Katy Perry—”Teenage Dream”
What makes this a perfect pop record isn’t its sound, which is fairly standard Dr. Luke/Max Martin (the most disappointing thing about it is that it starts exactly like “My Life Would Suck Without You”) or Perry’s voice (though those who say she can’t sing should note the sense of yearning she injects into the words “live forever”), it’s the perspective. It isn’t a song about being a teenager, it’s a song about love and lust making you feel like a teenager, an idea that everyone, no matter what their age, can appreciate. In other words, it’s a new version of “Like a Virgin”, with it’s double entendre replaced by a milder kinkiness (since he makes her feel like a teenager, she’s going to dress like one for him) and a suggestion of stability (the reference to multiple Valentines suggests they’ve been together for a while, though I suppose that may be romantic projection). According to Perry, this record was worked over and over again in the studio, as she fought with her producers to get exactly what she wanted. It was worth it.
Bruno Mars—”Just the Way You Are”
A pleasant voice and a gift for hooks are one thing, but what really sets Mars apart from his contemporaries is his sheer shamelessness and lack of what might be called mature taste. If he wants to write a song that’s essentially a Valentine’s card, then he’s going to go all the way with it and make sure it has all the trimmings. Comparing him to Billy Joel in this case is obvious, but not far from the truth, either. He doesn’t go too far, though, just balancing on the edge of sentiment and hokum. Some may say he falls in, but I appreciate his youthful willingness to be corny. His effects are obvious, and his music is designed to go down easy, but he’s goodhearted and open enough that those aren’t major detriments—yet. Once he’s a star, and this record will probably make him one if he isn’t already, we’ll see how he holds up. I suspect he has more reserves of talent and strength than a lot of people give him credit for, and an ego to match. Which doesn’t mean that within a year he won’t be completely unbearable; so enjoy this pleasing fluff while you can.
Ne-Yo’s music gets better and better—sexy, stylish, sophisticated, but never smarmy. He’s like the George Clooney of R&B: his self-confidence, which never turns into mindless brag, is central to his appeal, and he’s smart enough to be funny about it. The joke about his handclaps being sexier than other people’s is perfect. This doesn’t really go anywhere, it’s an exercise in style more than anything else, but it’s a great record all the same. He says straight out that his job is to make it look easy, and he does.
Rick Ross featuring Drake & Chrisette Michelle—Aston Martin Music
Whatever else one might think of Ross, he knows how to put a beat together, or at least knows how to choose one, which in rap these days is all that matters. This is silky smooth and as shiny as its namesake. Ross’s raps, though, are all cliche, and often—in this case, at least—cruder than they need to be. Chrisette Michelle sounds too ethereal to be on the same record with lines like “I love a nasty girl who’ll swallow what’s on the menu”. As for Drake, he acquits himself better than expected, though every time he mentions being “caught in the life” I find myself snorting in disgust at the privileged little twit.