song encore, starting with her single “With You.” Last year’s top ten Billboard Adult Contemporary hit connected with the crowd more than other Caution cuts. The show closed with Carey admitting “Hero” is still her go-to setlist closer because “the message is still there.” After belting out every last note of the iconic hit, Carey thanked the crowd for their support since the beginning of her career — and most importantly, now. 


What’s your favorite Mariah Carey song? Tweet me: @DerekPlease

Review: Erika Costell Reads Haters a Royal Decree on 'Queen'

The subtle, addictive single is a pulsating pop-R&B jam produced by two of the talents behind Sing

Erika Costell is a social media titan with several million fans across platforms like YouTube and Instagram. Social stars like Costell come with preconceived notions; the fact they do music often inspires eye rolls and utterances like, “of course.” Don’t discount Costell, though. Putting her in such a box is a mistake. 

Photo © Erika Costell

Photo © Erika Costell

Produced by movie musical genius Harvey Mason Jr. (Dreamgirls, Sparkle, Pitch Perfect, Sing) & Brittany Burton (Sing, Girls’ Generation), the new Erika Costell single “Queen” is a slinky, pop-R&B song with a subtle hook that won’t leave your head for days. The track pulses forward with a rhythmic sense of urgency; Mason Jr. also produced the Britney Spears Circus album cut “Mannequin,” which had a similarly striking beat, urgency and chilled vocal performance. 

The song’s brilliance is how it feels like it could be played anywhere, from a club, to the radio, to a movie trailer. This versatile song is imbued with the sense of casual confidence its vocal delivery and lyrics portray. Lines like, “They say that I don’t look right” bring to light the type of harsh critiques the singer faces on the daily. She brushes them off, though, singing on the chorus, “Don’t let shit get skin deep.”

At a svelte three minutes in length, “Queen” lends itself to repeat listens, which is essential in the streaming era. Addictive songs like this leave the audience wanting more, and flow seamlessly on “repeat” mode. Whether by intention or mistake, it’s a strength the song bolsters. 

Music Video

Directed by Shannon Curry and Costell herself, the “Queen” music video matches the song with moody visuals and a sense of wealth, without trying too hard. The jewelry her mostly-off-screen handlers adorn her with could be costume jewelry, but the audience would never know; Costell’s confident performance makes everything read like the real deal. Powerful moments like Costell destroying a full-length mirror in the desert convey metaphors of conquering self-doubt and body insecurities.


What’s your favorite song at the moment? Tweet me: @DerekPlease

Review: Robyn Feeds a Hungry Twin Cities Her Honey Tour

The international dance-pop icon creates both intimate and grand vibes in her overdue return to Minneapolis-St. Paul. 

Photo: DerekPlease.com

Photo: DerekPlease.com

Wearing a slinky, sparkly dress with bejeweled nipples, and metallic silver boots, Robyn emerges to a hero’s welcome. The Swedish pop champion stands intentionally emotionless, like a Sims character waiting for their next instruction. A matter-of-fact delivery of three hits, then, “Minneapolis-St. Paul, man,” Robyn teases, “…wanna hang?” The resounding answer is yes, followed by a dynamic and wowing performance of her dance-pop hit “Indestructible” that had even the balcony section on their feet.

Photo: DerekPlease.com

Part of The Honey Tour, the March 5 show at the Palace Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota supports her latest studio album, also titled Honey. Most of the songs are from the 2018 mid tempo LP, which had a somewhat mixed reception from fans. Many had hoped Robyn would deliver more uptempo songs like during her Body Talk album era. Still, the musicianship and subtly propulsive energy of Honey cannot be understated. 

Played live, its layered production becomes more apparent and Robyn’s career-best vocals have their ideal chance to shine. Robyn is equally as thrilled about playing the old stuff as the new stuff; not that it matters, as her crowd lives for both. The reason she receives such hero’s welcomes is how shamelessly dance-pop her sound has always been. In a music industry where clichéd acts give pop a bad name, Robyn never fails to deliver on the depth and nuances genre fans know are possible. 

Photo: DerekPlease.com

Photo: DerekPlease.com

The simplistic, yet striking stage design of the tour includes large draping from floor-to-ceiling, and stairs to a higher up section in the back where a large white sculpture of interlaced hands stands. The band plays on risers on the left and right sides of the stage. Robyn makes it all fade away, effortlessly drawing all the attention as she sings songs like “Beach2K20” and “Ever Again.” Soft and occasionally hard light shows change the entire mood of the iridescent, white set by coloring it differently. 

She also colors herself differently, emerging for the second half of the show in a custom outfit dedicated to Prince. Of course, it is purple. She could not “help herself,” she admits; however, it’s a pretty Purple Rain-esque ode to the legend and feels more sincere than singing a cover of that title track. 

Photo: DerekPlease.com

Photo: DerekPlease.com

Dance-wise, the star was clearly feeling herself, with moves ranging from subtle vibing to the beat, to doing the worm across the entire stage floor. Her dance is effortless, emotional and striking; it feels like watching someone expose their vulnerabilities and life’s story in a visual way. Fitting coming from an artist whose biggest song is “Dancing On My Own,” a confessional opus about loving yourself after your lover finds another. The band cuts out and Robin points her mic to the loud crowd as they belt a pitch-perfect rendition of the first chorus. It’s a transcendent moment that feels unique to a Robyn show.

Photo: DerekPlease.com

Photo: DerekPlease.com

The singer keeps things upbeat for the remainder, including a standout, euphoric rendition of “Stars 4Ever.” With this and “Who Do You Love?” — her sincere and exciting collaboration with opening act Kindness — Robyn lands the show in high spirits. It feels like a preview of what’s to come; possibly more of the upbeat material some fans are longing for.


Exclusive Photo Gallery


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