The former Bitter:Sweet lead singer on primetime TV and lessons learned.
The singer eyes a new beginning.
The consensus among many singing show alumni is that competing on primetime TV is much like boot camp. You strap yourself with your best cover songs, ship off to Los Angeles for sometimes months at a time, and your fellow housemates transform into eagle-eyed enemies marching into the combat zone. You step onto the dazzling stage of Hollywood and hope what you bring to the table is unlike anything America has ever seen or heard before. Promise of fame and fortune is just at your fingertips, and one slip up could cost you everything.
But for Shana Halligan, who saw moderate success as singer and musician for alternative-pop outfit Bitter:Sweet, visions of grandeur didn't obscure her thirst for exercising her craft. Millions of people tuned into The Voice every week, and Halligan proved her mettle on such covers of Cher's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" and Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody." Her journey was tragically cut short, but not before she was bestowed with a wealth of resources, equipping her to recharge and soldier onward into an even more worthwhile future.
Her new song "Hurricane," an inkier version of Lana Del Rey, laced with a James Bond-sloshed shellac, sees the singer returning to form, as she bites venomously into the lyrics and unleashes a grim vocal performance. Originally intended for another project altogether, in a similar vein as Bitter:Sweet, the somber track landed in a trailer for YouTube's new drama, Youth and Consequences (below) earlier this year, and it's slick and slithering melody not only latches onto the brain but burrows into the backbone. "It's not necessarily eluding to what's next," Halligan tells Popdust over email, "it's just what was in that moment."
Along with producer Kiran Shahani, Bitter:Sweet have sold over 500,000 records, from genre-bending project as 2006's debut LP, The Mating Game, and Drama (2008). Halligan has also amassed more than 70 songwriting credits and syncs across such generation-defining shows as Orange is the New Black, Grey's Anatomy, Nip Tuck and Desperate Housewives. All of that success, however, could not have prepared her for what was coming on NBC's blockbuster singing show.
Now, a month or so removed, the singer-songwriter is working toward more ambitious music endeavors. "I'm exploring stripping the electronic components way back and getting back to more of my jazz roots. But I'm also having fun with this whole electro-swing movement that's going on," she says. "I love dark , stormy, moody electronic music, as well, and I've always created music to a bit of a cinematic landscape, so.....I plan on doing it all."
Below, Halligan takes one final look back at The Voice, what she learned and how her craft has changed.
Did you ever feel you were "over-qualified" to be on a singing competition?
If I were to look at this experience as a singing "competition," I probably wouldn't have been able to go through with it. I looked at this as an opportunity to showcase my talent on a very different platform and for the largest audience to date I have performed in front of. I may have had more experience than many of the other contestants as far as my previous musical achievements are concerned, but for me, I felt like I had to do something drastic to shake things up. I've been in the industry for so many years.
I've been the flavor of the year, on top of the world and heading in to what I thought were the beginning drops of stardom, and I've crashed at the bottom, having to work my way back up after my band broke up. I've had to create new beginnings, and reinvent myself, all the while hopefully growing, evolving, and being open to trying new things. The industry is always changing so the way I was fortunate enough to get exposure in the past, wasn't working today. I chose not to "compete" or have that in my consciousness while on the show. Instead, I chose just to do my best to be in the moment and use this as a bigger stage to to make a bigger splash on.
You wrote on your website that the experience was "not an easy ride" and you "had to face a lot of challenges." What did you face?
The biggest challenge that I had to face was being away from my 2 and a half year old son and my husband for such a long period of time. I felt like part of my body was missing. All the love and joy that filled my heart and gave me strength to do something like this, felt so far away. Even though it was filmed in Los Angeles, we are sequestered and unable to see anyone apart from the show. A mother's guilt is fierce. Even though I knew my husband had it all under control and he couldn't have been more supportive, it was really difficult to let go and feel 100% ok.
It's also a very unnatural experience preparing for something like this. As a professional musician, I have played everywhere from The Greek Theatre, Hollywood Bowl and Royal Albert Hall to The Kennedy Center for people who have actually bought tickets and were willingly and happily there to see me perform. In contrast, while on the show, we were preparing for and thinking about a 90 second moment for 20 million people that may or may not result in a "chair turn," all while listening to vocal gymnasts all around you. It's a recipe for insecurity and second guessing yourself. As centered and as at peace as I felt, I was in my life going into this, one can't help but to get a bit wobbly through the process.
How did that transform you as a person?
Before the show, I had some pretty deep fears about touring again or leaving my family for much longer than like two days max. Being brought up in a rock and roll household and seeing the toll that that kind of absence took on me growing me up as a kid, combined with the amount of touring and career obsession I also indulged in through my own past relationships, I felt that leaving my boys would be the worst thing I could ever do. I was finally so happy. My sweet new family has brought me more beauty than any career ever has, so how could I leave?! But I think this once free-spirited hippy swung so far on the other side of the pendulum once my son was born, that I was holding on to them for dear life. And that, perhaps, wasn't so healthy either.
I learned from this experience that I don't have to have only one or the other and be paralyzed in that kind of fear. Because I have such a supportive husband (who manages talent by the way and totally gets it) , I got to experience both. I got to reignite the importance of continuing to chase my dreams, while slowly allowing the guilt to dissipate. I'm proudly showing my son what it is to be strong, ambitious, courageous and thoughtful about our choices. Since then, I've been traveling regularly to Nashville and the red carpet has literally been rolled out for me in the songwriting world there. I miss the shit out of my boys every time I leave, but then I'm back and squeezing them to pieces! And guess what? We are all still a sweet family and everyone is OK.
You also wrote: "It took everything I had to stay grounded and at peace with my decision to do this." Can you elaborate on this sentiment?
It's taken me years to get to a place where I know exactly who I am as an artist. Not that I'm unwilling to grow and expand, that is essential as an artist, but in terms of my sound, what resonates with me, my genre....
During the show, I found myself taking the longest road at times to get right back to my starting position. The place that I knew in my heart was right all along and then asking myself why did I just do all of that second guessing just to get right back to where my gut knew I should be? While I had all of these influences and circumstances that were so completely out of my control, always shining their bright headlights on me, I couldn't help but start to feel less than and uncertain. I'm sure everyone there did, many a time! Then, I would get upset with myself. I know who I am, dammit! Why am I allowing this strange situation to mess with what I already know? So, I would take bath, light some candles, meditate, watch some videos on the internet of myself performing in front of thousands to remind myself that "oh ya, this is what I do," and try to calm the hell down. [laughs]
Doing something like this show is not for the faint at heart. In the end I made peace that no matter what, I'm me and I will never please everyone nor is that my goal. I can only remain authentic and that will illuminate. When the scent of "competitiveness" was in the air as the "battle" rounds started, that's where I had the most trouble. Music is not a competition. I cannot, in any bone in my body, approach it as that. Maybe to my detriment, but so be it. Music is art and comes from your soul. Period. I felt very saddened by the idea that other contestants could actually treat this as a competition. But that's when I remembered, "Shana! you're on a damn singing competition!"
In music terms, did the show change your technical approach to mood, melody or building a song?
I had never really warmed up my voice before so regularly. We had vocal coaching, and we were given these fantastic vocal training exercises. For my own shows, I was used to having a shot of tequila or a glass of red wine before hitting the stage for a full set and hoping for the best! I was noticing a vocal strength and consistency I could count on in a way I had not thought about before. I also had never really sang anything but my own music before, so it absolutely stretched me to have to find a way to sing songs that didn't belong to my voice, but make them belong. The luxury of having nothing more to do than sing is pretty captivating. I could try things I had the focus and time to play around with. When else in life do you only get to do one thing? Never!
Ultimately, do you think doing the show has been a game changer for your craft?
Yes. In the sense that this was so far outside of my comfort zone, and I had so little control in so many areas, that it has given me a different kind of clarity and confidence to go out there in the world far stronger, knowing if I can do that, I can do anything! In my own music, I'm in control of my band, I know what arrangement I want. I write the music, I more or less feel as in control as one can feel, given unforeseen circumstances when it comes to a performance. Through this experience, I realized I will still show up for myself no matter what and no matter how challenged or vulnerable I may feel. I also realized I don't need a whole production, a huge band, projections, smoke and mirrors, or many of the things I believed I needed in the past, especially while playing in my electronica projects. Not to say it isn't fun having all that. When I hop on stage with Thievery Corporation, I'm all too happy to have their full blown set up. But I can move people perhaps even more deeply with everything stripped way back and maybe, just let my voice and my energy be the pillar.
You recently teased you've been writing with some new producers since doing the show. How have you seen your creativity, energy and confidence flourish in these new sessions?
It's been pretty amazing. I've been thrust into writing sessions with truly epic producers. The irony is I had all of these wonderful things lined up before I even went on the show, but the energy coming off the show has absolutely reignited my fire to to stay motivated. From writing for other artists to exploring what the next evolution of my sound will be, it's been so fun. I started to miss the fun in music after a while, and I'm finally getting back those butterflies when I think about how many dimensions I can break through musically right now. Plus, it didn't hurt having Alicia Keys tell me I'm the most unique artist she's ever worked with. She said I have such a distinct clarity in my individuality and put me in the same league as Portishead, Sia and Florence + the Machine. And Blake Shelton called me a goddess. Said I memorized him. I mean....sweet Blake. That can only help my swagger in sessions. [laughs]
Jason Scott is a freelance music journalist with bylines in Billboard, PopCrush, Ladygunn, Greatist, AXS, Uproxx, Paste and many others. Follow him on Twitter.
POP⚡DUST | Read More…
As reprehensible as Jake Paul is as a person, he is innocent in this case
Update 8/6/2020: On Wednesday the FBI raided Jake Paul's home in Calabasas, California in connection with the Scottsdale mall riot. The home is reportedly owned by Paul's friend Arman Izadi, who was also present at charged with misdemeanor crimes following the mall incident.
It's unclear what the basis for the raid was, but the Scottsdale police have turned over riot investigation to the FBI, who are believed to have removed multiple firearms from the Calabasas mansion.
Because it turns out celebrities exist even before we hear about them.
So many celebrities seem to build their entire lives around careers in entertainment.
Good for them. They knew what they wanted to do, and they were actually lucky and talented enough to be successful. But for a lot of these people, it's hard to imagine how they would function in the world without their celebrity status. That's why people freak out when they find out that Taylor Swift can cook. She not only eats people food, she actually knows how to prepare it! Do you think she even washes her own dishes?!
But there is another class of celebrity. People who had full, interesting, and often insane lives before anyone had ever heard of them. People like...
Christopher Walken: Lion Tamer<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI5NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzk1NTM1NH0.gB-0fl12hr7J3svFb1dpkBQ-PWSosPnLaQQKxqB-MB8/img.jpg?width=980" id="dbe98" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e99b1bc39579d90f78d4d6de9523f551" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Christopher Walken" /><p>Christopher Walken is known for the intense, contained energy of his performances and... the un<em>ique</em>... cadence... and <em>em</em>phasis of his speech. But long before he was a living, breathing caricature of himself, he had a very different approach to show business. His time as a <a href="https://ew.com/article/2014/12/02/christopher-walken-captain-hook-dancing/" target="_blank">cabaret dancer</a> shouldn't surprise anyone who's seen the way he moves in the music video for Fatboy Slim's "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCDIYvFmgW8" target="_blank">Weapon of Choice</a>," but the fact that Walken was working as a lion tamer in a circus at the age of 16 is completely insane. Of course he downplays it, saying that Sheba the lion was "Very nice. She'd come and bump your leg. Like a house cat," but he was still bossing around a giant predatory cat as a teenager.</p>
Julia Child: Inventor<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTE4MTA2N30.lfQiI4CMgFK3oJYLW1bPvgOy3rZgL8daEMkgYM4Uukk/img.jpg?width=980" id="c5ab9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a75cf85333b55f0a9399231cd3206a9d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Julia Child" /><p>You may know Julia Child for her famous cookbook <em></em><em>Mastering the Art of French Cooking</em>, or for her long-running public television show <em>The French Chef</em>. At the very least, maybe you've seen her portrayed by Meryl Streep in 2009's <em>Julie and Julia</em>. She was an early icon of TV cooking, making it approachable and fun, and her recipes remain popular more than 15 years after her death. But before anyone knew her for her cooking, she was working for the Office of Strategic Services—a forerunner to the CIA—helping to fight Nazis by... inventing <a href="https://www.cia.gov/news-information/featured-story-archive/2015-featured-story-archive/shark-repellent.html" target="_blank">shark repellent</a>.</p><p>The effort was sparked during World War II in response to sharks attacks on military personnel who were waiting for rescue after ships and planes went down. Child was a member of the team that developed pellets to be included in soldier's rescue kits, with an odor that would keep sharks at bay. There's no telling how many lives those pellets may have saved, but apparently they went on to be used with underwater explosives targeting German submarines—so sharks wouldn't accidentally set them off—and even in space equipment that NASA designed for ocean retrieval.</p>
James Lipton: Pimp<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI2Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxODM5ODY4N30.THakQRuLoFrZdysNOoONBwt5WbIFd6kqKmZMo99tMOo/img.jpg?width=980" id="cb82f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="61c045a63ca5f3a8df7ae6a17197995c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="james lipton" /><p>James Lipton is not quite as famous as some of the people he's interviewed—<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inside_the_Actors_Studio#Guests" target="_blank">basically every celebrity ever</a>—but he hosted <em>Inside the Actor's Studio</em> for 22 years on <em>Bravo</em>, and had an amazing turn as <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwXGPar9kHc" target="_blank">Warden Stefan Gentles</a> on <em>Arrested Development</em>. In his youth though, Lipton had a very different career in post-war Paris. At the time, there was little work available in France, and many women resorted to sex work to get by. Lipton was friends with one such woman, and when he was running out of money and told her that he had to return to the US, she offered him a job. Soon he was <a href="https://parade.com/17599/dotsonrader/inside-the-actors-studio-host-james-lipton-on-his-favorite-interview-and-pimping-in-paris/" target="_blank">working in a bordello as a "mec,"</a> which he differentiates from the American conception of a pimp, "The French <em>mecs</em> didn't exploit women. They represented them, like agents. And they took a cut. That's how I lived." So... not easy, but necessary.</p>
Jerry Springer: Mayor of Cincinnati<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI4My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDEzNTkzNX0.h_k9FJugum9ZI55hpU49JC4180Bbzz5-vuHgIGGI3FM/img.jpg?width=980" id="6d534" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f8a8e61f6254ac8be70c23550346ec0d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Jerry Springer" /><p>On the other side of the sex work equation was a young Jerry Springer. Long before he was exposing strangers' dirty laundry to the delight of a hooting studio audience, he was starring in his own <a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/assessment/1998/03/jerry_springer.html" target="_blank">personal scandal in Ohio politics</a>. He had already served as an adviser to Robert Kennedy, and had a failed run for Congress before he was elected to Cincinnati's City Council in 1971. At just 27 years old, he may not have been ready for a life in politics, and a few years later he was forced to step down after being caught in a prostitution probe, paying for sex work with personal checks.</p><p>Surprisingly, Springer was able to come back from that scandal with a series of honest, apologetic ads that resulted in him resuming his seat on the city council and eventually serving a term as Mayor. He even ran for governor in 1982, before beginning a career as a local news anchor and coining his catchphrase "Take care of yourselves, and each other." At the time he was known for delivering thoughtful editorials, and became so popular that he was given a daytime TV show that slowly transformed, in its chase for ratings, to the pure trash that eventually made him famous.</p>
Audrey Hepburn: Member of the Dutch Resistance<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDIzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjAwODQ4M30.ZrhreORH5cpZ_Rsj09lVySaxzaLoFNE-DHHM9xbQFRE/img.jpg?width=980" id="6f2ab" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd21bb87307e5bb726ce9b73a7494189" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>The original manic pixie dream girl of <em>Breakfast at Tiffany's</em> was always known for her frail beauty, but when she was a growing up in <a href="https://time.com/5582729/audrey-hepburn-world-war-ii/" target="_blank">Nazi-occupied Holland</a>, some of that frailty was probably the result of malnutrition. Despite this, she was a talented ballet dancer, and frequently performed in secretive events known as "black nights," raising money for Dutch resistance fighters. Hepburn was just 15 in 1944, but because she was fluent in English, she was also tasked with delivering food and messages to allied pilots who were shot down by the Nazis. She helped them reach safety, and her youth and apparent innocence kept her safe from Nazi suspicions.</p>
Samuel L. Jackson: Militant Black Activist<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDIyMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTM1NDg0MX0.KsU1niylFVF0S_9u2v8qX5ircpmJ5Q8S7hf-TejhooA/img.jpg?width=980" id="e89bc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="23b27d5f9a6ec18ed4b6660985d7b342" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Samuel L. Jackson" /><p>Samuel L. Jackson is one of the biggest movie stars of all time. Collectively his films have grossed <a href="https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/how-samuel-l-jackson-became-hollywoods-bankable-star-1174613" target="_blank">nearly six billion dollars</a>—more than any other actor. But back in the late 1960s, his prospects didn't look so bright. As a young student at Morehouse College, <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20081229063210/http://www.parade.com:80/articles/editions/2005/edition_01-09-2005/featured_0" target="_blank">Jackson joined the Black Power movement</a> following the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Jackson has said that he was in a "radical faction" of the movement: "We were buying guns, getting ready for armed struggle." He found the experience empowering, although it led to his expulsion from college after he and other activists held the school's board of trustees hostage in a dispute over the schools' curriculum and the demographics of its governing board.</p><p>It was his mother's influence that eventually pushed Jackson in another direction. She put him on a plane to Los Angeles and told him not to come back. "The FBI had been to the house and told her that if I didn't get out of Atlanta, there was a good possibility I'd be dead within a year. She freaked out." Jackson spent a couple years doing social work in LA before eventually returning to Morehouse to study drama. "I decided that theater would now be my politics." It was a bold choice for someone who had struggled with a stutter, though by that point Jackson had discovered the <a href="https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2019/06/samuel-l-jackson-shaft-motherfucker-stutter" target="_blank">therapeutic benefits</a> of shouting "motherf*cker."</p>
Jewel: Survivalist<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI4Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjUwNjI0MH0.Y8mEiH18k9U4GVzE8UYOKLqZZtuor1EtrdQvVEzsoGk/img.jpg?width=980" id="d96e6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="eb8e0d81489c72d42600fe7436636728" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Jewel" /><p>Jewel Kilcher grew up in a saddle barn in the remote town of Homer, Alaska. While she was a singer from a young age—<a href="https://www.npr.org/2015/09/12/439764172/in-lumberjack-joints-and-coffee-shops-jewel-found-her-voice" target="_blank">performing with her father for lumberjacks</a> in local bars—<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewel_(singer)#Early_life" target="_blank">her early life was hardly glamorou</a>s. They had no running water, a coal stove for heat, and largely had to fend for themselves: "we mainly lived off of what we could kill or can. We picked berries and made jam. We caught fish to freeze and had gardens and cattle to live on. I rode horses every day in the summer beneath the Alaskan midnight sun." It may have been this childhood that prepared her to live out of her car at the age of 19 as she was launching her career in Southern California.</p>
Christopher Lee: Secret Agent<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYwNDI4OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTg3MzM5M30.qKjkKyFCwktkOV9Fnf0W73uppSV3ko6xJ9ImPYEXRcI/img.jpg?width=980" id="4ac25" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="600db2000efa3054e51be73b94c640b4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Christopher Lee" /><p>You probably remember Christopher Lee for his portrayal of Saruman in the <em>Lord of the Rings</em> films, but did you know that he also played a crucial role <a href=""Have you any idea what kind of noise happens when somebody’s stabbed in the back? Because I do.”" target="_blank">advising Peter Jackson</a> on the realism of a scene in <em>The Return of the King</em>. Specifically, Lee provided his firsthand knowledge of the sound a person makes when they've just been stabbed. Jackson was directing Lee's reaction in a scene in which Saruman is ambushed, prompting Lee to respond, "Have you any idea what kind of noise happens when somebody's stabbed in the back? Because I do."</p><p>Lee would most likely have gained that knowledge during World War II, when he was a member of the British Army's <a href="https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/02/09/christopher-lee/" target="_blank">Long Range Desert Patrol</a>, fighting Axis forces on the North African Front. He then went on to join the Special Operations Executive, an elite organization involved in espionage and assassination. Most of their work is still classified.</p>
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