Austin Mahone featuring Pitbull—“Mmm Yeah”
No matter how I try I find it impossible to understand why anyone with any business sense would push a nondescript talent like Mahone. Somebody’s investing a lot of money in this kid, who’s a competent singer and projects infinite good cheer but has not a single distinguishing feature or an ounce of personality. How much do you suppose they paid Pitbull for this feature? Whatever it was, Pitbull cashed the check with a smile on his face, a playa’s chortle, and a conspiratorial wink at the teller. Another sucker who thought he could buy a hit.
ScHoolboy Q—“Man of the Year”
The sound is different, and sometimes mesmerizing, but the message is old school: I’m rich, I’m buying, dance for me and have sex with me. ScHoolboy Q doesn’t sound as blunted-out as some of his contemporaries, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t. It just mean he handles it better than they do. Raps better, too. I wonder if he’ll ever have anything interesting to say.
Enrique Iglesias featuring Marco Antonio Solas—“El Perdedor”
If I knew Spanish I’d be better at seeing through Iglesias’s lover man pose, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s far more believable in Spanish than he ever is in English. Apply these vocals techniques in English, as Iglesias and others have tried to do, and you drip with smarm, but in Spanish you sound like the world’s greatest and most sincere lover even as you lie through every pore of your body. I understand why Iglesias and others, like Romeo Santos, want to cross over, but they shouldn’t. Everything they do is more effective in Spanish, and the market gets bigger all the time. Instead of being kings of Latin, they may find themselves nowhere at all.
Hayes is a talented guy, and as cliched as much of this song is, it’s well-crafted and, lyrically at least, never gets too sappy. But his instincts are pure show-biz, and he’s about as believable and trustworthy as an infomercial host. There’s nothing wrong with patterning your music on Michael Buble and Sara Bareilles (though it is odd for a guy who’s been pegged as a country singer), but he lacks their saving graces of cynicism and sarcasm. They know it’s all an act, even when they mean what they say (which is why you believe them), but Hayes, as far as I can tell, doesn’t know anything at all. He’ll buy into whatever comes out of his own soft head. There’s no doubt, no pain, no tension, even in a song about bullying. The result is music so bland and yet so confused it wouldn’t even work as background in a mall. Maybe he’ll learn someday, but it’s hard to change direction when you start out this young and in this way. At the rate he’s going, he’ll be playing Branson before he’s twenty-five.
Trey Songz—“Na Na”
I have no idea whether Songz has read Emile Zola, but I find it fascinating that his “Na Na” matches almost perfectly with Zola’s Nana, a novel about a dancer and courtesan who destroys every man who dares to pursue her. Songz believes he can win his Na Na over, of course, or at least get her to come home with him for the night. He’s aware that many men have tried and failed, but, being the hero of his own fantasy, he assumes he’ll succeed. That’s what all the men in Zola’s novel thought, too, just before they were bankrupted or driven insane. It’s interesting that Songz doesn’t finish the story; he boasts about his prowess, but we never learn the result. The similarity in names is probably a coincidence (I’m not sure in Songz’ case that Na Na even is her name; it may just be the reaction her appearance produces), but the echoes of Zola’s story are there all the same. Too bad the music is standard issue at best.
The bouncy hooks and the light, boyish vocals provide cover for the dark, violence-tinged lyrics, and though that may be an unusual combination in the US, in the UK it’s a fairly standard pop ploy (and one that I’m normally a sucker for). Standard enough, and pop enough, in fact, that whatever serious message they’re trying to convey is so heavily obscured it gets lost. I don’t think they’re toying with violent imagery just for the fun of it, but I still can’t figure out what they’re getting at lyrically, and the music, catchy as it is, doesn’t provide any clues. If the music were more than catchy I might not care, but it isn’t.
Rico Love—“They Don’t Know”
Erotic power games are fascinating in their way, but I’ve always found them a little dull on record, especially when it’s the man who holds all the power. Making his mistress keep their relationship a secret, even when his wife knows about it and occasionally takes part, is just another way for Love to demonstrate his dominance over both women, and he makes sure we never hear their side of the story (the only thing he praises his mistress for is keeping her mouth shut). Suave and sophisticated as the music might be, this is the equivalent of a rapper ordering that bitch to get down on her knees. It’s all about the power.