Katy Perry—“Part Of Me”
Straightforward dance music like this does Perry a favor. The more she strays from groove and traditional structure the more irritating she becomes (it does something weird to her voice, for one thing). She also tends to be at her best when she’s telling her man off. She likes fireworks metaphors too much, and this is more an example of craft than inspiration, but it’s still her best single since “Teenage Dream”.
Minaj’s chameleon voice is one of her greatest strengths; she can shift effortlessly from tough hood rat to ethereal angel and a range of roles in between. In some cases, like this record, that versatility is the only thing holding her music together, or that keeps it from falling into cliché. But it also emphasizes her greatest weakness: the lack of connecting tissue between her many ideas. I couldn’t begin to suggest why she starts singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, or why parts of this sound like a Rihanna impersonation, except as a distraction from the cliché lyrics and overworked strobe-light synth bursts. I like the line about not paying the rent, but that’s the only sign of personality on the record.
Chris Brown—“Turn Up the Music”
Unless you’re disturbed by the very idea of Brown’s continued career, there’s nothing offensive about this record. Though I have my doubts about the way the music industry, not to mention Rihanna, have reacted to events, it would be foolish to deny that this is decent, journeyman work, uninspired as it may be. I don’t love it, and I don’t hate it; it’s just there. I just wish I could be sure he’ll simply fade away into the mediocre career he deserves.
One Direction—“What Makes You Beautiful”
A boy band almost literally put together on TV (all the members had tried out and failed as solo singers for X Factor, when the producers suggested they work together), One Direction are, in sound and history, essentially the British version of Disney pop. As such I welcome them gladly to our shores. Let’s face it, Disney pop (aside from Miley Cyrus, whose breakthrough was the exception) should have been all over American radio between 2005 and 2010, and if it hadn’t been for radio programmers’ odd belief that the music wasn’t “mature” enough for top forty, it would have been. But immature Brit-kids are different from immature Americans: they have novelty value, and accents. That the music is the same catchy guitar pop that Disney put out only makes the landing of these clean-cut invaders easier. The pump has been primed, so to speak. It’s the same old story, the British selling our own ideas back to us after we’ve failed to appreciate them ourselves. Oh, and the record? Pretty good.
Bruno Mars—“Runaway Baby”
Mars is always best on uptempo material—his excessive energy level makes his ballads overwrought, but it’s perfect for material like this throwaway, which made the chart only because he performed it on the Grammies. All the same, it’s more charming, and more fun, than his last few singles. Also, though this doesn’t seem to rate mention by anyone else, he’s an excellent lyricist: the second verse is hilarious.
Not terrible, which is a surprise. Maybe even not bad, which could be a sign of upheaval in the natural order. One question, though: if they love banjo so much, why do they drown it out with electric guitars at the end of the song?
“I Will Always Love You”, #87
“Stereo Hearts”, #92
David Guetta featuring Chris Brown & Lil Wayne—“I Can Only Imagine”
Maybe I’m just feeling forgiving this week, but despite the presence of Chris Brown I think this may be the best thing Guetta’s done. It helps that there’s some variation in the sound—even some surprises—and that there’s a decent structure to the song rather than the usual flailing around. Repeating Lil Wayne’s verse at the end is a mistake, though; Wayne’s phrasing is so distinctive that it’s easy to tell that Guetta ran the same track with only a slightly different background. On a chorus that’s excusable, but on a verse it’s weird and unsettling. It sounds like cheating.
Skrillex featuring Sirah—“Bangarang”
Autotune, pitch-shifting, skittering digital snares, massive explosions of distorted bass, these are all ideas that have come and gone and come again over the last few years, all having their moment in the sun, all eventually derided as overworked and clichéd (and they were). Not to mention dubstep. Skrillex uses them all, and then some, mixes them together, and doesn’t give a shit what you think about it. He’s having fun, and learning a craft, and making art all at the same time. Every single has more packed into it, is more strongly structured and thought out, and is better than the one before. He’s taken a bunch of stuff that the cognoscenti had discarded as played-out and breathed new life into it. Isn’t that the way art is supposed to work? We’re stepping into what promises to be one of the most inventive eras in the history of pop music, and right now, Skrillex is out front.
deadmau5 featuring Greta Svabo Bech—“Raise Your Weapon”
While Skrillex is an artist with a capital F (as in Fun and Fuck you), deadmau5 would like to be known as an artist with a capital A. You can hear his desire to be taken seriously through all eight minutes of this record. It’s an interesting attitude for a guy who performs wearing a giant glowing mouse head. This isn’t a bad record, but its seriousness weighs it down, and the lyrics are more confusing than anything else. It’s pretentious, is what it is. No wonder Dave Grohl likes him.
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