At last, a great record makes an appearance, and I’ll try not to let the fact that’s it’s almost a year old bias me against 2013 (besides, there’s more great, newer stuff coming up next week). “I Love It” may be a freak as far as current pop is concerned, but it’s the kind of freak that could mean something down the line. Here’s hoping it hangs on for a while.
“Nothing Like Us”, #59
“As Long As You Love Me ( Acoustic)”, #98
Just as some critics (meaning me) we’re starting to accord Bieber a level of respect he at least partly deserves, he delivers a blatant cash-in in the form of an acoustic version of Believe and blows up any possibility of taking him seriously. I have no doubt this is exactly what Bieber’s core fan base was looking for, and I don’t entirely blame him for taking advantage of them by giving them what they want. The problem is that an acoustic setting, especially one designed to genuflect to his audience, emphasizes Bieber’s worst instincts. His singing is all sentiment and sham emotion, and his careful phrasing, which was becoming one of his greatest strengths, is thrown out along with the original arrangements. The lowest point is the track that’s the most popular. “Nothing Like Us”, the one new song on the album, seems designed to do nothing more than feed speculation about Bieber’s relationship with Selena Gomez. Bieber throws every bad lesson he’s learned about singing at it, and the result is worse than terrible, it’s disgusting.
The Lonely Island featuring Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar—“YOLO”
As an idea, and an old one at that, “you only live once” is no more worthy of attention than any other variation on carpe diem. As a hashtag, though, as justification for any and all levels of entitlement and stupidity, it’s a menace, and deserves all the satire and derision that comes its way. The problem with “Yolo” is that by stressing the opposite extreme it tacitly endorses the worst possible definition of the meme. It’s a parody of entitlement for the entitled. Also, it isn’t funny. Hearing Kendrick Lamar give financial advice is good for a brief chuckle, but the effect has faded away by the time he finishes his bars (it’s the only time he’s ever bored me). The song does reveal one important truth, however, if only by association: Adam Levine is the Michael Bolton of his era (i.e. uptempo and with an r&b beat). Why didn’t I realize this before?
Icona Pop featuring Charli XCX—“I Love It”
One of the best singles of 2012 becomes the first great record to make the Hot 100 in 2013, and I could care less if the nation had to be exposed to the sight of Lena Dunham bouncing up and down and singing along to make it happen. “I Love It” touches on a level of anger that Girls (at least the episodes I’ve seen) has never approached. It blows a hole through the rest of the charts in a way few records ever have, not just in terms of attitude but of sound as well. It won’t last, because unless this bump in sales continues (it’s already dropped fourteen places since its debut) radio won’t touch it. My only hope is that it opens the door for Charli XCX, whose “You’re the One” was my favorite single of last year. Whatever the case, I haven’t been so happy and surprised about a record making the chart since M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes”.
Glee Cast—“Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)”
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
“Can’t Hold Us” (featuring Ray Dalton), #97
“Same Love” (featuring Mary Lambert), #99
At last, rap music that guilty white liberals can love. Academics, too. An entire career could be built sorting out the psychology of a rapper/producer duo that works from an exclusively white perspective but feels the need to bring in black singers to deliver the hooks. Are they simply recognizing their own limitations, or is that their idea of authenticity? Or could it be an acknowledgment of the debt they owe black music? Or a spreading of the wealth to assuage their own sense of guilt? Whatever the case, at its best its an obvious ploy, at its worst condescending as hell. Macklemore and Lewis do perform one public service, though: they render the existence of Asher Roth and Mac Miller superfluous. I wonder who’ll do the same for them next year.
Rihanna featuring Future—“Loveeeeeee Song”
Rihanna’s name comes first, but “Loveeeeeee Song” is Future’s record. He not only guests on it but produced, and whether he wrote it with Rihanna in mind or just gave her something he was working on, it was a wise decision. Rihanna has been loosening up as a vocalist but retains a mechanical quality that makes her a perfect foil for Future’s auto-tuned, over the top emotionalism. At the same time, giving “Loveeeeeee Song” to Rihanna allows Future to drop the street rapper facade that generates the most clichéd moments on his own records and indulge his romantic instincts. In the end, the credits don’t matter: this is a high point for both of them.