You Only Live Once, But You Can Make Bad Pop About It Forever
Hot 100 Roundup—10/4/14

Jennifer Lopez featuring Iggy Azalea—“Booty”
#18

Note the use of the third-person: it isn’t her own booty Lopez is singing about, it’s some nameless object of male attention. She sounds more like a madame, a famous courtesan herself once upon a time, showing off the finer points of the merchandise to her gentleman customers. Not sure where Iggy Azalea fits in that scenario, but her presence doesn’t make things any better.

Jason Aldean—“Gonna Know We Were Here”
#63

This isn’t just bad—lazy, boorish, barely thought out—it borders on the offensive. Maybe it’s the hackneyed YOLO sentimentality, or the line in the chorus about leaving a few stains (Jason Aldean’s bodily fluids, what a delightful image that is), or maybe it’s the tacked on sound of a scratchy record on a track that contains no samples courtesy of an artist whose music isn’t even available on vinyl. What a fraud.

August Alsina featuring Nicki Minaj—“No Love”
#73

Forget about Alsina, who’s a bore: this record is all about Nicki Minaj, whose most recent MO is to grab a guest spot and use it to call out her host on his sexism and/or stereotypical attitudes. “No Love” is the best of the bunch so far. First she softens Alsina up by declaring “No Love” her favorite song, then she croons her affection for him, and then she goes for the kill, still crooning: “You’re so fuckin’ conceited/Why you coming over weeded?” It doesn’t save the record, but it comes close. Could someone sneak her onto a Chris Brown track again?

Florida Georgia Line—“Sun Daze”
#83

“Dirt” was a downer, an obvious, calculated paean to country pieties, but here Florida Georgia Line return to their three great loves: booze, pot, and sex (not necessarily in that order, but close enough). As dumb pop music goes, theirs may be among the dumbest, but they do mange to keep their hooks strong, and if wasn’t for that stupid whistling this would be almost as good a record as “Cruise” (the original, not the remix). They should never go near a reggae beat again, though, or even be allowed to mention Bob Marley’s name.

The Script—“Superheroes”
#88

The Script’s superpower, apparently, is banality and the ability to launch self-help homilies at will. What kind of accent is that on the middle eight, though? Irish, Jamaican? Whatever it is, it sounds even more fake than usual.

Chris Brown—“X”
#98

The Diplo beat is OK, but it’s a rehash; if anything it’s less adventurous than some of the music Brown has used in the past. As for Brown himself, for all his declarations, nothing has changed. He sings better than ever, but he still blames everybody else, especially women, for his troubles. He’s hasn’t learned a thing, and there are too many people in the world invested in making sure he never does. I never thought one of them would be Diplo, though.

Wiz Khalifa Featuring Snoop Dogg & Ty Dolla $ign—“You And Your Friends”
#99

The beat is good, but that’s not Khalifa. The hook is OK, but that’s not Khalifa, either. Where is Khalifa? Oh, he’s that guy who raps before Snoop Dogg. Sorry, dude, didn’t even notice you were there.

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Future Games
Hot 100 Roundup—9/27/14

Fall Out Boy—“Centuries”
#22

I’d like these guys a lot more if they didn’t seem so concerned about their place in the rock and roll pantheon. Of course, the fact that they believe in a rock and roll pantheon at all, no matter how ironically they may approach it, is a major hurdle. They’re very good at what they do, but I’m not sure what they do means much (what exactly is the “Tom’s Diner” rip supposed to imply?). Besides, aren’t they a little young to be acting like cranky grandpas? “The kids are all wrong”, my ass.

Calvin Harris Featuring John Newman—“Blame”
#31

The are lots of reasons to criticize EDM, but perhaps its greatest sin is the infliction of a universe of horrible male singers on innocent ears. Harris himself doesn’t have much of a voice, but at least he’s smart enough not to emote the way John Newman does. If you need to gargle, dude, do it before you sing, not while.

Jason Aldeaan—“Two Night Town”
#76

Not great, but at least Aldean shows the good sense to keep things straightforward and resists the urge to turn this into yet another power-ballad. Slightly above average for current country, way above average for Aldean.

Nick Jonas—“Jealous”
#78

The music is a weird, era-warped, EDM jumble; it’s feels all wrong but it holds your attention. Jonas, however, continues to be one of the world’s worst singers, overwrought with little in terms of vocal equipment to compensate. There’s nothing technically wrong with his falsetto, but it sounds awful, and his normal range is almost worse. Every note sounds forced, and it destroys whatever promise the song held to begin with.

Train—“Angel In Blue Jeans”
#91

“Faux-folk based on old western movie themes?” Train asked themselves. “Hell, we can do that with our brains tied behind our backs.” So they did.

Lil Jon Featuring Tyga—“Bend Ova”
#92

Having found a new sound (at least for him), Lil Jon pumps it for everything it’s got, only this time with more words and a guest spot. It isn’t an improvement on “Turn Down For What”, but it isn’t much worse. And that yoga ball line makes me laugh every time.

Meghan Trainor—“Dear Future Husband”
#94

“I never learned to cook/but I can find a hook” Trainor sings, and the key word is “find”. All her hooks are pre-tested, pre-digested, and possibly bad for you. They stick, though, and she and her producer know how to keep them light and airy and frame them to perfection. But her message is troublesome to say the least. It isn’t just her music that seems to come from the 50s. Her announcing that she doesn’t consider herself a feminist can be put down to being 20 years old and lucky, but her embrace, at least here, of a slightly tougher version of the old “treat me like a lady and I’ll give you want you want” trope is cause for worry. It’s a pop staple, of course–even Beyonce plays a variation on it every now and then—but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be batted down every time it shows up.

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Yawn
Hot 100 Roundup—9/20/14

Sometimes the Hot 100 almost literally puts me to sleep. Feel free to skip this week; I wish I could have.

Jason Aldean—“Sweet Little Somethin’”
#71

Rock by the numbers; country by default.

Jeezy Featuring Jay Z—“Seen It All”
#85

Listen up, you wet behind the ears molly slinger, grandpa and his pal here are gonna tell you what the drug dealing game was all about back in the day. Try to stay awake, all right?

Mary Lambert—“Secrets”
#92

Lambert may be more talented than Macklemore (at least that’s what everybody says), but that doesn’t mean she’s any less simple-minded. By mixing things that people—in the past, at least—kept secret out of true shame or fear with the most banal sort of confessions (who doesn’t admit to being scared of the dentist, and what does “extrapolate my feelings”, at least as a negative, even mean?), she only diminishes her message. Which may be just as well, since, just like Macklemore, she’s claiming victory in battles long over, waving her flag as if she’d actually achieved something and deserved credit for it. Unearned self-satisfaction, that’s the thing she should really be ashamed of.

Trey Songz Featuring Nicki Minaj—“Touchin, Lovin”
#95

The only decent moment comes at the very end, when Nicki Minaj finally calls Trey Songz on his inability to tell the difference between making love and fucking (there needn’t be a difference, but this is pop music, so sentimental fallacies apply). The rest of the record, though, is Songz making a joke out of his confusion and Minaj letting him get away with it, maybe even endorsing it. No wonder Songz has never made any sense: he literally doesn’t know what he’s singing about.

DJ Khaled Featuring Chris Brown, August Alsina, Future, & Jeremih—“Hold You Down”
#98

Three crooners (four if you count the auto-tuned Future) is two (or three) too many. Especially when the song is nothing more than a collection of wannabe hooks. DJ Khaled continues to shout, no matter what the rest of the track sounds like. And I continue to be confused and frustrated by the use of “hold you down” as a statement of affection as opposed to ownership.

Big & Rich—“Look At You”
#100

These guys were important once, but that was before the rest of country took their ideas and bro’d them over. Now they sound like a couple of pros fulfilling a contract and nothing more.

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Darling Nicki
Hot 100 Roundup—9/13/14

Eminem featuring Sia—“Guts Over Fear”
#22

Eminem says it best himself: “Sometimes I feel like all I ever do is find different ways to word the same old song.” Then he says it again: “Feel like I’ve already said this a kabillion-eighty times. How many times can I say the same thing different ways that rhyme?” And then again: “So to the break of dawn here I go recycling the same old song.” Restating this lament over and over isn’t self-awareness, it’s self-consciousness and self-pity. If he was self-aware he’d realize how much he demeans his message by repeating it in less interesting variations from record to record. Instead he rationalizes his obsession and circles in on himself a little more. Sia’s hookless chorus doesn’t help him, though it’s doubtful anything could at this stage.

Beyonce Featuring Nicki Minaj—“Flawless”
#82

Though it’s possible to accept Beyonce as a feminist, it’s important to remember that she’s what might be called a showbiz feminist. That is, even her principles come with glitz, and their presentation is carefully shaped to go down as easily and simply as possible with her public. Her feminism is real enough, but it’s curated in the same way Beyonce’s public persona has been curated since she was a teenager. That the form of much of her career has been Beyonce’s own doing serves as a major part of her feminist credentials–it may even be her feminism. But it also means that after 18 years as a star, she can’t get away with a line like “I woke up like this”, even if it’s true, and even if she intends it as a prod to all the other women in the world. But if Beyonce can’t, Nicki Minaj can. She may be just as showbizzy, but it’s a different type of show business, with a different path to success. She’s Carmen Miranda to Beyonce’s Ginger Rogers, eccentricity and electricity opposed to glamour and poise. With her big boobs and big butt and the emphasis she puts on them, Minaj is everything that Beyonce isn’t–which is to say that she’s everything a large number of Beyonce’s fans are–and when she says she woke up like this it means more and resonates in more important ways than Beyonce saying it ever could (and, unlike Beyonce, Minaj only needs to say it once to get her point across). Minaj’s presence improves the record in every way, allowing, first of all, the removal of a spoken introduction that saddled the original with a ponderous, if well-meaning, seriousness, and second, forcing Beyonce herself to toughen her approach. She may not have taken the right direction by using wealth as a defense of bad behavior (whoever’s bad behavior it might have been in that elevator), but then her feminism, just like Minaj’s, has always been financially aspirational, and you can’t blame someone who’s public appearance is so carefully controlled for venting a little now and then. If she were truly flawless, she’d be a bore.

Usher Featuring Nicki Minaj—“She Came To Give It To You”
#89

The verses, which lift mightily from the S.O.S. Band’s “Just Be Good To Me”, are wonderful. The rest, which lifts wholesale from every other Pharrell Williams production ever, is passable. Nicki Minaj, as usual, steals the record. I await the day when some DJ strings all her guest appearances together in a YouTube mix and saves the world. Maybe that could be the next Girl Talk album.

Keith Urban—“Somewhere In My Car”
#91

For once, let’s not talk about the preening, pandering voice and—oh God—the lyrics that match. Let’s talk about the guitar solo. Urban plays it himself, apparently. I once saw him on a country awards show trading solos with Brad Paisley, which was like watching an advertising jingle writer swapping lines with Shakespeare. Urban likes his guitar loud and squalling, which is one way of making up for his wimpy songs and vocals. It’s also another way of preening and pandering. At least he’s consistent.

TeeFLii Featuring 2 Chainz—“24 Hours”
#97

She has 24 hours to please him, and 2 Chainz, too. Bet that’s more time than they spent making this record. Bet they didn’t think about it any more than they do her, either.

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Free Shrugs
Hot 100 Roundup—9/6/14

Taylor Swift—“Shake It Off”
#1

One of the paradoxes of teen life is the younger you are, the more you want to sound mature and assume adult responsibility; then, when you leave adolescence and realize just what that responsibility entails, you can’t wait to shrug it off at every opportunity. That’s what Taylor Swift is living through now. At 16, she sounded as mature and ready for adulthood as she could possibly be, even while spinning fairy tales around teenage dreams. Now, at 24, acting like an adult is the last thing she wants to do. So, amping up the self-contradiction, she directs her talent and taste and craftsmanship toward the idea of mindless fun. Trouble is, craftsmanship has little or nothing to do with fun, and taste even less, and at a certain point producing mindless entertainment seems more like a stopgap than an ambition, especially for an artist as ambitious as Swift. Having shed her teen persona, but uncertain as to what has any meaning for herself and her fans, she forces cheer. With the exception of the awful spoken section this is a perfect pop record, but Swift has made perfect pop records with awful spoken sections before, and this is not a step up. It’s also the dullest record she’s made. In another three or four years she’ll turn toward responsibility again (as will the rest of pop and its audience; they have no choice), only this time with over a decade of experience under her belt. This is a misstep, but don’t write her off yet.

Blake Shelton—“Neon Light”
#81

A terrible song, but it doesn’t change an obvious fact: Blake Shelton is now the best male vocalist in country music. If he could find something to sing besides this “subtle” bro-howdy crap he might become as important an artist as his wife, Miranda Lambert. For now, though, George Jones returned from the dead couldn’t save this song. Since Lambert has had such an obvious effect on Shelton’s music (instead of the other way around, which was how it looked a couple of years ago), maybe he should let her choose his material, as well.

Maroon 5—“Animals”
#86

Back to the vocal special effects, with lousy words and mediocre music to go along. Maroon 5 can sharpen their tools (or is it their teeth?) all they want, but that doesn’t mean they have the brains to apply them.

Mr. Probz—“Waves”
#88

This may be wishful thinking, but there seems to be a decided African influence creeping into the charts. Nico and Vinz, Maroon 5, and now this gently swaying dance music built around a lighter than air guitar riff. For a song about drifting on ocean waves there’s not much depth to it, but it’s pleasant enough, and sometimes more than that.

Steve Aoki, Chris Lake,& Tujamo—“Delirious (Boneless)”
#96

As a hip-hop vocalist, Kid Ink is a negligible rapper who’s been very lucky. As an EDM vocalist he’s a non-presence riding Steve Aoki and friends’ cliche beats. It’s hard to say which is worse, and it’s impossible to guess whether it matters either way.

Rich Homie Quan Featuring Problem—“Walk Thru”
#99

Back when the “Rich” in his name was only an aspiration, Rich Homie Quan felt some type of way and made you feel it too. Now that wealth is no longer a fantasy, the only thing he feels is money and the perks that come with it, and you can hear the inspiration and originality seeping out of his music. It doesn’t make you feel some type of way; it makes you feel disappointed, plain and simple.

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Can I Put My Head Back In My Shell Now?
Hot 100 Roundup—8/30/14

Ariana Grande featuring Big Sean—“Best Mistake”
#49

Hooking up with Big Sean is always a bad idea, and it’s even worse when the song isn’t up to scratch (or barely a song). Never that impressive to begin with, Ariana Grande has at least deserved credit for trying. Now she’s trying too hard, and she’s burning through her inspirations fast.

Juicy J, Wiz Khalifa & Ty Dolla $ign featuring Kill The Noise & Madsonik—”Shell Shocked”
#84

It’s always curious when producers get a “featuring” credit. Does that mean they provided extra special production, or is it just belated recognition of the roll they play in shaping pop records? Whatever the case, Kill the Noise and Madsonik are the only ones who deserve credit (blame, actually) for this lumbering hunk of Michael Bay-energized Turtle Power. Juicy J and friends contribute next to nothing, and the only thing about the record that deserves the slightest attention is the “Kashmir”-like strings. Did they write that themselves, or were they just sampling old Linkin Park records?

Tyga Featuring Young Thug—“Hookah”
#94

Having perfected the cry of the blunted years ago, there’s nothing hip-hop producers and performers can do but up the ante with weirder effects and vocals so heavily slurred they’re barely language at all. Hearing a bunch of guys who sound as if they can’t stand up brag about their sexual prowess somehow makes the misogyny worse, shoveling another level of entitlement over the usual bullshit. Some people are impressed by this. Enough to keep these guys rich, anyway.

Hozier—“Take Me To Church”
#96

The hooks come easy when they’re stolen, as does the imagery and maybe even the hint of misogyny. The pretension though, the pretension is all Hozier’s own.

The Swon Brothers—“Later On”
#100

Look ma, we’re country singers!

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Got Buns?
Hot 100 Roundup—8/23/14

Nicki Minaj—“Anaconda”
#19

In pop terms, “Anaconda” is Minaj’s best record since “Superbass”. It doesn’t have the same highs, but it isn’t an unstructured mess or a sentimental wallow like most of the records before it. And even if she had to steal it from Sir Mix-a-lot, “Anaconda” has a great hook. But what really matters is the words. Unlike every other rapper to make the chart this year—and I mean literally every other rapper—Minaj tells stories and creates characters, characters who aren’t her and have real names and maybe even lives. Troy from Detroit and Michael with his motorcycles may not have much depth—all we really know about them are their sexual proclivities and the size of their equipment—but they feel real. The most important character, though, is the one Minaj creates for herself to play: the woman with the big ass who knows how to use it to get what she wants and harbors no confusion as to what that is. What she wants may not seem like much, but turning a hunk of leering raunch like “Baby’s Got Back” to your advantage by making the men who swear by it live up to their boasts is a real achievement. It levels the playing field in all sorts of ways, not just sexual.

Jack & Jack—“Wild Life”
#87

Every time a white guy or group scores a rap hit, people shout about Caucasians taking over hip-hop, but the industry is so bad at follow-up that I guarantee it’s never going to happen. Somewhere on the planet is a record executive who think these guys could be the next Macklemore. They’re actually worse, if such a thing is possible. I mean, even Macklemore never resorted to lame hashtag rap, animal noises, and tampon jokes (though I wouldn’t put it past him). Jack & Jack are too stupid to be a threat to anything, except maybe the career of the idiot who signed them.

Pitbull featuring John Ryan—“Fireball”
#93

People who hate the EDM version of Pitbull might consider this a step in the right direction, but to me it feels like he’s moving backwards. That he should come up with a new take on the “Tequila” blueprint is no great surprise, but that he should play it so softly, so old school, is. His more recent records had an insane, in your face quality that made me admire them even when I hated them (which I rarely did). Most of those singles flopped, though, while the relatively softer, and even melodic, “Timber” was a big hit, so now he’s playing it safe. It’s worth pointing out, however, that to Pitbull these distinctions are meaningless, if he even bothers to think about them at all. What he cares about are hooks, and he probably doesn’t worry about the style of music that’s attached to them as long as it’s got a good beat. In its way, it makes him more broadminded musically, and more stylistically diverse, than anyone else on the charts. That’s not the only reason critics hate him so much, but I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t part of the mix. P.S. Based on this scant evidence, it appears that John Ryan can sing. Where’s his record?

Eric Church—“Cold One”
#96

It’s fun, but maybe too much fun, or too heavy-handed of fun. “Cold One” is built on a good joke, but it’s a slight joke, and the music pummels it into the ground.

T.I. featuring Young Thug—“About the Money”
#99

Just like Eminem, T.I. seems more interested in the technical side of rap these days, in creating an impressive, death-defying flow completely devoid of, or detached from, content. He succeeds at it, too, but what exactly does that success mean? I can’t understand what he’s saying, and I bet he isn’t saying much anyway. Since the whole idea is to leave his competitors in the dust, with nothing to follow, this will have zero influence on upcoming rappers. At least he seems to be enjoying himself.

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Pop Guns
Hot 100 Roundup—8/16/14

Jessie J, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj—“Bang Bang”
#6

Jessie J’s voice doesn’t just grate, it stabs deep into your brain, making your extremities twitch and probably causing impotence. Arianna Grande, though she has plenty of defenders and the effect is much less harmful, isn’t much of an improvement (she doesn’t do Christina Aguilera any better than she does Mariah Carey). That leaves Nicki Minaj to hold “Bang Bang” together, which, amazingly enough, she does. When she’s on even the overblown arrangement makes sense. The best line comes when Minaj warns Jessie J. and Grande to stand back and watch themselves. She’s just being polite, though. If it were me I’d tell them to go away completely.

Maroon 5—“It Was Always You”
#45

A couple of years ago, when Maroon 5 sampled Amadou and Mariam’s “Sabali” on “Wipe Your Eyes”, I shrugged it off as a fluke. The track was co-produced by J.R. Rotem, who is notorious for building songs around the most obvious and catchiest of samples, making them seem more like remixes than original songs. Now, though, since “It Was Always You” is so obviously an attempt to recreate Amadou and Mariam’s sound in an American pop context, I’m wondering if it wasn’t a statement of intent. It isn’t just that Levine’s vocals are patterned after Mariam’s (it goes a long way toward explaining how his singing has changed over the last couple of years), but that the rhythm track carries a distinctive Malian influence as well. Being the lunkheads they are, Maroon 5 don’t come close to the grace or rhythmic complexity of the originals (not to mention Amadou’s guitar), and the lyrics are as dumb as always, but I give them credit for trying. Now maybe Levine could perform a greater service and get Amadou and Mariam a guest spot on The Voice and let America hear what real singing sounds like.

Maddie & Tae—“Girl In A Country Song”
#71

I love the idea behind it, but I wish “Girl In A Country Song” was a little more angry and a little less hokey. The spoken introduction cheapens their message before they even get started, their little stabs at comedy are dumb, and the giggle at the end makes it sound as if they’re merely exchanging one stereotype for another. That shot at “Redneck Crazy” is long overdue, though, and it’s almost impossible to dislike this. But I doubt we’ll ever hear from them again.

Hilary Duff—“Chasing the Sun”
#79

Didn’t Paris Hilton already do this? And better?

Katy Perry—“This Is How We Do”
#88

Even before Perry’s attempt at stand-up comedy “This is How We Do” was easily her worst single: a celebration of hedonism so exhausted and mindless that it sounds like it was recorded at the beginning of a three day binge. The comedy bits, however, take it into an entirely deeper realm of badness, the fourth or fifth level of pop hell, though not the very bottom of the pit. The bottom is reached when she asks to bring the beat back as if she were requesting an extra towel from the pool boy just because she can, not because she plans on swimming.

Bobby Shmurda—“Hot Nigga”
#96

Really? Then how come I’m not feeling any heat?

Rae Sremmurd—“No Flex Zone!!”
#98

Tilt the the rhythm far enough off-center and just about any phrase can become a hook; the more irritating the sound the deeper it bites. That doesn’t mean you have anything worthwhile to say, just that you have a minor gift for a catchy turn of phrase. At least this time.

Rita Ora—“I Will Never Let You Down”
#99

The arrangement isn’t bad—it has a slinky quality, and at least it doesn’t beat you relentlessly over the head—but Rita Ora is such a non-presence it barely matters. “I Will Never Let You Down” does everything it’s supposed to do but make an impression.

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Cow Juice Opportunity?
Hot 100 Roundup—8/9/14

Jason Aldean—“Burnin’ It Down”
#12

This is the most tolerable Aldean has ever been. He isn’t shouting or boasting or laying on too much schmaltz, and his hip hop influences, for the first time, sound integral instead of tacked on. Mind you, he still sounds stolid, and he’s still just singing about how much he loves sex, and while he’s been getting his R&B right others, like Brad Paisley, have moved on to EDM, but for Aldean this is a huge accomplishment. I’m almost proud of him.

Drake—“0 To 100 / The Catch Up”
#63

Michelangelo Matos said it best: “Drake raps like he’s in business school.” Oddly enough, though, that may be a large part of his appeal. He doesn’t have a dominating or particularly distinctive voice or flow, but he makes up for it by presenting himself as a simple conversationalist; his raps just sound like someone talking, and the rhythmic patterns are so subtle as to be almost invisible. It’s an achievement in technical terms, whether you care for it or not. Like the world’s worst party guest, however, his conversation has only one subject–how’s Drake feeling–and his self-absorption and mansplaining get boring fast. It would be interesting to hear him apply his style to a subject other than himself. If he could learn to be a storyteller rather than a monologist, he might become as great an artist as he thinks he is.

Troye Sivan—“Happy Little Pill”
#92

Another YouTube sensation—not that I should have to tell you, since the blandness of his music and the banality of his lyrics are an easy tip off. If this is what passes for social commentary on the internet, we’re all going to need more than one happy little pill. And we’re going to need a hell of a lot of booze to wash them down with.

Milky Chance—“Stolen Dance”
#95

Their name should be enough of a hint, but even without knowing they’re German it’s obvious English isn’t Milky Chance’s first language: the vocal rhythms and inflections are off when they aren’t blatant imitations of other records (“do the boogie all night long”), and their accents are subdued but hardly hidden. This makes the blandness of “Stolen Dance” seem more interesting than it actually is, though not by much. There will be no Gotye aus Deutschland this year.

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All Grammar and Syntax Weird Al Approved
Hot 100 Roundup—8/2/14

5 Seconds of Summer—“Everything I Didn’t Say”
#24

This is where 5 Seconds of Summer’s love of late 90s emo comes to the fore, and of course it’s their worst, not because of the influence, but because “Everything I Didn’t Say” (including the title) never rises above it. I’d swear they’re better than this, but this record makes me doubt that belief more than ever.

Weird Al Yankovic—“Word Crimes”
#39

Sometimes I get the feeling that Yankovic is praised as highly as he is simply because he exists: no one else does this sort of Mad magazine-style parody anymore, and Yankovic is good at it; often better, in fact, than Mad itself ever was (though someone should make the effort, when praising Yankovic, to mention the obvious influence of Mad’s poetry parodist, Frank Jacobs). “Word Crimes” is funny in spots, and it’s nice that Yankovic has found a different group of nerds to make fun of and patronize (copy editors and proofreaders, now there’s a giant demographic), but the laughs mostly come from recognition, not from any twist that Yankovic puts on the references. And his parody never extends to the music itself: the tracks are so faithful to the originals that they add nothing to the humor. I’ve always balked at calling Yankovic a satirist, but now I’m not even sure he’s a parodist; this is comedy karaoke if it’s anything at all.

Luke Bryan—“Roller Coaster”
#88

A country groove so steady amd so bland it reveals Bryan’s greatest weakness: his voice (that and his love of deathless cliche, but he’s hardly the only country singer with that problem). His vocals lack depth, don’t contain much resonance, and seem incapable of any real emotion. Not that his songs call for any of those things, of course.

Rich Gang featuring Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan—“Lifestyle”
#89

In this autotuned age, who am I to complain if Rich Gang want to rap in voices that make them sound like drunken seven year-olds? It’s as good a way as any to get attention, and sometimes it’s even funny. I draw the line however, when they use those voices to give feminine hygiene advice to women they obviously hate (i.e., all of them). These are not the sort of guys who should be talking about douches.

Kiesza—“Hideaway”
#97

“Hideaway” is possibly the purest house music ever to make the charts, at least in the US, which may be causing a lot of people to praise it more highly than it deserves. This is growing on me, and I love the downplaying of passion while trying to play it cool of the lyric. Like a lot of house, though, it tends to fade into the background even when you concentrate on it, at least for me. As for Kiesza herself, I’m reserving judgement. There are times when her vocals are perfect, but others when she seems like just another competent house vocalist and little more.

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