Sarah Vonderhaar

Are You Listening Now

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It may be some measure of the state of the music industry as of the spring of 2008 that 21-year-old pop/rock singer/songwriter Sarah Vonderhaar's debut album, Are You Listening Now, was released not by a major label, but by the artist herself. This is the sort of disc that would seem to require a major media push -- a big splashy video, photo shoots in glossy magazines, an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. This is because the music, while unobjectionable pop and adequately sung by Vonderhaar, is not distinguished and seems less important than the many photographs of the singer in the package. Vonderhaar appears to be the kind of musician best marketed in ways that are not dependent on the music itself. But even if she were on a major label, do major labels engage in that kind of promotion any more? And is it still possible to build a star that way? If not, it may be difficult for Vonderhaar to break through. This is an old-fashioned pop record. Among the choruses to the catchy songs, one actually hears "doot-doot-doot" ("All Mine"), "na-na-na" ("I Got Sunshine"), and "sha-la-la" ("Sing Me to Sleep"). There are real lyrics, of course, but they are cliché-ridden and rarely more meaningful. What matters are the hooks, but what matters even more in this kind of weightless pop is the listener's identification with the singer, an identification built through the media. You might say Vonderhaar is a cross between Jewel and Avril Lavigne, but she's actually a throwback to an earlier era of pleasant bubblegum music.

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