Hot 100 Roundup—11/26/11

Taylor Swift
“If This Was a Movie”, #10
“Ours”, #13
“Superman”, #26

Swift’s detractors are no doubt salivating over the idea of her releasing a live album, but in the meantime they have to deal with these three new studio recordings, which overall are as good as anything she’s ever done. Her fans, though, have gotten it backwards, debuting these records in reverse order of quality. “If This Was a Movie” is an above average piece of professional pop (if there’s anything country about Swift anymore, I’m having a harder and harder time hearing it), but has nothing special to recommend it. “Ours” is as bright and cheerful as anything Swift has done, and nobody does bright and cheerful better, but it also flirts with coyness. She giggles, not once, but twice. Her giggle is cute and charming, but it’s a dangerous precedent. Finally there’s “Superman”, which is one of the best records she’s made (she knows it, too, that’s why it goes on for nearly five minutes). Superman’s mix of love, frustration, hope, and despair, each illustrated with sudden, sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle changes in vocal register and key, isn’t unlike records she’s made before, it’s just better: more confident, more polished, and more emotional. And though the title suggests she’s still mining fantasy worlds, this is more down to earth than some of her previous fairy-tale-like songs. After all, she used fairy tales as a model not because she believed in them, but because fairy tales are so hopeful and optimistic. We could all use a lot more of that right now.

Update: I mistakenly thought these were new tracks, but they were actually released on a bonus disk that came with the Target Exclusive version of Speak Now when it was released last year, and have just been made available for download. That doesn’t change my opinion of them, but I thought it was a good idea to clear that up.

Matt Nathanson featuring Sugarland—”Run”

As a one-hit adult-contemporary wonder Nathanson was irritating but bearable, but now he’s got Sugarland backing him up, which got him a prime spot on the CMAs, so here he is again, emoting cliches with the worst of them. You can tell how much of a hack he is by the insertion of the line “I know that it’s wrong” into the chorus. There’s nothing else in the song that suggests there’s anything wrong with what they’re doing, unless they’re using good sex as an excuse for guilt. As a culture, I thought we were over that. Or is that supposed to make the sex hotter?

Mac Miller—”Smile Back”

Once again, the music is good but the lyrics ordinary. It’s not that Miller’s a terrible rapper, it’s that he has little to say and no original way of saying it. When he sayss that he’s a mixture of Lennon and UGK, all he’s telling us is that he doesn’t really understand either one.

Blake Shelton—”Footloose”

At least the original was light on its feet; this galumphs in the worst mainstream country rock manner. Come to think of it, that’s what’s wrong with most mainstream country rock: they play it too heavy and too slow. I should thank Shelton for making that so obvious.

Glee Cast—”Uptown Girl”

Dierks Bentley—”Home”

Bentley recently performed at the White House, and I assume this was written for the occasion (country cash-ins can be so cheesy). It’s nice to have a piece of country patriotism that isn’t also jingoistic and xenophobic, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good.

Rihanna—”You Da One”

Does this record actually exist? It’s nice enough when you’re listening to it (and it sounds very familiar), but it has no real peaks or valleys, or anything else to recommend it. When it’s over it’s really over, as if it were never there at all.

Faith Hill—”Come Home”

Weird. This starts like a message to a loved one far away, but it turns out that the opening line, “Hello World” (never a good sign), is meant literally, and the song turns out to be about divisiveness and ideology (“a war between the vanities”), and Hill is urging everyone to get together and smile on your brother. That explains the otherwise inexplicable minute-long, psychedelic coda (if Tommy James & the Shondells is your idea of psychedelic) and the ominous fade. It’s like a countrypolitan flashback to 1969. It would be nice to blame everything on songwriter Ryan Tedder, since he’s responsible for so much bad music these days, but Hill co-produced this without Tedder, and she appears to have taken the song very seriously. I’m sure she meant well.