Pentatonix—“Mary, Did You Know?”
Lyrically risible (“This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you”), theologically unsound (Jesus was never the lord of any nation, and he rejected the opportunity when Satan offered it to him), vocally undistinguished (if it weren’t for the fussy arrangements, you wouldn’t notice these people on a street corner), “Mary Did You Know” is a living example of why people with music degrees can’t be trusted. Especially one’s whose taste barely ranges beyond the Glee soundtracks.
“Night Changes”, #55
“Stockholm Syndrome”, #99
When I said that Louis Tomlinson looked to be at the forefront of the One Direction members writing their material, I didn’t mean he was the only one doing any writing—Harry Styles does, as well—but that he seems to have a hand in all their best songs. Both “Night Changes” and the earlier “Steal My Girl” share small, homely touches that ground them in real life and raise them above the generic norm of boy band songwriting, and since Tomlinson is credited on both songs and Styles only on “Night Changes” I’m assuming those touches are his. “Night Changes” may well be the better of the two, though, with a subtle melody and a simple story written largely from the girl’s, and her mother’s, point of view. The song’s guarded optimism and dye-eyed sentimentality are a welcome break from the boy band (and One Direction) norm. As for “Stockholm Syndrome”, the idea is silly if not, in this era of hostage taking, tasteless. But it does allow you to add XTC to the band’s surprising list of influences: the song is a dead ringer for “King For A Day”.
Band Aid 30—“Do They Know It’s Christmas? (2014)”
Speaking of risible lyrics, this time with a post-colonialist condescending tinge, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” has been the champ for 30 years, and it’s still going strong. “…the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom” should be on every goth’s Black Christmas card, and the rest is on almost the same level (and that’s putting aside the fact that many of the people this charity single aims to help don’t celebrate Christmas to begin with). In an age where oversinging is the norm, the horrible lyrics are given an even greater dose of ridiculousness. Ellie Goulding, who has apparently decided that her vocal quirks are singing, comes off worst, but no one escapes unscathed. And just think: Bono has done this three times now.
Nicki Minaj Featruing Skylar Grey—“Bed Of Lies”
Why Minaj feels the need to essay an Eminem imitation, even co-opting the unbearable Skylar Grey, is beyond me. To prove that’s she’s better than him? What would be the point? Everybody is better than Eminem right now. Whatever the case, the song is worthless except for yet another line that makes me giggle: “A thousand count and not a single threaded truth”. It’s a good week for bad writing.
Yes, just like everybody else, I love the way he shouts “Baking soda! I got baking soda!” But ever since Chief Keef’s breakthrough there’s been a growing trend toward rappers who sound as if they’re barely skirting the edge of mental health. Maybe it’s all an act, but it’s beginning to feel more and more like exploitation. I know, what else is new? But if you’re looking for evidence of rap’s continuing decay, you couldn’t do better than this. Remember when indie rock did the same thing?
Idina Menzel with Michael Buble—“Baby It’s Cold Outside”
I generally refute any claims of stalker-like creepiness in regard to this song, but with Buble turning the smarm up to 11 it’s hard to deny in this case (“I like to think of it as opportunistic”—yuck). Considering the accusations recently leveled at Bill Cosby, didn’t anyone question whether it was wise to have Menzel sing the line “Say, what’s in this drink?” while Buble leers over her? There’s a simple solution to this problem, of course: reverse the genders the way the original performance, in the movie “Neptune’s Daughter”, did. That’s how Lady Gaga performed it on her gaghastly Christmas special, but I haven’t heard any other recent versions that do the same. Gives you an idea of how much thought most people put into their Christmas records. And hey, why isn’t there a Lady Gaga Christmas album?
Matt McAndrew—“Take Me To Church”
Usher featuring Juicy J—“I Don’t Mind”
Give Juicy J credit, he’s a hell of a lot more honest on this song than Usher is. He knows “I Don’t Mind” is nothing more at heart than a male fantasy about having other men ogle your woman but only you being allowed to touch her, and he caps it by asking her to bring some friends with her when she comes home at 3:00 AM. Usher, meanwhile, trades in well-meaning paternalism. He never suggests that he owns this woman or that she owes him anything, but it never seems to occur to him that she didn’t ask for his permission or even needs to. And let’s face it, the Beyonce reference is just crass.