Sunday, November 30, 2008

Music & Muscians

No Longer A Back-Up To American Pop Music Stardom
By Alex Catarinella

Fame sometimes has its discomforts.

“I was so mortified that I hid in a room and sat on the floor in a friend’s apartment,” recalls Greek American singer Annet Artani of her paparazzi-infested fame in Greece. “But I’m ready now.”

Artani, 25, who is a mega-star in Greece, recently moved back to New York to crash the American pop charts. But, American superstardom may be a ways off, even though Artani boasts quite an extensive resume.

In addition to Artani’s album, Mia Foni, which means "One Voice" in Greek and became a top 20 hit in Greece, she’s a reality TV star, albeit a talented, non-annoying one. While in Greece, Artani appeared on Fame Story (think MTV’s Real World for singers, which Artani describes its premise as being isolated in a house and performing once a week without a clue if viewers hate or love you—viewers, fortunately for her, loved her). In addition, she represented Cyprus in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006 with her power ballad, “Why Angels Cry” in which she reached the semi-finals (ala American Idol).

Annet Artani says she is ready to hit the American
pop charts.

But Artani’s first true taste of fame came before she moved to Greece. Prior to final callbacks for lead roles in the Broadway hit “Rent,” Artani scored an audition to become a back-up singer for Britney Spears. She got the gig, and immediately hit the grueling touring circuit. Talk about a big taste of fame. Eventually, Artani would co-write the international hit “Every time” with Spears while on tour as Spears’ former back-up singer in 2001--a turning point in her career.

Artani’s friends refer to her as “Anetta James” (in reference to the soul icon Etta James): watch out Mariah Carey (also, former back-up singer). There’s a new back-up singer, turned international superstar on the rise.

Artani befriended the then on-top-of-the-world (if on the surface) superstar Spears and witnessed what perhaps could be a foreshadowing of, if not a chaotic, future of her own. “Had I not also befriended her [Spears] and understood what it was like to be stalked or monitored on a personal level, I would've freaked out more when it happened to me,” says Artani.

Of her Greek success: “I sort of knew what was coming, for the most part, although nothing can truly prepare you for the camera guy who pops out of the dumpster when you're jogging in your hood with your trainer!” recalls Artani with a laugh. Like all true entertainers at heart, Artani believes that the perks of superstardom outweigh the darker elements (Isolation, complete lack of privacy, and public scrutiny, to name a few).

Artani, a former back-up singer for Britney Spears, has had her own

Artani talks of being on stage with Spears at sold-out arenas, and of eventually stepping into her own spotlight in Greece and singing in front of 55,000 onlookers: “The rush that you get by giving a piece of yourself and being so vulnerable is not something I can even describe. I want that here. Not because I'm some narcissist that needs adoring fans, but because we all do certain things for something.”

Artani has powerhouse pipes that rival Whitney and Mariah at their best, exotic looks and quite the bootylicious figure (Beyonce, who?) juxtaposed with a goofy sense of humor (She’s “obsessed” with Sarah Silverman and says her humor consists of such funny legends as Lucy and Nanny Fine). Sounds like the perfect pop star. So what’s taking so long for this songstress to take over the states?

Artani’s rather surreal experience in Greece also came with struggles—concerning her Greek American identity. “I wasn't allowing myself to really show them me whole-heartedly, my funny side, or be too creative, mostly because I was told by my label that ‘this was too American’ or ‘sing it less American or they won't relate,’” she says.

And while Artani sings and speaks perfect Greek, the Greek pop scene lacks the enthusiasm of the pop craze surrounding such singers as the ubiquitous Rihanna, Beyonce and Miley in America. Artani says pop stars in Greece usually open for the more “ethnic” headliners.

Artani says Greek-American singers aren’t
Greek enough in Greece.

Greeks opt for Greek music from Greek superstars whose music incorporates Greek instruments and influences and play at the big Greek nightclubs. Essentially, a Greek American just isn’t Greek enough. Artani, who grew up in Queens, New York to Greek immigrant parents, explains: “It’s very interesting to experience, culturally, but very hard to adjust to if you're an American and grew up listening to pop, rock and R&B.”

But similar to the American starlets, Artani’s fame put her on her toes. “I had to watch my step a lot because there has been a negative connotation put upon us in Europe; partially because of our current not-too-intellectual war president, and partially due to Americans who visit Greece in the summer and have no inhibitions because they are partying. I had to make sure my Greek was always perfect or be prepared to be made fun of.”

Eventually, Artani’s talent, charm and gorgeous looks won over Greece. But it wasn’t enough for Artani. “Yeah, they accepted and liked me, but I didn't ever feel like I was giving them a real understanding of who I was,” Artani confesses. “So it’s sort of a weird type of acceptance. But mostly, I felt constipated there because I felt a little lost in translation.”

If her struggles in Greece are any indication, Artani has a bumpy road of ahead of her in the fickle and superficial American music industry (thankfully for Artani, the recent onslaught of overseas soul singers, such as Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen could be beneficial). But Artani’s experiences over the years have made her wise, if not more determined for superstardom.

Artani witnessed the darkness that can come with fame while working with Spears. But ‘afraid’ is not a part of Artani’s vocabulary—this one’s fearless. “It didn’t scare me,” she says. “I just felt bad, mostly because I began to see the demise during our friendship.”

Artani cites the artist and their support system as the precursors to sustainable success. “While Brit had an amazing group of people behind her, she was not the one calling the shots. That is mostly because she was young and didn't have the knowhow,” Artani says.

Sounding every bit professional and insightful, Artani continues: “But just because you grow up and have all this power, doesn't mean you suddenly have the knowhow as a grown up, if in fact you had all this help getting there. Great management, producers, hard work on her behalf, and a solid team is what got her there.”

Artani’s insight into pop stardom’s downside shows that perhaps she should pen a how-to-be-a-pop-star guide. And while Spears, “had her mom as a support system schmoozing and getting her daughter auditions and a good manager,” Artani’s parents were Greek immigrants whose concerns were “trying to feed us” and, unlike Spears’ stage mom, had “no clue about developing a pop star.” “And I'm sort of glad about that, because I had no choice but to learn how to do things on my own,” Artani says.

Artani’s not-so-glamorous journey has involved working six jobs in one semester. Unlike many American pop tarts, Artani’s childhood didn’t include the Mickey Mouse Club. She worked hard and eventually attended college.

“Once you've been on your own and have had no professional help for all these years, you are forced to be more grounded,” Artani says humbly. “I'm young, but my spirit is that of someone who has been seasoned because it took a lot of struggle to get here.”
Still, while Artani’s music could be classified as pop (although think an edgy Pink meets Fergie’s funk with a bit of Etta’s vocals), you can feel realness and modesty pulsating from her. She keeps it real. Refreshingly so.

Nowadays, you’ll find Artani prepping hardcore to cross over to the American charts. Her days and nights consist of frequent dance classes, running her own MySpace and Facebook websites, and recording sessions for her debut American album, which she describes as “high energy, pop/dance with a little rock and hip hop lacing.”

In addition, Greek-inspired sounds can be heard on her first single, “Alive.” “I'm not trying to be Shakira or anything. But I love Greek rhythms and instruments and I would love adding them in for some flavor.”

The aptly-titled and “Girl Power” anthem single “Alive” reflects where Artani now finds herself -- in this unique transition from back-up singer to Greek megastar to aspiring American pop star. In the song, she sings “I'm Alive, I survived it all when you let me fall / I'm Alive, made it through somehow, I'm a big girl now.”

“It’s exactly as I feel right now; happy to be alive! I went through some hard stuff the past few years on a personal level, probably something lots of women experience, and I wrote that song in the midst of it to remind me of my power,” Artani says. “And now that I'm in a better place, I hear it and I feel victorious.”

Through it all, and after conquering the Greek pop scene, Artani learned the importance of remaining true to herself, although it’s easier said than done in the dark music business—just ask her predecessors.

While Artani’s experiences have taught her well, she is not back-up singer material; she has a voice that demands to be heard. One that stands out among the typical American pop star, and one that refuses to conform to a pre-packaged image—there’s certainly no puppet strings attached for Artani.

“I don’t want to second guess myself. I want to be silly, weird, eccentric, bitchy, polite, pretty, voluptuous, sexy, and stick out like a sore thumb. Because that's who I am.”

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