Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Radio Daze Vol. 3: November/December 2010

The third edition of this popular series (the last entry had over 150 page views) is based on the Billboard chart for the week of December 18, 2010.
1. "Firework," Katy Perry
Released as a single for the "It Gets Better" campaign in response to the recent teen suicides, "Firework" begins with a verse of platitudes that are pretty cliched and, oddly, conjure images of American Beauty ("Do you feel like a plastic bag/Blowin' in the wind"), making it seem like another half-decent Perry track. But then the bridge comes in, with its stirring strings and Perry's voice finding a good key, and when the chorus's propulsive beat and soaring vocals hit, pop nirvana is achieved. I've stated before that I'm not Perry's biggest fan, but this is easily one of her best songs yet, and if she can find this kind of pure pop bliss in the future, I might just be a convert. A-
2. "Raise Your Glass," Pink
Pink's got an interesting place in the pop world: she found success early in her career with the Mizundastood album, but then disappeared until finding huge success recently. She's a unique pop star as well, with her edgy-punk look, deep, throaty voice, and angry undertone to otherwise giddy dance-pop. "Raise Your Glass" is a party anthem, and Pink makes it sound like a fun time, but there's nothing that really sets this song apart from her other songs; in fact, this is the kind of jam she could do in her sleep. Its a little disappointing to her not put a different spin on the material, but that's not to say its a terrible song: its still dancable and, in Pink's own strange way, fun. B
3. "What's My Name," Rihanna featuring Drake
I've mentioned before that Rihanna doesn't really have her own personality, musically; she just does what the song needs and moves on to the next one. On "What's My Name," she at least gets to be vaguely Caribbean (she is from Barbados), with the song's breezy reggae riddims and her island accent. The song is all about sex, of course, but she sells it with competency. And Drake, arguably one of the best working rappers today, gives a pretty solid guest verse with some bizarre lines ("The square root of 69 is eight-something" - he's technically not wrong). Overall, the effect is a song that's enjoyable enough while it lasts, but doesn't really stick in the mind. B-
4. "The Time (Dirty Bit)," Black Eyed Peas
The Black Eyed Peas are about as commercial, mainstream pop as you can get: every song they record is designed to find radio success, and its a formula that's worked for them, given that their last release, The E.N.D., sold 12 million copies worldwide, produced five Top 10 radio hits, and won three Grammys, on top of an Album of the Year nomination at that awards show and performing the halftime show at this year's Super Bowl. "The Time (Dirty Bit)" is the first single from they're new album, The Beginning, and features a prominent sample from "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" from Dirty Dancing on top of a bouncing Euroclub beat. The Peas' usual dumbed-down, party-all-the-time "rapping" hasn't improved in the slightest, and as a whole the song doesn't quite operate on the same level as, say, dumb-fun "Boom Boom Pow" or transcendent "I Gotta Feeling." C+
5. "Grenade," Bruno Mars
Bruno Mars is the man of the moment: he's got seven Grammy nominations and a number of radio hits, including this propulsive number. Mars isn't the strongest vocalist, especially when he's straining to reach those high notes, but "Grenade" works well as a chastisement of a woman for not feeling the same as he does toward her. His songwriting, on the other hand, is strong work, and he's crafted a terrific pop number in the process. And if you like this song, check out the rest of his album: he's just getting started. B+
6. "Only Girl (In The World)," Rihanna
I'm going to stand by my original assessment of this song and say that it sounds like it was rejected by Beyonce and picked up by Rihanna instead. I've listened to her new album, Loud, in full since the last Radio Daze post, and a lot of her songs actually sound like they were written for someone else. "Cheers (Drink to That)" sounds like it was written with Pink in mind, and "Raining Men" sounds like it was leftover from Destiny's Child; only "Love the Way You Lie Part II" sounds like it was made specifically for her. C+
7. "Just the Way You Are," Bruno Mars
I stand by my assessment of this repeat from the last entry too: its a fun, sweet little love song that shows off the charms of Mars's songwriting abilities. A
8. "We R Who We R," Ke$ha
The inevitable return of Ke$ha, the herpes of pop stars. There's a number of things not to like about this song, from her usual Valley-girl-pseudo-rapping to the half-baked Casio beats. There's a few things about her lyrics that are ridiculous, too: Ke$ha, I don't think you need to worry about hipsters falling in love with you, you're not their type. This has been attached to "It Gets Better" as well, though I highly doubt the images Ke$ha conjures up here are the kind that the gay community wants attached to it: "Got that glitter on my eyes/stockings ripped all up the sides" and "I'm telling you about the shit we do/Selling our clothes, sleeping in cars/Dressin' it down, hittin' on dudes (hard)" are just a few of the choice lyrics here. Take the good with the bad, I suppose. D
9. "Just A Dream," Nelly
Another returning song from the previous edition, I'm actually surprised by the legs this song has had. Nelly's album and subsequent singles haven't found this level of success (yet), but I'm glad that he's back, and that people are embracing him again. As for my take on the song, it holds up: I like the contemplative direction, and it works as a whole. A-
10. "Bottoms Up," Trey Songz featuring Nicki Minaj
There are plenty of people out there that like Trey Songz. I'm not one of them. He hasn't done anything that's truly impressed me, and he's more or less Chris Brown, R. Kelly, and Usher all rolled up into one R&B package. And on this party jam, he doesn't impress much. Who does, and who saves this song from mediocrity, is Nicki Minaj, the most exciting new rapper of the year. In her guest verse, she demonstrates the ferocity and literacy that have made her such a terrific presence, and she single-handedly steals the song from Songz. Check out Minaj's new album, Pink Friday, for more examples of her talents, and especially don't miss her impressive, beat-killing guest verse on Kanye West's "Monster" - when it comes to rhyming, that's exactly what she is. Song: B-, Nicki: A

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