It’s theme week: two country songs about dirt and dust (and titled as such), and three about female self-image and self-empowerment (four if you count Echosmith, and you might even include John Legend, though he’s just buttering his lady up and it’s hard to tell how much he means it). Even though Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” is the only one worth hearing more than twice, I don’t take a week like this lightly. It means something, even if that something is as vague as the idea that some people are starting to think harder about certain things. It also means something not because of the songs themselves, but because for this one week at least, they’re among the 100 most popular songs in the country (give or take a few, depending on how much you trust Billboard’s chart formula), which means that for a large number of people, at least for a moment, these messages are registering and getting across. There are all sorts of caveats that need to be attached to that idea (Colbie Callait, for instance, has enough fans to guarantee chart placement no matter what her songs are about or whether people even listen to them more than once; how many of her fans appreciate her message is open to question, especially since the song has already dropped off the chart), but it matters all the same. I don’t much like writing about music as sociology, but the Hot 100, for all it’s flaws, is one of the best barometers we’ve got. So even if I don’t care for most of the music, this week makes me hopeful.
Florida Georgia Line—“Dirt”
From dirt they came and to dirt they shall return. And as goddamn soon as possible, please.
A good idea for a song, but except for the bridge this is so repetitive it kills it’s own message. There are a lot more independent black women out there than Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama, and just think what a great hook could be built out of listing them. Names, ladies, we need names!
John Legend—“You & I (Nobody In the World)”
In some ways this is more interesting than “All Of Me”: more enticing rhythmically, with more variety and maybe even emotion. But Legend is a guy who seems to make up his songs as he goes along, probably in his sleep, and if he can’t even wake himself up why should anyone else bother?
Word is that Colbie Caillat loves “All About That Bass”, and it’s a shame she couldn’t have heard it before she recorded this piece of overly earnest self-acceptance, especially since her colleagues on the adult contemporary chart have been outdoing themselves this year. She’s always lacked humor (she faked it with charm), but who knew she took herself this seriously? Or could be this dull?
Meghan Trainor—“All About That Bass”
Her favorite genres of music are soca, fifties rock and roll, and doo-wop. She played in her father’s jazz band as a kid, and got her start in the biz writing for Rascal Flatts. She’s got attitude to spare, but knows how to be silly. Her hooks glide and cascade and will bounce around inside your head forever. In other words, if she can keep her current trajectory and find the right collaborators, Meghan Trainor could be the Kirsty MacColl of her generation, and I don’t know why anyone would complain about that. To actually pull off a pop confection like this is an amazing thing, involving the alignment of the planets and the interference of the gods. Complain people do, though. Yes, it’s a little showtuney, but since the show is Hairspray, so what? And I actually like the fact that the bass isn’t overwhelming—it puts the emphasis on her voice and the body it emanates from. Worst of all are the false comparisons between this and Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”, and the suggestion that “All About That Bass” was somehow designed to keep Minaj off the charts. Coincidence isn’t conspiracy, and anyone who believes it is is destined for a deeply unhappy existence. As is anyone who can’t appreciate this record for what it is, instead of projecting their own prejudiced principles on it or wishing it would go away.
Comparisons to Lorde are too easy with these guys, and, except for the vocals, totally beside the point. Cheap irony like this is beneath Lorde, and she’s way beyond caring about who’s cool and who isn’t. She has no interest in rehashing the nineties or Foster the People, either. Most of all, her music is barely touched by self-pity, whereas Echosmith are interested in nothing else. They’ll really have something to feel bad about when their fifteen minutes are up.
The simple genius of a track like “Versace” is something most groups are lucky to achieve even once, so it’s no surprise that the follow-up is packed with dumb sound effects, endless, boring raps, and crudely violent sexual metaphors. Needless to say, “Fight Night” is now the bigger hit of the two. And with that feng shui reference I’m now beginning to wonder if “Versace” was the joke I thought it was. They aren’t as smart as I thought, that’s for sure.
Eli Young Band—“Dust”
I still think Young has promise, but you’d never know it by this pale Tom Petty imitation. Even paler than Petty, if you can imagine such a thing.
Frankie Ballard—“Sunshine & Whiskey”
I liked Ballard’s last single, “Helluva Life”, but this is way too cute for its own good, especially the second verse. He sound as if he thinks far too highly of himself, and he hasn’t done enough yet to deserve even that, much less our admiration.