According to a tweet from Ke$ha (since deleted, but reprinted in Billboard), she was “forced” to sing the lyric to “Die Young”, which has been pulled from radio in the wake of the Newtown shooting. Aside from the fact that it’s hard to imagine Ke$ha being forced to do anything against her will, her statement brings up a lot of questions. Since “Die Young” isn’t just the lyric but the title, and since Ke$ha is credited as a songwriter—along with producers Dr. Luke, Benny Blanco, and Cirkut, and also Nate Reuss of fun.—you have to wonder how much she contributed to the song. As often happens, her credit may be nothing more than a courtesy, though since her name appears first in the list of songwriters that’s doubtful. With three producers working on the track, it was most likely pieced together from a number of separate ideas, so there’s no knowing, without more information, who wrote the hook or came up with that title. Unless her tweet was just a way of making herself look better, it makes you wonder how much control of her career Ke$ha has. It does, however, explain why her vocals on “Die Young” sound so stiff.
Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Eugenides’ first response to being asked about whether books by men and women are received differently is to name three women who write well-regarded literary fiction — Zadie Smith, Joyce Carol Oates, and Alice Munro. He’s right, of course, that they’re heavily covered and well-reviewed. But the argument has never been that there are no recognized women writers of literary fiction, so the existence of three isn’t determinative. Both conscious and unconscious bias often don’t lock a door completely as much as make it much harder to open. Those women would exist whether there was bias or not. That’s why you can’t answer a question about racial issues in Hollywood by putting your hands over your ears and yelling “WILL SMITH AND DENZEL WASHINGTON!*
I’ve been thinking something much along these lines myself in regard to country music. Here’s a quiz: Off the top of your head, name as many female solo performers as you can who had their first country top ten in the last five or six years. I’ll give you the first three: Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert. If you can name any others, you’re one up on me (there have been some, but most, such as Sunny Sweeney, have been one-shots who slip quickly from memory). At the same time, there has been a flood of interchangeable male country singers telling us about their trucks, their beer, and their women: Jake Owen, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Billy Currington, Eric Church, Justin Moore, Kip Moore, Greg Bates, Dierks Bentley, Brantley Gilbert, Zac Brown, and on and on. Of all of them (and there are a lot more), only Church comes close to the level of talent of those three women. There’s no doubt that women can be successful in Nashville if they’re supremely talented, or a genius. But if they’re just above average or mediocre? Forget it. Only white males get to be mediocre and still have a career. Which doesn’t mean I want the country charts filled with mediocre women at the same levels as mediocre men. I’d much rather get rid of the men. But looking at the top of the heap is never going to give you an idea of the real state of things. We’ve reached a point where, thank God, the best will generally rise to the top, regardless of gender or race. It’s all that room in the middle that needs to be dealt with. You know, the zone where most people actually live.
Statements that make me vow not to write about anything released less than six months ago, no matter how good it may beWednesday, September 28th, 2011
Two weeks? Damn, that’s not just not brand new, it’s dead.
As their craft improves their energy, though still strong, becomes more streamlined and automatic, and less interesting. This is above-average pop-metal, but if the song weren’t so obviously about the band’s fractious split last year, would anybody care?
Brad Paisley with Carrie Underwood—”Remind Me”
Frustrating. It’s a good idea for a song, the chorus is cute and catchy, and Paisley’s first guitar solo is as erotic as country ever gets. But Paisley loses control of this record somehow, which is rare for him. By the end, the arrangement seems designed to drown out the singers, and since we’re talking about Carrie Underwood, more drowning out is required than normal ears can stand; some of her high notes are so piercing they could be used in invisible fencing systems.
A gimmicky confection based on what I assume is a Euro-disco sample, which, coming from Pitbull, is just about my favorite sub-genre right now. It gets a bit tiresome when you sit and listen, but I bet it kills on the dance floor. Pitbull isn’t a genius, but he knows what he wants and he knows how to get it. His single-mindedness may be his greatest virtue.
I’ve been debating whether I should refuse to comment on The Voice singles the same way I have Glee, and this record, horrible in every way, certainly makes me lean in that direction. I understand the power of television to make hits, but this, even more than Glee, is an unjustifiable waste of time and energy. It isn’t a waste of talent though, because no actual talent is involved.
Selena Gomez & the Scene—”Bang Bang Bang”
What has always separated producers Tim James and Antonina Armato (otherwise known, unfortunately, as Rockmafia) from their Disney-pop colleagues is the undercurrent of smoldering eroticism that runs through their music. Even though they’re making straight pop records in a time of excess, they almost always keep their cool, and rarely overplay their hand. Gomez, it turns out, is the perfect delivery system for their brand of low-key sensuality: relaxed, knowing, and all-powerful without once raising her voice or engaging in meaningless melisma, she sounds more mature and experienced than not only her own 18 years, but than most 30-year-olds. The obvious double entendre of the title may make the message too clear, but even without it everyone would know exactly what this guy will be missing. And yet radio still treats Gomez like she’s kid’s stuff.
Toby Keith—”Made In America”
In a way it’s a relief that Keith saved his jingoistic nonsense for the fourth or fifth single off his new album. He’s probably as tired of this stuff as most everyone else, and only does it because it’s expected of him. If the earlier tracks had been more successful he probably wouldn’t have released this as a single at all. But here it is all the same, another stolid piece of propaganda, country-style, all about the patriotic act of paying a little more for locally produced goods (maybe he should join the locavore movement). Odd exception: the King James bible. Keith must know that’s not really an American product, right?
Gavin DeGraw—”Not Over You”
Ryan Tedder, as producer, continues his way down the pop music foodchain and finds a willing victim in DeGraw, who hasn’t had a decent hit since his debut six years ago and welcomes Tedder and his echoey drums with open arms. The result is old-school faux-soulful sincerity updated with new-school faux-soulful sincerity. Just what we’ve all been waiting for.
Reviewed in Bubbling Under, 5/28/11
Martina McBride—”Teenage Daughters”
Reviewed in Bubbling Under, 4/16/11
The producer says this is intended as a tribute to Bob Marley, which is odd since dancehall barely existed when Marley died. Whatever the case, this may be Rihanna’s worst single: cliched, pretentious, badly sung, and misguided in almost every way. Maybe it’s time she took a vacation, if such a thing is even possible these days for a star of her magnitude.
Trey Songz featuring Drake—”Unusual”
Trey’s idea of unusual sex is doing it on the hood of the car, and his idea of unusual music to match is something that grinds with the same old lover man vibe, only with little dynamic hiccups and swoops thrown in. Drake, meanwhile, is bearable, and even makes a medium-funny joke. For him, that is unusual. It’s a crude joke, though, which isn’t unusual at all.
The Airborne Toxic Event—”Changing”
Most likely this won’t be a hit: the band has never had much of a following, their earlier records weren’t very good, and this one sounds so much like The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside”—especially the middle eight—that it’s almost laughable. Except there’s that echo of the Afghan Whigs in the the title and theme, a power-rock hook better than probably anything else we’ll hear this year, and an attitude that’s sounds knowing and self-deprecating even through a wall of guitars and knee-jerk self-defense. In other words: smarter than you might think, even if they are sexist as hell.
Josh Turner—”I Wouldn’t Be A Man”
I like Turner. He picks good material, and he has a good, if not brilliant way around a lyric. He’s too dependent on his voice, though, and in his own quiet way he’s more interested in showing off the lower depths of his range than making an emotional point. Which may explain why his material is good, but not great.
Parachute—”Kiss Me Slowly”
Another mid-tempo love ballad boring in its sincerity and wrongheaded in its Songwriting 101 attention to detail. The 14th floor? Really? Is that supposed to mean something? The fourteenth floor isn’t all that high, it doesn’t sound romantic, and if it’s some personal detail that only she would recognize maybe you should be singing it to her and leave the rest of us alone.
Katy Perry featuring Kanye West—”E.T.”
Perry is justifiably famous—or infamous, depending on how you look at it—for working all sorts of sexual innuendo into her music without ever sounding lewd or crude. Her double entendres always sound innocent, if such a thing is possible, and squeaky clean. Apparently, Kanye West thought something should be done about this, because his rap is as crude as it could possibly be, and will only throw fuel on the growing argument over his apparent misogyny. We’ve always known that he knew how to make a record; now we know how easily he can spoil one, too.
New Boyz featuring The Cataracs & Dev—”Backseat”
This goes a long way towards rehabilitating New Boyz, who I worried had been completely corrupted by the industry on their last single. Their raps are bouncy and energetic again, and their youth gives them an edge over the competition. All the same, this record belongs to The Cataracs, and though it’s good it’s not as good as they’ve been in the past. It’s fresher than most of the other rap on the charts, though. I’ve been loving the stuff coming out of Los Angeles lately, and this is another one.
“Take Me Or Leave Me”, #51
“Somebody To Love”, #62
I know, I swore I wasn’t going to review anymore of this stuff, but I did say that I would make an exception if they ever did anything interesting, and since putting out decent music qualifies, as far as Glee is concerned, as doing something interesting, I felt it was only fair to mention it. Especially since it’s not just one decent recording, but all four. None of these are great, and all the usual flaws—weak singing, simplistic arrangements, a tendency towards show tune coyness—still apply, but somehow they seem to be less glaring in this week’s batch. In fact, this is easily the best week Glee has ever had. On the Justin Bieber numbers the usual weaknesses are actually an advantage—the songs seem more human, less fine-tuned and calculated, and hence more emotional. If anything, these versions help to point out the biggest problem with Bieber: that his singing conveys no feeling whatsoever, not even innocence or naivete, just a blank nothingness. And for those Bieber haters who still found themselves being sucked in by “Baby”, now you know why: it’s a great song. As for “Sing”, even My Chemical Romance fans would have to admit that the chorus makes a lot more sense sung by a choir, even if the lead vocals are weak.
Justin Bieber—”Born To Be Somebody”
Since he recently changed his hairstyle, I’m hoping this will be the last gasp of the old, mid-adolescence Bieber, and that after this he’ll at least move on to high school. In the meantime, see above.
Some country critics think that Young has a lot of promise, but I can’t see it. His voice is fine, but this is the third single in a row that has demonstrated a smarm and manipulative shamelessness that strikes me as glaringly obvious. This time, he goes back for one last booty call before dumping his girlfriend (his wife?). Apparently in country you can get away with this sort of sexist hypocrisy as long as you sound unhappy while you do it.
Tinie Tempah featuring Eric Turner—”Written In the Stars”
Reviewed in Bubbling Under, 2/13/11
The Black Eyed Peas—”Just Can’t Get Enough”
I appreciate their attempt to mix the ’80s pop they grew up on with the “future” they created on their last album, but so far the results have been disappointing. This song doesn’t build at all, it just shifts gears two-thirds of the way through, and not in an appealing way. That electric DJ voice is getting truly irritating and, unlike many others, this is not a band I’m easily irritated by.
It’s always difficult to know how much of what Todd Snider says is the truth; even he can’t tell sometimes. So I don’t know if he should be taken at his word in this new interview, but he makes references to two projects I’d love to hear. One, a rock band side project with the brilliant Elizabeth Cook on lead vocals; two, a song called “Major Religions of the World Ranked By Size”. I also enjoy the fact that he had nothing whatever to do with his new live album, other than it being him, of course, and that he still hasn’t heard it.
I haven’t heard this record… Cause I thought if I listened to it, I’d start chopping it up and fucking it up.
So, I had my buddy Elvis, who tour manages me, and then there’s this other kid, Brian, that they call ‘Magnum D.U.I.’ and sometimes they call him ‘Foghat,’ and he records all our shows, and those two got together and made what they thought was the best of about a year and a half of stuff.
A remix of “Born This Way” over video of a guy who, if those are real tattoos, I am both impressed and slightly repulsed by, which was no doubt his intention. The track itself I’m still absorbing. No idea how it relates to the pop version (aside from being sung in German), which comes out next month. Too dance for pop, too short for a dance track, but it still sounds promising. The English translation, though (as provided by MTV), makes it sound a little preachy—”I’m absolutely clear/ As long as I’m a monster/ I wish we all could be blind/ It would be easier out there.” My figuring, partly based on the way Gaga has been hyping it up, is the album will either be as brilliant as she says it is or a total disaster. She doesn’t seem to be allowing herself any middle ground.
Update: Now embeddable, with better sound, and apparently retitled “Anatomy of Change”. This is growing on me.
According to almost everyone, 2010 has been a great year in just about every genre: alternative, country, hip-hop, techno—great records have been popping up everywhere, from both new and old artists, with a full schedule of promising releases to come.
But if that’s true, and for the most part I think it is, not much of that greatness has been showing up on the pop chart, or if it has it’s come and gone so fast it’s barely been noticed. At least four of my favorite records this year, “Super High”, “Love King”, “I’m Single”, and “Reverse Cowgirl”, disappeared from the chart after a week or two. Others, such as Jay-Z’s “On To the Next One” struggled to climb into the top 30, and then dropped quickly once they reached their peak.
Mind you, if what you’re looking for is party music, you can’t do much better than most of the records that made the top ten this year. Straight ahead rhythms uncomplicated by any sense of hesitancy or messy emotion have dominated the market, with only top drawer sellers like Rihanna and Eminem daring anything that requires much thought on the part of the audience. I like a lot of the records that have made the top ten so far this year, but I can think of only one or two that will have any long lasting effect. Party music is designed to be ephemeral, so that’s hardly a criticism, just a recognition of the way things are, and are likely to remain for some time.
Most of what I consider the best of the year so far comes from a little further down the charts, though of course that’s no guarantee of durability. Even I was surprised, though, that my number one would turn out to be the darkest record to make the charts this year, a record so full of bad feeling that it dropped off the charts after a single week and has been ignored by just about everybody. Who’d have thought I could feel alone in praising a Lil Wayne single?
As for the worst, it should be pointed out that this list does not include any of the Glee Cast singles, which are not only terrible but should never have been released in the first place. If I had included them, they would have occupied all ten places and then some. At one point, I considered making “Ice Ice Baby” both the worst and best single of the year, but that was just cynicism. I feel better now, honest.
The Best So Far (in approximate order of preference)
1. Lil Wayne – I’m Single
2. The-Dream – Love King
3. Cali Swag District – Teach Me How To Dougie
4. The Black Eyed Peas – Rock That Body
5. Rick Ross featuring Ne-Yo – Super High
6. Selena Gomez and the Scene – Naturally
7. Jay-Z featuring Swizz Beats – On To the Next One
8. Miranda Lambert – The House That Built Me
9. Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind
10. T-Pain – Reverse Cowgirl
The Worst (in alphabetical order)
1. Alpha Rev – New Morning
2. Artists for Haiti – We Are the World 25
3. Justin Bieber featuring Jaden Smith – Never Say Never
4. Dirty Heads featuring Rome of Subllime with Rome – Lay Me Down
5. David Guetta featuring Fergie and LMFAO – Gettin’ Over You
6. Avril Lavigne – Alice
7. Muse – Neutron Star Collision (Love Is Forever)
8. Christina Perri – Jar of Hearts
9. Mike Posner – Cooler Than Me
10. Shiny Toy Guns – Major Tom