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April 25, 2009
Tori Amos: She's Got the Power
by Christa Titus
Tori Amos always puts the ladies first. During the course of her career, she's created a concept album about female archetypes (American Doll Posse), rewritten men's songs from a female perspective (Strange Little Girls) and connected to fans with haunting, brutal personal portraits; "Me and a Gun" is a spare tale of her own sexual assault. With the release of her first album for Universal Republic, Abnormally Attracted to Sin, out May 19, Amos tackles yet another thorny subject: women and power.
"I am kind of fascinated with the idea of erotic spirituality," she says. "But first, I wanted to investigate what people are attracted to. Some of the songs are about situations where people are struggling with their power, and find themselves attracted to people that have power over them. Dominance has become an aphrodisiac for some women. But there are also songs about women finding their inner strength."
Amos is fully aware of her own strength as an artist. When she sat down with Universal Music Group chairman Doug Morris to discuss her Universal Republic deal, her longevity and devoted fan base gave her considerable clout. Amos, who has her own publishing and merchandising companies, was firm about not wanting a 360 agreement. "Tell me the upside of a 360 deal unless it's about $100 million?" she asks rhetorically. "I have to give half of it in tax, and a huge percent to my attorney, and then that's all I've got? And someone else owns songs I haven't even written yet?"
Amos defines the contract as a joint-venture agreement. Universal Republic president/CEO Monte Lipman adds, "There is just a tremendous amount of respect we have for Tori, and when it comes down to her vision and the way she wants up to operate, she has a lot of say in that."
The artist herself is a force to be reckoned with on the new album, which blends rock beats with flashes of the avant-garde. Her sense of humor is evident in the lighthearted "Not Dying Today" and the slightly camp "Mary Jane," but songs like the jaded "Curtain Call" and the electronic chirping of "Starling" reveal a pensive side.
"Sin" is being sold in two versions. The standard album includes the bonus track "Oscar's Theme," while the deluxe one (which is available for presale at iTunes for $13.99) contains a 16-page digital booklet and a movie clip, or "visuallette," as Amos calls them, for each track. Fans who buy the presale copy immediately receive the first single, "Welcome to England," and a code that grants access to a May 28-May 29 Ticketmaster presale for tickets to Amos' upcoming summer tour.
The label is also giving away the song "Maybe California," which deals with a mother feeling like an inadequate parent, as part of a viral Mother's Day promotion through an album widget, streams and downloads, and a free ringtone. Amos observes that women often quietly shoulder the burden of keeping a family intact, especially in these times when the economy creates emotional and financial strain. "We define powerful men with being providers. We're back to that idea of power again, how to define what is power," she says. "When you have a relationship where both are not feeling powerful, because we've equated success with having a job and the breadwinner is laid off, the effect that that can have on the family is beyond description."
Designing the marketing plan presents a number of challenges for the label; Amos's fan base ranges dramatically in age and technological savvy. The label is planning a number of TV appearances, outdoor sniping, retail visibility and other online initiatives. For example, on March 10 AOL's Spinner.com premiered the album's cover art and track listing along with an Amos interview. On March 19, she previewed some new songs with a headlining showcase at South by Southwest last month. "Welcome to England" is being added at Triple A and will approach hot AC April 28.
Universal Republic sees Amos' diverse fan base as a chance to present "Sin" to various audiences instead of a challenge. "We just actually had that conversation a few weeks ago about, ‘Is this alternative? Should she be categorized under alternative? Should she be categorized under pop?' " Universal Republic senior VP of marketing and artist development Kim Garner says. "And some accounts, they're going to categorize it in the appropriate place they think is best for exposure."
Whatever the category, Amos loves the album's look. "I love the way [photographer Karen Collins] shoots women. It's not vulgar or demeaning, but I find it just sexy. They look empowered to me and I like her style. I felt that if we were gonna walk this line of erotic spirituality, which is quite a line to walk, I realized the two words don't necessarily usually end up on the same table together in the same sentence. But it was a delicate line to walk."
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