Hunger Games, Dubstep Games
Hot 100 Roundup—4/7/12

Taylor Swift—“Eyes Open”
#19

What’s surprising about all The Hunger Games songs I’ve heard is how literal they are, in the sense that they focus on particular aspects of the story rather than delivering the usual pop tropes and vaguely tying them to the theme of the film. They’re actually about the movie, rather than simply being attached to it. That doesn’t mean they’re great, though: this is Swift indulging her heavy metal side, as dull as she’s ever been, and all I can say is that I’m glad she’s letting that aspect of her musical taste out on a soundtrack and not one of her own albums.

Alex Clare—“Too Close”
#68

Alex Clare appears to be a genuine singer/songwriter, but it’s hard not to view this as just another part of Diplo’s concerted effort to inject dubstep into everything. Someday someone may succeed at making a record like this work, but not this time. It would help if the song wasn’t so ordinary, but I’m not sure I would buy the idea even if it was better. The electronics sound tacked on in the worst sort of way, as if someone were trying to do a mashup of Gavin DeGraw and Skrillex and gave up after sorting out the chorus. To get theoretical for a moment: pop music requires an organic mix of structure and texture to create emotional cohesion; you can’t just throw any old thing over the top and expect it to work.

Maroon 5 featuring Rozzi Crane—“Come Away To the Water”
#83

I was impressed by this at first, and even devised a little formula to explain it: if T-Bone Burnett is capable of ruining true artists by amping up their “arty” side, then it makes sense that the same process could turn second-raters into something better than they are, at least for one song. Further listening made me realize that all he had really done was turn Maroon 5, who don’t need any help in being arty blowhards, into a copy of Los Lobos (even vocally, which is a neat trick). If you believe that songs that are essentially chants backed by heavily reverbed guitars and rumbling low-fi drums automatically equal art, this is the record for you. I find it vague and hollow myself.

Craig Morgan—“This Ole Boy”
#92

I like the loose feel of this, and the way the verse toys with the idea of how many syllables you can cram into a line, but it’s too cute. Cute seems to be how many male country singers choose to deal with women these days. It’s their way of trying not to be sexist, I guess, but it shows a real lack of imagination to believe that the only option outside of being a macho boor is being a charmless doofus. In its own way it’s just as sexist, because it sees women as being as easily overpowered by cute as they are by handsome. In a teenager like Scotty McCreery it may be excusable, but Morgan’s 47.

Shinedown—“Bully”
#94

I can’t speak for everybody, of course, but when I was in high school the kind of people who listened to bands like Shinedown were the bullies, not the ones who claimed to be victimized by them. Maybe things have changed, but that strikes me as being a major disconnect, whatever the song’s good intentions. It’s also clichéd, boring, and overwrought, as message songs so often are.

Havana Brown featuring Pitbull—“We Run the Night”
#99

More dubstep dabbling, this time from producer RedOne, for whom you’d think the style would be second nature, what with his own leaning towards the brash and garish. It turns out, though, that the best parts of this are the more Euro-disco moments, which are decorated with intriguing shifts and sudden turns. Pitbull is added to give the record more commercial heft, but also finds himself the victim of the best joke on the record when a burst of dubstep insanity drowns out his trademark sotto voce growl at the end of his verse. Not that Pitbull cares; he’s too busy jumping on another dance-pop gravy train. Oddly enough, I respect him for that.

Drake featuring The Weeknd—“Crew Love”
#100

Interesting to find this on the chart. Is it actually being promoted as a single? Are people grabbing at it because it’s the weirdest sounding thing on Take Care, as well as being one of the few tracks that could be described as up tempo? Or are they mistaking The Weeknd’s deconstructed R&B for dubstep? Whatever the case, it has a decent hook, and it’s nice to hear Drake finally admitting to his privileged background (did he really turn down an opportunity to go to Harvard, or is that just more bragging?). It’s a throwaway, but a good one.

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