Justin Bieber featuring Jaden Smith—”Never Say Never”
I was expecting it to be bad, but I wasn’t expecting it to be this bad. The problem isn’t Bieber, who acquits himself as well as can be expected (it actually helps that he shows so little real emotion), and it isn’t the blandness of the song itself. It isn’t even Jaden Smith, who, despite his heritage, sounds talentless but willing to give it the old middle-school try. But his rap, if it can be called that, is terrible not only in delivery, but in spirit and in message. What it seems to be saying is that if you’re privileged enough to get a guest spot on a Justin Bieber record, then you don’t need to worry about all those people who are bigger and stronger and probably smarter than you are. Which is, of course, the exact opposite of the message presented in the movie. It would be meaningless to accuse the producers of a remake of The Karate Kid of selling-out their principles, but shouldn’t they at least know what they are, or were, once upon a time?
“Over the Rainbow”, #44
“Anyway You Want It/Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’”, #58
“To Sir with Love”, #75
“Bohemian Rhapsody”, #84
“Don’t Stop Believin’” obviously wasn’t enough, so now the makers of Glee (sounds like they should be a division of Proctor & Gamble, doesn’t it?) have decided to revive the entire Journey catalog. If the show didn’t already deserve capital punishment, this would be enough to guarantee termination with extreme prejudice. At least it’s over for a few months. See you in September (and no, that’s not a song suggestion).
Shakira featuring Freshlyground—”Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)”
As nice as it is to find some version of township jive on the American charts after 25 years, this isn’t a very good record. It was obviously done quickly and to order, Shakira doesn’t seem to put much into it, and let’s face it, township jive has run it’s course. Most of the backing here could have been sampled from The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, which was released in 1986. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there are much fresher African—even just South African—sounds out there. But I have a feeling that for a long time to come, whenever most people think about African music—when they think about it at all, that is—this is the sort of thing they’ll hear in their head. That’s not Shakira’s fault, of course, or Soweto’s, or even Paul Simon’s. It’s a shame, nonetheless.
Oddly enough, this is not one of the songs that Santigold co-wrote for Bionic the album. Which is just as well, since if she had she would only be repeating herself. It’s an old refrain, but once again I’m impressed by Aguilera’s daring in terms of inspiration and frustrated by her stiffness and oversinging. “So damn bionic” may well be the dumbest lyric of the year, and she sings it as if it were the most important thing she’s ever said.
There’s a wonderful tension to the verses, but the chorus is an anti-climax, musically and lyrically too simple and old fashioned to fit with the rest, danceable but forgettable. A lot of it sounds like an outtake from Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, and I like Ne-Yo enough that I’m willing to accept this as an MJ tribute and let it pass. Hope he does better next time.
Lil Jon featuring 3OH!3—”Hey”
Lil Jon is no fool. In the four or five years he’s been unable to record due to legal complications, he’s kept a close eye on the obnoxious white guys who have been copping his style, and he’s more than willing to allow them to give him a little push as he gets back on the road. More than a push: 3OH!3 provide not only the hook but also the only real lyric this song possesses. The styles jar a bit, but even though the three of them have probably never been in the same room at the same time, it still works. It’s a softer, friendlier form of crunk, but Lil Jon doesn’t care. He’s seen the future, and he’s riding its coattails.
Train—”If It’s Love”
Occasionally as clever as they think they are—”Flat like an Idol singer/Remember Winger?/I digress”—they’re also more cynical than their romantic tropes would suggest, and when the strings enter near the end you realize that they can pander with the best of them. Second single in a row to mention an eighties one-shot band (it was Mister Mister last time), which may well be another form of pandering. At least they’re willing to age with their audience.
The stripped down intro reveals at least one secret—which is that all of Ryan Tedder’s songs seem to based on one of Bach’s solo cello concertos (which would explain their sophisticated yet comfortably familiar facade). The other is the dirty little secret that Tedder won’t admit even to himself: all his songs really do sound the same. Score one for Kelly Clarkson.