Rocket Number Nine: Hot 100 Roundup—11/16/13

Eminem featuring Rihanna—“The Monster”

The hook and the beat are different, but Eminem has done this rap, in one variation or another, several times. He spends so much time explaining and excusing what he does that you wonder how he has time to do anything at all. Saying it’s unfair to call him crazy does nothing but make him sound petulant, and Rihanna’s affectless vocals don’t help. He may be clean and sober, but he’s still in a rut.

One Direction—“Story Of My Life”

Writing their own material adds a level of idiosyncrasy that was missing from One Direction’s first two albums, and this is a good song, if not a great breakthrough. It’s especially nice that they blame themselves for their relationship problems, turning the usual meaning of “story of my life” on its head. They’re learning how to sing, too.

Lady Gaga—“Venus”

This is more like it. Garish and tasteless in all the right ways (the oyster reference; Aphrodite’s grass panties; “Uranus! (don’t you know my ass is famous!)”, with an intro borrowed from Sun Ra and a chorus based on Gaga’s note-perfect Abba imitation, “Venus” is a throwaway pastiche with real humor and style. I wish the whole of Artpop were like this. If only Gaga would recognize that there’s a lot more art in her pop than their there is pop in her art and act accordingly.

Justin Bieber—“Recovery”

The most interesting of Bieber’s string of singles so far, if only because it sounds like he means it, maybe even feels it. It also sounds, oddly enough, like something from Liz Phair’s whitechocolatespaceegg. I’m sure that’s a coincidence, but it does make the same sort of low-key emotional connection. Bieber’s still a blank as a vocalist, and I like him far more as a pop singer than something more “serious”, but this is an improvement.