Small Towns and Limousines—Hot 100 Roundup—1/25/14

Lucy Hale—“You Sound Good To Me”

A perfectly decent record, and solo female voices have become so rare on the country charts (unless they’re named Taylor, Carrie, or Miranda), that I won’t even complain about Hale having gotten there by acting on a TV show first. Can’t complain about the music, either, which is straightforward but tougher then you might expect. I can complain about the lyrics, though, which fall too neatly into line with the dominant bro-country aesthetic. They’re almost, in fact, an explanation of why bro-country is so popular with women as well as men: it’s all those friendly, gravelly voices pouring sugar in their ears. I’ve long suspected as much, and it’s good to have my suspicions confirmed, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.


The first section is something of a pale M.I.A. imitation, but the second is pure Beyonce, and except for the brief French interpolation (too tired a trope to work) it’s nearly perfect. Though the chorus leans a little toward Beyonce’s I’ll-do-anything-to-please-you schtick, the rest is lustful equality, even if it’s Jay Z doing most of the tearing and spilling. I just wish I could be sure this was charting based on its quality and not people’s pornographic fantasies about the Carters’ sex life.

Randy Houser—“Goodnight Kiss”, #93
Thomas Rhett—“Get Me Some of That”, #94

I complain a lot about the bro-country assembly line, but that doesn’t mean nothing good ever rolls off of it. These are both solid, above-average records. Rhett is better at shifting the cliches around and making something fresh out of them, but Houser creates a comfortable niche for himself, as well, and plays the soft/loud trick like a true pro. Musically, they both roar as hard as country rock ever does, and Rhett even manages to work a little swing in (though not as much as he has in the past). Just wish they were a little less bro about women, especially Houser, who’s still trading in high school scenarios at the age of 38.

Eric Church—“Give Me Back My Hometown”

Another epic production, but this time with the sense of detail and proportion that “The Outsiders” lacked. It’s hard to imagine anyone coming close to tears over memories of a Pizza Hut, but Church makes you believe it. His voice is thin, but he uses it so effectively that he almost covers up the John Mellencamp elements in the backing track. But then, Mellencamp is exactly what the people Church sings about would be listening to.

J. Cole featuring Amber Coffman & The Cults—“She Knows”

Cole’s problem is that even though he has decent ideas and a good ear for beats and hooks, he isn’t a good enough rapper to make any of those things stick in your head. I’m always impressed by the sound of his records (especially this one) when I’m listening to them, but I have a hard time remembering them afterwards. Maybe, in his own way, he’s too tasteful to make things stick. Whatever the case, his music, as good as it often is, leads nowhere.

Flo Rida—“How I Feel”

Another great blues sample (Nina Simone this time), and overall this thumps along as well as all the rest of Flo Rida’s singles. But where did he get the idea that we actually want to understand what he says? He speaks eloquently enough with hooks and rhythm; the raps are just filigree. Yet suddenly he’s slowing down the flow and enunciating, like he can’t wait for us to appreciate his clunky verbal gymnastics. When a hit machine loses track of what makes his records sell, that’s a bad sign. Expect worse soon.


Ever wonder what Alicia Keys would sound like if she were a man who talked dirty? Me either, but here it is all the same. Even the dirty talk can’t distract from how dull the music is.

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Insert Clever SEO Headline Pun Here: Hot 100 Roundup—1/18/14

The Fray—“Love Don’t Die”

Their toughened-up sound makes them more bearable—though you still have to listen to the lead mumbler suck in his saliva between every line (he’s so sincere about it, too)—but it doesn’t make their stockpile of cliches any more interesting. It might even make them worse. Also, when The Fray go uptempo they sound like Train.

Jerrod Nieman—“Drink To That All Night”

Nieman is such a tasteful experimentalist that this party record feels beneath him. Not that I can’t imagine Nieman in a honky tonk, but I see him sitting off to the side, sipping an expensive scotch and watching the carryings on with a bemused smile on his face, not as the center of the action. He throws enough change-ups on the cliches to make this an interesting listen the first couple of times through, but it really is just another country party record, and his sense of taste makes it less rambunctious than it should be.

Bruno Mars—“Young Girls”

The Smeezingtons, of which Mars is the public face, are good songwriters and decent producers, but they’ve yet to make a record that captures the energy and showmanship of Mars’s live performances. This song, which sets the basic theme of Unorthodox Jukebox (bet you didn’t know it had a theme, did you? Mars is full of surprises), is solid and professional, but it never comes to life the way it should, even when that “Be My Baby” beat comes crashing in. Whether this is the Smeezingtons’s fault or Mars himself (his greatest flaw is polishing all his edges off) is hard to say, but it’s time one or the other of them, preferably both, stood out and dirtied themselves up a bit. They’ve got the chops, now they have to stop thinking about them so much and get down to business.

Dan + Shay—“19 You + Me”

Now that Rascal Flatts has become interesting (no, really), a whole range of contestants are vying for the country vacuity title. Parmalee came close, and Florida Georgia Line are winning on the charts, but this duo may be the best candidate yet. Note the near absence of twang, the dependence on the most obvious harmonies, the sunshiny metaphors. The song should actually be called “California Beautiful”, but why alienate the rural audience before they’ve even heard the record? Besides, you’ve got to keep that plus-sign brand element going. Then again, when your song takes place on Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, why mention California at all unless your shooting for the west coast country audience as well? Their first single and they’re already trying to play all the angles.

Pharrell Williams—“Happy”

Not sure he’d appreciate the title, but this record makes Pharrell the king of easy-listening retro R&B. It’s only a soundtrack cut, probably nothing he invested much work or thought in, but it’s turning into a huge hit, and he’s stuck with it. As are we–it’s so catchy that after two or three hearings you’ll never get it out of your head. It isn’t horrible, but we’re all going to be sick of it come spring, if not sooner.

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Freezie Pop: Hot 100 Roundup—1/11/14

DJ Snake & Lil Jon—“Turn Down For What”

The best yeller in the business shores up the cracks in an overwrought pastiche of trap cliches. I like the yelling, I even like some of the cliches, but it doesn’t add up to much.

Kristen Bell, Agatha Lee Mon & Katie Lopez—“Do You Want To Build a Snowman?”, #65
Kristen Bell & Idina Menzel—“For the First Time In Forever”, #74

I don’t dislike these songs from Frozen anymore than I dislike any other piece of recent show music. They’re not my style but they’re fine for what they are—they do their job—and as long as they don’t try to be anything else and leave the rest of the pop world alone I don’t have a problem with them and can even enjoy them in the right context (i.e., the movie, which I haven’t seen yet) . But the fact that these songs, along with the earlier “Let It Go “, refuse to budge from the charts portends something awful. We are now faced with a generation of pop listeners who grew up on Glee and various singing competitions and believe that highly dramatized, precisely enunciated, woodenly delivered singing is the epitome of pop vocalization. They’re not old enough to dominate the pop scene yet, but just wait. All we can hope is that the generations that follow them reject the style as energetically as they seem to be embracing it.

Demi Lovato—“Neon Lights”

I bet recording an EDM track seemed like a good idea last year when Lovato released her album. But putting it out as a single now, nearly two years after EDM’s peak, seems like desperation, or at least a throwing up of the hands. Especially when the record is as bad as it is. Did anybody really think this sub-Guetta exercise could be a hit?

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Beyonceworld: Hot 100 Roundup—1/4/14

“Drunk In Love” (featuring Jay Z), #12
“XO”, #66
“Mine” (featuring Drake), #99

I have a lot of respect for Beyonce. Detailing all her virtues would be redundant, especially considering how much has been written by others over the last month. But I’ve always had a problem with her music. She’s always struck me as strident, too let-me-tell-you-what-I-know in her delivery. Her personal drive is both impressive and inspirational, but it infects her music and sometimes gets in the way of simple enjoyment. She constantly emphasizes how strong and superior she is, and often presents this, and many people accept it as such, as a form of feminist self-respect. That may be true, but it also just happens to play comfortably, and profitably, into the longings of her audience, and fuels their sometimes fanatic devotion. I don’t doubt her principles, but she’s learned how to play all the angles on them, and takes full commercial advantage. There’s an air of calculation to everything she does, and the feeling that she’s watching herself in a mirror even when she’s in front of an audience. She’s the Meryl Streep of pop singers. She’s very good at what she does, but it’s easy to catch her acting, and that artifice is part of her appeal.

All that being said, the simple fact is that BEYONCE is her best album, an artistic breakthrough and a major step up from her previous records. This is largely due to so much of it being about sex, which allows her to show off her more vulnerable, less strident side (the gravelly tone of her vocal on “XO” is a great example of this; if that’s a calculated effect, it’s a brilliant one). The division between her superwoman persona and her super-please-my-man side is narrowing, and the result is a more complete, more complicated, more rounded presentation of her personality.

These three songs, though, are not the best representation of that shift, because those more complicated ideas may not be what the majority of Beyonce’s audience wants. Except for “XO “, it’s unlikely any of these songs were considered as singles. Maybe it’s part of Beyonce’s marketing plan to let her fans decide what songs to promote, but she must have known that they’d go for the features. “Mine”, which wanders on for over six minutes trying to tell a story that, if I’m not mistaken, runs backward chronologically, is only here because of Drake. The same is probably true of “Drunk In Love” and Jay Z, though its holding on in the top fifteen suggests people actually like it rather than just being curious about the couple’s sex life. “XO”, meanwhile, though it’s a great performance, still bears the fingerprints of writer Ryan Tedder. It’s better than average Tedder, but that’s Beyonce’s doing, not his.

Overall, this is a fine bunch of records, but there are better ones on the album, and these represent the smallest part of what Beyonce has pulled off. More than ever, she’s a pop artist with a capital A, and if that means no longer being a pop star, then so be it. She, and we, can only be better off for it.

Tessanne Chin—“I Have Nothing”

Brantley Gilbert—“Bottoms Up”

Gilbert replaced Jason Aldean as my least favorite country singer about a year ago, and though “Bottom’s Up” is a step up from the contrived heavy metal of his previous singles, it’s not a big step. Gilbert’s moved from AC/DC to Blue Oyster Cult is all, without any appreciable increase in intelligence or decrease in offensiveness. With luck, the double entendre of the title will be the most disgusting thing we’ll hear in country this year. It’s good, I guess, to get it out of the way early.

Tessanne Chin & Adam Levine—“Let It Be”

Jason Derulo featuring 2 Chainz—“Talk Dirty”

Derulo has set himself a simple goal: he wants to be the next Chris Brown, or, since the original won’t go away, another Chris Brown without all the negatives attached. Musically he gets closer with every record—”Talk Dirty” is as fun as a single can be, with its bass sax punching the beat and the jazzy solo as a punchline. It’s all borrowed, but it’s good. There’s a problem, though. I disliked Chris Brown long before anyone knew about his anger problems and his tendency to beat up his girlfriends because his general attitude about women and about himself was evident in almost every record he made. I get the same kind of vibe from Derulo. I’m not suggesting he’s a batterer or will ever become one. But he does sound like an A-class jerk. Especially when he hires young women to act stupid on his records.

Ty Dolla $ign featuring B.o.B.—“Paranoid”

Ah, the poor life of a player: when you’ve got more than one woman, and they know about each other (largely because you’ve been bragging about it and buying them identical Range Rovers), it’s hard not to wonder if they’re plotting against you in some way, though exactly what they might do is never explained. It’s a credit to Ty Dolla $ign that he gets his sad story across, even if he spends the last half of the record reassuring us that he’ll never be so stupid as to actually marry one of these women, or even let them stay the night. The music does a good job of setting the mood and then stays out of the way, while B.o.B emphasizes the not getting married part and then disappears. All around not bad, and if Ty Dolla $ign has anything else to say this could be the start of a promising career. But I bet he doesn’t.

Dierks Bentley—“I Hold On”

This starts out well enough—if the lyrics are obvious at least the music is good—but it quickly turns into another over-loud paean to country virtues. Nothing to get excited about. It bothers me, though, that Bentley’s list of beaten and battered possessions that he’ll never give up ends with his wife. Someone wasn’t paying attention when they put this one together. I hope.

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Naptime, or How Did You Stay Awake in 2013?

If one word could sum up pop music in 2013, I would choose “exhausted”. “Tired” isn’t enough, and “comatose” would be going too far, but “exhausted” seems just right.* It isn’t that people aren’t trying—if anything they’re trying harder than ever, which is part of the problem—but they simply don’t have the energy left. Pop music, and the fame that comes with success, has become a 24/7 endurance test, and anyone who has been in the game longer than a couple of years, especially those who have been at the top, is running out of energy, out of breath, and out of ideas.

The most obvious examples of this are Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber, whose new albums, despite containing decent cuts, lacked the verve and intensity of past efforts (Bieber’s album, in particular, seems almost devoted to the idea of exhaustion, at least musically). The same could be said, to a lesser extent, of Taylor Swift, Rihanna (both of whom, except for some touring, essentially took the year off), Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and any other stars who established themselves in the last five years. Miley Cyrus may have caught the pop audience’s imagination not so much for her onstage antics as for having the energy, after a few years away from the spotlight, to engage in them in the first place. It’s no surprise that people are worn down and out: from 2008 to around the middle of 2012, things were pretty exciting. “Call Me Maybe” may well have been the capstone to the previous four years of development. In 2013 it was time for a nap.

The same sense of exhaustion goes for genres as well as artists. The first wave of pop EDM and dubstep has already depleted itself, and though both are still injecting atmosphere into recent hits, for the most part they’ve been absorbed into more traditional pop forms (Avicii is the most obvious example of this). R&B, meanwhile, has been fading on the charts for the last half decade, and despite attempts at revival by reality TV stars and Italian-American teenagers, has reached an all-time low in terms of chart presence. It’s doubtful that it will ever again be as dominant as it was a decade ago. Rap, with a few major exceptions, has become an assembly line of disposable heroes, each having a hit or two before settling into obscurity. Rap, in fact, is beginning to look more and more like current country, with its endless succession of factory approved rock and rolly good ol’ boys driving their trucks, drinking their beers, and keeping women dancing on tailgates (the country equivalent of a strip club) and off the radio.

Thanks to Billboard counting YouTube plays in their new chart formula, combined with YouTube itself devising a method to monetize fan-made videos, almost all the interesting action on the charts happened in the top ten. A lot was made of records like “Harlem Shake” hitting number one based on video plays, but the widespread irritation seemed to ignore the fact that other, more mainstream records, like “Blurred Lines” and Rihanna’s “Stay”, also benefited from the new policy (both also emphasized—surprise!—female nudity) .

Aside from the occasional novelty, the top ten was largely dominated by old hands (Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, OneRepublic), even older hands making a sudden re- or even first appearance (Justin Timberlake, Daft Punk, Pharrell, Robin Thicke), and one foxy future grandpa (Jay Z). Those new artists who managed to make an impression (Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Imagine Dragons, Avicii) were either terrible in general or scored with terrible records. It’s fair to say that the only great record to make the top ten was Icona Pop’s “I Love It”, which hit the chart almost a year after its initial release. This fact alone gives you an idea of what the year as a whole was like.

Not that there weren’t other great records on the Hot 100, but there weren’t many, none did better than top twenty, and most did worse than that. The two biggest surprises among these were Mariah Carey’s “#beautiful” (really a Miguel track but with Carey listed as main performer), and Paramore’s “Still Into You”. Both are big enough names that you would have expected them to easily glide into the top ten with records of this caliber (especially Paramore, whose new album, their best, debuted at number one). But both struggled (“Still Into You” actually dropped off the chart a couple of times before finally climbing into the top thirty), and their time on the chart was relatively short.

This didn’t have to do with a lack of popularity so much as the amount of room pop radio allows for the kind of music they make. Rock and roll has virtually disappeared from the mainstream pop charts, and, as I mentioned before, r&b has been fading, leaving little opportunity for anyone in that genre, no matter how big a star they once were.

The biggest story of the year, though, and certainly the most depressing, is the near disappearance of black artists in general, whatever their style of music, from the top ten. By the most basic metric—the percentage of top ten records made by black artists—there hasn’t been a worse year in the history of the Hot 100. That’s fifty-five years. Even in 1964, when the British invasion knocked the girl groups out of the charts, a higher percentage of black artists made the top ten than in 2013. I plan on writing more about this soon, so for now let’s just say it’s bad but shouldn’t have been unexpected, most likely it won’t get any worse (though it could), and I don’t think it can be ascribed to racism.

That reminds me, I forgot about Lorde, didn’t I? And I barely mentioned Miley Cyrus. Or twerking. Or any of the other stories we’ve heard too much of all year. Talk about being exhausted. It’s possible, I suppose, that I’m the only one who’s worn out, but I doubt it. Maybe everything will revive this year. I’m not counting on it, but I’m ever hopeful.

*I want to emphasize that I’m talking specifically about pop music here—that is, records aimed at mainstream radio and designed to place as high on the charts as possible. There was a lot of great music released in 2013, just like any other year, but little of it has impacted pop radio or the pop charts—at least as of now.

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Men and Their Stories—Hot 100 Roundup 12/28/13

Justin Bieber featuring Chance the Rapper—“Confident”

Saving the best for last, Bieber finally reaches the end of his string of Journals singles. “Confident” is uptempo reggae with dub touches, a surprise after the moodiness of the previous records. Bieber’s voice is still an issue (he’s much better when he isn’t trying to be soulful), but the music is good, and Chance the Rapper adds a level of humor and brains that’s sorely needed.

Rebecca Black and Dave Days—“Saturday”

Black has put her voice lessons (and maybe some autotune) to good use. Whatever the ultimate value of “Saturday”—and it isn’t much —there’s no doubting she’s a hundred times better singer than she was (wherever this guy Days came from, though, somebody should send him back immediately). She’s more confident, too. Black is well aware that most people see her as a joke, and she’s willing to turn that to her advantage. This isn’t a great record by any definition, but except for Days, it isn’t an embarrassment, either.

Tessanne Chin—“Bridge Over Troubled Water”

Lea Michele—“Cannonball”

A striking intro leads into an ordinary uplift song based on a misguided metaphor: cannonballs don’t “fly”, they describe a simple arc and fall, solid chunks of lead that blindly knock down everything in their path. Is that what Michelle wants to be? Well. We’d all better stand back, then.

Aloe Blacc—“The Man”

Partly because such determined self-exaltation is rare, and partly because it opens with an Elton John rip, I thought at first that “The Man” might be a joke—a stylish satire of bragging and sexual posturing. But something about the way Blacc sings—and his voice is striking, like a mix of Lou Rawls and Bill Withers—makes me think he’s serious. This is the guy who wrote “Wake Me Up”, after all, a song that suggests wisdom comes, like a “Participant” ribbon, from just showing up and hanging around long enough. If he’s going to convince me he’s the Messiah, though, he’s gotta come up with some miracles first. This isn’t one.

Jacquie Lee—“Angel”

R. Kelly featuring 2 Chainz—“My Story”

Surely Kelly, of all people, knows that when you start a tale with “This is my story” and end it with “and I’m sticking to it” everyone assumes you’re lying—or at least leaving certain things unsaid. Is this Kelly’s way of clueing us in on something? Or is he that brazen? Whatever the case, the rest of the song tells us nothing and shows us nothing new. At least, that is, until 2 Chainz steps up to the mic and rhymes “12 plays” with “12th grade”. Brazen it is.

Childish Gambino—“3005”

The chorus imitates Drake, the verses cop from Kendrick Lamar, and there’s the occasional Eminem flow for spice. With these models to work from, the fictional rapper pledges his 1001 years of devotion. Anybody who believes it deserves him.

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Spaghetti Western Christmas: Hot 100 Roundup—12/21/13

Pentatonix—“Little Drummer Boy”

My second least favorite Christmas song (number 1: “Do You Hear What I Hear”), done with a human beatbox (how did that take so long to show up?) and a group of singers who desperately want to be the cast of Glee. Only they’re not as good. Not even close.

Justin Bieber—“Change Me”

A torch song? Really? Let’s face it: Bieber’s extincts are bizarre, as disconnected from the world as can be imagined. Whether this is the result of fame, or being a Canadian born-again teenager, or some combination of the two, would be impossible to say. Maybe it’s just being a teenager in general. Whatever the case, his emotional wandering and wallowing are getting him nowhere, and inviting a woman to “change” him will only make things worse. She wouldn’t be able to, to begin with, and if she tried too hard he’d resent it, and then… Let’s face it, the poor kid’s going to end up a twisted adult, if not a downright freak, no matter what he does. A banal conclusion, I know, but whoever said the travails of pop stardom were profound?

Avicii—“Hey Brother”

This is almost ridiculous enough to be funny. A Swedish DJ with an Italian name creating the theme music for a second rate spaghetti western is ripe with humorous possibilities, none of which Avicii either recognizes or tries to take advantage of. The laughs are all in the idea, not the performance. He means every word, and that saps the humor. Makes you wonder if he gets his own joke.

John Mayer featuring Katy Perry—“Who You Love”

Speaking of the price of fame, here are John Mayer and Katy Perry, recording together for the first time, devoting their talents to a tautology that’s designed as both a love song and an apology to their fans for becoming a couple in the first place. It’s an amazingly tasteful piece of defensiveness, but it’s still defensiveness. They play and sing very prettily all the same, and the outro, where Perry plays call and response with Mayer’s guitar, is more charming than both of them probably deserve. They should try the same thing with an actual song sometime.

Childish Gambino—“Crawl”

Scarey noises, catchy hook, rapping that’s insulting when it isn’t incompetent–that’s the Gambino way. As a comedy routine it’s never funny, even though as rap it’s a joke. Just how gullible does Donald Glover think we are?

Frankie Ballard—“Helluva Life”

A great chorus, and it’s nice to hear someone trying to follow in the footsteps of Brad Paisley. The lyrics,though, are banal when they’re not cliches, and the music is flat. Nice try, though.

Kelly Clarkson—“Underneath the Tree”

Clarkson’s retro instincts are impeccable, and the arrangement and production (Spectorish on the choruses, Motown on the verses) is a delight. Enough of a delight, in fact, to make up for Clarkson’s occasional screechiness. It’s not her fault that she’s not Darlene Love or Martha Reeves, but she should be careful about trying to be.

Lupe Fiasco featuring Ed Sheeran—“Old School Love”

Not sure about old school, but old fashioned, for sure. Old hat, too. And condescending, don’t forget condescending.

Tamar Braxton—“All the Way Home”

I didn’t think much of ‘Love and War”, but this is as excellent a piece of r&b as I’ve heard all year. The whole record is lovely, and Braxton’s performance is classical if not quite classic, but the kick is the drum programming, which drives the underlying emotion home while Braxton glides over the top. What a way to restart a career.

Arctic Monkeys—“Do I Wanna Know?”

How about that: guitar rock that isn’t teen pop, heavy metal bluster, or an americana cash-in. Didn’t know that Arctic Monkeys had a large enough US fan base to get them on the charts, but here they are and they deserve it. Tense, angry, uncertain but defiant, most of all proud, they provide a level of emotional complexity you won’t find anywhere else on the Hot 100. This isn’t their best record, but it’s more than good enough.

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Up Down Up Down: Hot 100 Roundup—12/14/13

Justin Bieber—“Roller Coaster”

Unlike almost every other pop song that has featured a roller coaster, Bieber’s latest entry in his string of diaristic singles uses the slow parts of the ride. The fast bits pay proper homage to the Ohio Players, while the down tempo sections feature the sound of a rattling chain, just like the song’s namesake. But who rides a roller coaster for the slow bits? I realize Bieber’s trying to get at the bipolar aspects of romance, but he’s takng it far too seriously. He sounds moralistic and dull.

Demi Lovato—“Let It Go”, #64
Idina Menzel—“Let It Go”, #89

Lovato has a good voice and bad instincts, with a tendency to stretch songs (not to mention vowels) well beyond their breaking point. Menzel has a passable voice and no musical instincts at all—she’s an actor who’s learned to sing because it’s required of her. Neither is well served by this banal piece of show music, which is barely even a song , but Menzel comes across best. So much better, in fact, in sales as well as style, that it’s difficult not to wonder why Disney commissioned the so-called “single version” to begin with. Lovato does little to make anything out of the song, and gets no help from the hapless “pop” arrangement. Show tunes are probably best left to show people. At least they know what to do with them, however mechanical the result may be.

Florida Georgia Line featuring Luke Bryan—“This Is How We Roll”

Not only is this how Florida Georgia Line rolls, it’s how they roll every time. It’s become impossible to tell their songs apart. Luke Bryan better watch out, or the same will go for him.

Will Champlin—“At Last”

Jason Aldean—“When She Says Baby”

Aldean used to be my least favorite country singer, but time has mellowed him enough to make him mediocre and easy to ignore. This is a perfectly serviceable song, and Aldean does nothing to make it worse. He does nothing to make it better, either.

Enrique Iglesias—“Heart Attack”

I could count the decent records I’ve heard from Iglesias on one finger, but “Heart Attack” (the third single with that title to make the chart in the last two years) has to be a new low. If pop dubstep wasn’t already dead, Iglesias may have killed it. If it was, he dug up the corpse and stomped on it. This is incompetent in almost every way.

Fall Out Boy—“Alone Together”

Some good lines (“This is the road to ruin/And we’re starting at the end”; “My heart is like a stallion/They love it more when it’s broken”), but musically and thematically “Alone Together” is ground Fall Out Boy has covered many times before. They don’t sound like they’re tired of it, but I am.

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Bombs Away: Hot 100 Roundup—12/7/13

One Direction
“Diana”, #11
“Midnight Memories”, #12
“Strong”, #87

Good hooks, good words (mostly about being famous, but then what else would they know?), and they love their rock and roll. But the end result is too stiff, too slick, and too obvious. With five decent voices you’d think they’d try something more daring in terms of vocals, but their harmonies are strictly by the book, and vocal interplay is either beyond them or never enters their heads. We probably won’t know if any of them are worth listening to until they break up. But if there’s a Justin Timberlake in this band he hasn’t shown himself yet.

Justin Bieber featuring R. Kelly—“PYD”

For a singer as empty as Bieber to match himself up with Kelly isn’t brave or daring, it’s just stupid. While Bieber works his hardest, Kelly never breaks a sweat, and once he steps up to the mike you forget Bieber is even on the record. Not that Kelly’s presence makes “P.Y.D.” worth hearing—it’s pretty standard lover-man stuff, the kind of thing Kelly wouldn’t bother with if he wasn’t trying to reestablish himself. Then there’s the matter of a man with Kelly’s history singing to Bieber’s audience. I realize Bieber is trying to sound more adult, but somebody wasn’t thinking too clearly when they came up with this idea.

Kanye West—“Bound 2”

Compared to the rest of Yeezus this could be considered a love song, which means the crashing and clashing electronic noises have been replaced by soul samples and West acknowledges affection for someone besides himself. The samples are jammed together just like everything else on the album, and the rap is more arrogant rant than declaration of love. He’s still demanding that everything be on his terms. As a portrait of West’s id, “Bound 2” is impressive, as a love song it’s a joke, and when you combine it with the video it’s a dumb joke. Only a genius could be so stupid.

John Newman—“Love Me Again”

With his retro clothes and hairstyle and his sense of melodrama, the first thing that came to mind on hearing Newman was Johnnie Ray, but the more obvious influences are more up-to-date: Amy Winehouse and Adele. They sing real songs, though—Newman’s material is designed to hang an overpowering arrangement on and nothing more. His voice isn’t much, and the songwriting is so lazy that the middle eight is essentially just a slowed down version of the verse. Great drums, but that’s the only worthwhile thing to be taken from this.

T-Pain featuring B.o.B.—“Up Down (Do This All Day)”

T-Pain can still put a hook together, but the hook is all there is, and it goes up and down and over and over and on and on. B.o.B.’s here, too, though I keep thinking he’s someone else, and he adds nothing. How much more anonymous can either of these guys become before they disappear completely?

Ariana Grande—“Last Christmas”

“Last Christmas” is pretty much foolproof, but like too many Christmas records Grande uses it as an excuse for grandstanding (and with Mariah Carey as her model she really knows how to grandstand). Producers Babyface and The Rascals don’t help by overhyping the beat. Did any of them care what the song is actually about? If they did you’d never know it.

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An Agreement of Sound? Hot 100 Roundup—11/30/13

Matthew Schuler—“Hallelujah”

Justin Bieber—“All Bad”

Over three minutes, but, just like “Bad Day”, “All Bad” sounds like a fragment—verse, chorus, verse, chorus, no bridge or middle eight, no lyrical conclusion or climax. Considering the concept of Journals this makes sense, and strung together songs like this may have more impact. But in isolation they become odd experiments and nothing else. And forgive me for going on about this (his release schedule leaves me no choice), but I get nothing from Bieber’s voice at all: it’s a lifeless hole in the middle of some well-made music.

American Authors—“Best Day of My Life”

This tidbit from their Wikipedia entry tells you almost everything you need to know:

Their second single, “Best Day of My Life,” was featured in a Lowe’s television advertisement in the United States, a Hyundai television advertisement in the United Kingdom, a Telecom New Zealand advertisement, a trailer for the film Delivery Man, and the opening sequence for ESPN’s 2013 World Series of Poker coverage.

If that’s not enough, consider this statement of purpose from their web page:

We express our experiences as a shared unit, through music and an agreement of sound. With lows come highs and fighting always has an end. We accept struggle and are passionate about the lives we lead. We create the music that comes naturally to us and we’re not afraid of change. We are thrilled about the present. We all have a story to tell, whether it’s audible, visual, silence or motion. We are constantly creating new moments to share. We are American Authors from Brooklyn, New York.

Finally, to finish the picture, you should know they all attended the Berklee College of Music, made two failed albums as The Blue Pages while living in Boston, and then moved to Brooklyn where the big time beckoned. This is indie pop in 2013. You can’t make this shit up.

Jon Pardi—“Up All Night”

Pardi sounds like a second-rate Florida Georgia Line and…well, just think about that for a minute.

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