According to a tweet from Ke$ha (since deleted, but reprinted in Billboard), she was “forced” to sing the lyric to “Die Young”, which has been pulled from radio in the wake of the Newtown shooting. Aside from the fact that it’s hard to imagine Ke$ha being forced to do anything against her will, her statement brings up a lot of questions. Since “Die Young” isn’t just the lyric but the title, and since Ke$ha is credited as a songwriter—along with producers Dr. Luke, Benny Blanco, and Cirkut, and also Nate Reuss of fun.—you have to wonder how much she contributed to the song. As often happens, her credit may be nothing more than a courtesy, though since her name appears first in the list of songwriters that’s doubtful. With three producers working on the track, it was most likely pieced together from a number of separate ideas, so there’s no knowing, without more information, who wrote the hook or came up with that title. Unless her tweet was just a way of making herself look better, it makes you wonder how much control of her career Ke$ha has. It does, however, explain why her vocals on “Die Young” sound so stiff.
Posts Tagged ‘Dr. Luke’
I have long been frustrated by the way Disney-pop and teen-pop in general have been ignored by terrestrial radio. Though I understand why programmers have avoided the more tween and pre-tween oriented music—that is, the real kid’s stuff—ignoring big-selling artists like Aly and AJ (“Potential Breakup Song” went platinum but never made the Hot 100 Airplay chart), the Jonas Brothers (17 million albums sold, yet they only made the Airplay chart twice, and never got higher than 55), or Demi Lovato, makes far less sense. Though Miley Cyrus managed to break through the barrier with “Party In the USA”, that may have been due more to radio’s love of anything produced by Dr. Luke. Selena Gomez is the only other Disney-associated artist to make any impression on the airplay charts, and she only managed it with her most recent single, “Love You Like A Love Song”, which peaked at 15 in February. Not only would it seem to be in radio’s interest to play records that are actually popular, catching on to these artists would have given them a head start on capturing the audience that will dominate pop culture over the next decade.
Maybe they’re starting to figure that out, even if the realization has come not through Disney (whose influence has faded, at least for the moment) but as the result of an invasion of foreigners. Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen, The Wanted, and One Direction have made major inroads on the airplay chart in the last two months, and are popping up in all sorts of places you wouldn’t expect to find them. Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” finally broke top twenty on the chart this week after being in the top ten in digital sales for almost two months, following Bieber, whose “Boyfriend “ is his first top twenty airplay hit (his previous peak was “Baby”, which made it to 24). Meanwhile, The Wanted, who skirt the demographic edge between teen-pop and whatever comes after (there really isn’t a name for it—just “pop”, I guess), debuted this week on the slowest moving of all radio formats, Adult Contemporary. Even Demi Lovato, who, despite her celebrity, emotional crack-up, and selling several million records has never made Hot 100 Airplay, finally broke through, debuting this week at 72.
It’s possible, however, that this will be short-lived. Bieber’s record has already peaked. Jepsen is still climbing, but chances are the execrable “Payphone” will keep her from making number one, and the Curiosity EP doesn’t suggest any worthy follow-up, at least for a while. She may be destined for one-shot heaven. The same applies to The Wanted and One Direction. Disney is essentially dormant, and though Nickelodeon’s attempts to cash in on the teen market have at least been interesting, only Victoria Justice has made any decent records, and none of them have shown any traction on radio. Unless some other surprise pops up, this may be teen pop’s high water mark for the foreseeable future.
Wiz Khalifa—”When I’m Gone”
In which Khalifa proudly explains why he doesn’t really give a shit. It’s not “When I’m Gone” as in “I know you’ll miss me but you’ll get by”; it’s “By the time I die I’ll have spent all my money and you guys won’t get jack.” Why? Because he can, that’s why. You don’t honestly believe he thinks about this stuff, do you?
Pitbull featuring Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer—”Give Me Everything”
Reviewed in Bubbling Under, 4/9/11
Sara Ramirez—”The Story”
Having pioneered the commercial endorsement of music in prime time, Grey’s Anatomy finds itself behind the curve and goes Glee on us and lets one of its cast members throw a record together over a weekend and release it for purchase. For all you Katy Perry haters who wonder what she’d sound like without the assistance of Dr. Luke and Max Martin, here’s your answer. I don’t think even Perry would be this off-key on the loud parts, though.
Britney Spears—”I Wanna Go”
I suppose it’s healthy on a personal level that Spears is now making jokes on the same subject she sang so passionately about just a few years ago. It’s good she’s over it, but the loss in both intensity and musical value is obvious. Besides, whenever Spears tries to be funny it always sounds forced. “Lably, lably, lably”, indeed.
Victorious Cast featuring Victoria Justice—”Beggin’ On Your Knees”
Nickelodeon’s campaign to wrest the teenpop crown away from the wounded Disney is so intense that it’s almost fascinating in its own right. It must be expensive, too, bringing in producers like Dr. Luke, Max Martin, and, in this case, Shellback, to boost your chosen teen idols. Too bad those first rate producers are only bringing their second rate material. I mean, did Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson already reject this, or did Shellback not even bother offering it to them?
YC featuring Future—”Racks”
Reviewed in Bubbling Under, 4/2/11
Dr. Dre featuring Eminem & Skylar Grey—”I Need a Doctor”
This seemingly heartfelt but confusing tribute to Dr. Dre might be touching if it were an Eminem record, or even a Skylar Grey record. But it’s not, so we’re faced with what is basically a paean to Dr. Dre from Dr. Dre himself, produced and co-written by Dre and released under his name. For all we know, the whole thing was his idea from the beginning. Eminem’s rap is so plainspoken that you can’t help but think that he means every word, though that doesn’t make it sound very exciting. Dre, meanwhile, provides some old-hat beats (no, not old-school), and a rap which, after thanking Eminem for his praise, heaps scorn on everyone—that is, the “faggots”—who ever doubted him. Fuck you, too, Doc.
Chris Brown featuring Lil Wayne & Busta Rhymes—”Look At Me Now”
Though he may be rehabilitated, Brown’s ego still far exceeds his grasp. As much as I disliked his teenage falsetto, his mature voice is worse, lacking any character or personality whatsoever, especially when he uses it to make stupid dick jokes. Lil Wayne’s contribution is nothing to get excited about. Which leaves Busta Rhyme’s demonstration of breath control as the only interesting thing about this record. Nice to hear he’s still got it.
“Need You Now”, #72
“Thriller/Heads Will Roll”, #75
“Bills, Bills, Bills”, #79
3 Doors Down—”When You’re Young”
They start off sounding like Darius Rucker, than turn into Daughtry with Nickelback touches. Do these guys know how to cover all the bases or what?
The Lonely Island featuring Nicki Minaj—”The Creep”
It takes real effort to turn Nicki Minaj into just another unfunny singer/rapper on an over-arranged comedy record, and you can feel the strain. You’re comedians guys; it’s not your job to make real music. Mediocrity isn’t funny.
Jessie J featuring B.O.B.—”Price Tag”
A mixture of Natasha Bedingfeld, VV Brown, and Lily Allen, with all the appropriate vocal inflections and musical hooks, only with less to say (even than Bedingfeld, who trades in nothing but self-help these days). Dr. Luke provides the hooks, all of which sound vaguely familiar, either from his own productions or other sources. All the same, I welcome this record. Not because it’s good itself (though it isn’t bad), but because it may open the door for others who are better. It may also shut them down, but that’s the chance we’ll have to take.
Panic! At the Disco—”The Ballad of Mona Lisa”
So beautifully produced and arranged—and catchy, too—that you might end up feeling that you know what it’s about. Let me know if you do, will you? If you can convince me that it isn’t just a misogynistic rant, all the better. What do you think that exclamation point stands for, anyway?
Mumford & Sons—”The Cave”
Just like Panic! At the Disco, these guys are masters at creating records that you swear you understand until you actually try to put that understanding into words. I have nothing against vague emotions, but if you’re going to cram this many words into your songs they should connect in some way to some idea somewhere, and not just be a bundle of pseudo-folk-wisdom tropes.
Elementary gospel music—almost literally; the second verse sounds like the soundtrack to a short film on Sesame Street. I like the application of religion to the everyday, and the fact that they don’t mention Jesus until the very end, but the music itself is too everyday, and this could use a little Christlike passion. Not bad, but not exciting.
El DeBarge featuring Faith Evans—”Lay With You”
If you’re going to engage in ’80s nostalgia, this is the way to do it, with somebody who’s actually from the ’80s and who, even after years on the sidelines, doesn’t seem to have lost the touch. It isn’t progress, but it sure sounds good.
Tinie Tempah featuring Eric Turner—”Written In the Stars”
Like his fellow newcomers to the states Jay Sean and Taio Cruz, Tempah is already a huge star in the UK, but in his case it’s difficult to understand why. His not a terrible rapper, and I like his dancehall touches, but otherwise there’s nothing to distinguish him besides his accent, which makes him unusual here but ten-pence-a-dozen in the UK. The song is ordinary, as well. And God help me, I never want to hear Eric Turner breathe again; he sounds like he’s having an asthma attack.
“Dog Days Are Over”, #22
“Hey, Soul Sister”, #29
“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”, #38
“Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, #97
Even with Brian Eno producing, they’re still a bunch of pretentious boobs, and this sounds like what might have happened if Genesis had tried to rewrite The Pogues’s “Fairytale of New York”. Except this version focuses entirely on how sorry the guy is feeling for himself; it never dares to suggest that he might deserve his lonesome fate. Maybe that’s because it’s too busy trying to sort out its pseudo-poetic lyrics: “I took my feet down to Oxford street”. Really? Did you carry them in a sack?
Flo Rida featuring Akon—”Who Dat Girl”
Flo Rida’s presence is so minimal in relation to everything that makes this record worthwhile you’d barely know he was on it if you didn’t read the credits. If you did, you’d realize how much this record owes not only to Akon, who sings the hook, but also the omnipresent Bruno Mars, who co-wrote it, and Dr. Luke, who produced it. Makes you wonder what Mr. Rida’s actual contribution is. How about being the guy who knows what sells? That’s always enough to make you look like a supreme talent.
Victorious Cast featuring Victoria Justice—”Freak the Freak Out”
This is the first of the Nickelodeon singles that comes close to the level of the Disney-pop they hope to cash in on, and it arrives just as Disney-pop itself is beginning to fade into memory. There will always be a market for clean-as-a-whistle, bouncy pop, and maybe Nickelodeon can cash in on the next generation (these things being counted, as they are, in five year intervals). This record, which is more Selena Gomez than Miley Cyrus, though nowhere near the best of either, sounds like a good place to start.
Did I say Coldplay were pretentious? They are, but only if you don’t compare them to The Killers. Lyrics that shift through time and space, suffused with regret and nostalgia; churchbells and thundering martial drums; a clip of Jimmy Stewart praying in It’s a Wonderful Life layered over opera and someone singing in Spanish; melodies swiped from Neil Young and cover art referencing Citizen Kane—this is their idea of a Christmas record. It’s as if they came from a planet where confusion is considered the highest possible art form (oh, I forgot, they’re from Vegas). Still, I like these guys a lot more than Coldplay because they at least partially justify their pretension. This is a mess, but the hooks soar the way they’re supposed to, the emotions, though difficult to sort out, are palpable, and Brandon Flowers sings like a human being. A confused one, I grant you, and one with delusions of grandeur, but human nonetheless. How many of those do you usually find on the pop charts?
Birdman featuring Lil Wayne—”Fire Flame”
Wayne sounds like his old self, if not at his highest level (judging by the sound of “6’7″”, this was just a warm-up). Birdman sounds like his old self, as well, at a level that’s a little easier to reach. The result is perfectly fine, but nothing special.
Far*East Movement featuring Ryan Tedder—”Rocketeer”
At this moment in time, it may look as if no one can lose with a Bruno Mars hook on their record, but that only applies if Mars is singing it. Tedder does a pretty good imitation, and no doubt this is a worthwhile break from writing “Halo” yet again, but this lacks both Mars’s sense of humor and his sense of reality. The rest is even worse, an indicator that Far*East Movement may be another one of those groups whose guests are better than they are. Maybe it’s time to check out that Dev & The Cataracs record.
Fantasia—”I’m Doing Me”
This is right up with Monica’s “Love All Over Me” in the “do they really know what they’re singing about?” sweepstakes. I get the feeling, though, that Fantasia has a better sense of what’s going on than Monica does. Which doesn’t save this from being ordinary in almost every other respect. Fantasia’s last couple of singles had a good neo-soul vibe to them, but this is tepid. You don’t suppose they pegged it as a single just because of the title, do you?
Chris Brown—”No BS”
In which Brown promises a night of perfect sex (the condoms are in the dresser, darling) over a rhythm track that sounds like giant insects are trying to break into the room. The whole thing makes me feel itchy, and not in a good way.
Charlie Wilson—”You Are”
After “There Goes My Baby”, I was hoping that Wilson would be able to mount a real comeback, but this is retro in the worst possible way. That is, it really does sound old, and it makes Wilson sound old, too.
Jamie Foxx featuring Drake—”Fall For Your Type”
Jamie Foxx is a smart, talented guy, but he thinks he’s a lot smarter and talented than he actually is, and he overreaches and fails over and over again. This record is a complete conceptual disaster, its tempo too slow for its subject, its subject too light for its pretentious heaviness, its flashes of ego unleavened by humor or sense. Drake is more bearable than usual, but that’s all that can be said for it.
Jerrod Niemann—”What Do You Want”
Niemann is good at what he does, but too much of what he does seems to be focused on nothing more than demonstrating how good he is. He’s a country classicist, and though there’s nothing wrong with that—it’s something of a relief, actually—it isn’t enough. This is perfectly crafted and absolutely empty.
Just FYI, this week’s Hot 100 includes four records featuring Drake, four featuring Pitbull, five from Glee, five produced and/or written by Max Martin, six produced and/or written by Dr. Luke, six featuring Nicki Minaj, six featuring Rihanna, and seven featuring, and/or written and/or produced by, Bruno Mars. So Mars wins for now. It’s a showbiz horse race, folks. It’s almost all we have left.
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.
Jack Johnson—”You and Your Heart”
Jack Johnson hates haters. Ooh, he hates those haters. He hates haters because they do hateful things like have standards and because their hearts are somehow disconnected from their bodies. (Jack Johnson’s heart is connected directly to his body, and he’s got the song catalog to prove it.) He hates haters so much he lets his guitar distort—just a little, not too much—and convinces his band to play like they hate haters, too. He almost sounds angry. If those haters keep hating he might just go insane. Let’s try it and see.
Jamie Foxx Featuring Justin Timberlake & T.I.—”Winner”
Like all of Foxx’s hits, this one gets the credits wrong—it should be “T.I. featuring Justin Timberlake and some other guy”. I’d give Foxx credit this time out for rapping in his own voice, except he doesn’t have one (he doesn’t dare imitate anybody who can actually sing or rap without technological aid). He is skillful at getting good material out of his “guests”, though. Timberlake actually sounds interested, and T.I. walks off with the record, which he treats as if it were his latest comeback single. Considering how his first comeback single is doing, it may well be.
B.o.B.—”Don’t Let Me Fall”
Aside from the fact that B.o.B. can’t sing, isn’t it a little early in his career to be trotting out the rap equivalent of a demographic-widening power ballad? That’s the third single, dude. Second single’s supposed to be the damn!-look-at-how-famous-I-am record. You’re getting everything out of order.
Tempo-wise, these guys have only one gear, second, but they seem to think that being loud and gruff makes up for this. It doesn’t. This is all about chilling on a sunny afternoon, but it doesn’t chill, and it isn’t sunny, and it forces me to the conclusion that their deliberate lack of subtlety isn’t a stylistic choice or commercial calculation–they honestly lack the ability to play any other way. I’d almost feel sorry for them if I thought they were smart enough to recognize it.
Miranda Cosgrove—”Kissin U”
For it’s latest foray into the Disney-owned tween pop universe, Nickelodeon brings out the big guns, hiring Dr. Luke to produce what sounds like a Kelly Clarkson reject sung by a teenage girl who’s been listening to too much Ke$ha. Not that Dr. Luke isn’t constantly trying something new; here he experiments with the idea of a chorus that is actually more sluggish than the verses. Needless to say, this isn’t a good idea, but no one involved with this record seems to have noticed that, or to care.
Alicia Keys—”Unthinkable (I’m Ready)”
Wait a minute—how old is Alicia Keys? She must be old enough to not consider sleeping with somebody as “the unthinkable”. Is this written from a teenager’s perspective? The music, all slow-grind and heavy percussion, certainly doesn’t sound like it. If it’s about cheating there’s no sign of that either. Does she have any idea what she’s doing at all?
Breaking Benjamin—”Give Me a Sign (Forever And Ever)”
I’d have a lot more respect for Christian metal if what I heard of it wasn’t so one dimensional. It’s all about suffering and pain, the sonic equivalent of The Passion of the Christ, with flagellation and crucifixion replaced by headbanging and bleeding ears. I suppose it’s meant to be cathartic, but how can it be when they do the same thing over and over again? Apparently, as that model Christian, Jacqueline Susann, put it, once is never enough.
Kelly Clarkson—”All I Ever Wanted”
God, I wish Kelly Clarkson picked better material. She sings this perfectly, but it isn’t much of a song, and though I don’t expect masterpieces four singles into a Clive Davis-managed pop album this should be better than it is. As a more subdued version of the stuff she did on My December I suppose it could be considered a step in the right direction, but the real problem with that album wasn’t musical overkill (though that was a problem) so much as the weakness of the material. Maybe this will grow on me the way “Already Gone” did. But “Already Gone” stayed in one place and drove its point home. The greatest singer in the world couldn’t save a song as confused as this one.