Saturday, February 12, 2011

Radio Daze Vol. 4: January/February 2011

*Based on the Billboard Hot 100 chart dated February 19, 2011*

1. "Black and Yellow," Wiz Khalifa

I find it kind of amusing that this song, ostensibly Wiz's tribute to his hometown of Pittsburgh, finally hit number one a week after the Pittsburgh Steelers lost the Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers. That being said, I can see why this song is so popular (and is being co-opted by every sports team everywhere): it has a repetitive chorus that's catchy, polished production, and, of course, it became the rallying cry of every Steelers fan (and bandwagon Steelers fan) in the country. But the song isn't really about Pittsburgh; its really just Wiz boasting about his car (first verse) and his money/jewelry (second verse). He's not proclaiming that he's from Pittsburgh; metaphorically, he's asserting that he IS Pittsburgh. Despite some banal verses, Wiz does have a easy-going and enjoyable flow, and plenty of promise. He could develop into a very interesting new rapper for 2011. B

2. "Grenade," Bruno Mars

The first of three holdovers from the last entry of this series, "Grenade" holds up as a pretty earnest (if melodramatic) pop proclamation of love. Other than that, I don't really have much else to say about it. B+

3. "Firework," Katy Perry

The second holdover, "Firework" is still the one Katy Perry that unabashedly love. It's not Shakespeare by any means, but it is a just-be-you message song that's at least enjoyable, rather than being a mid-tempo drag. Apart from the stellar production, Perry's gigantic vocals really help drive this one home. And I really liked the  Glee version last week, which featured some clever staging for the show (I included that instead of the official video because I assume you've all seen Glitterboobs already). A-

4. "Fuckin' Perfect," P!nk

P!nk makes her triumphant return, with another self-empowerment song that aspires to inspire in a way that only P!nk could pull off (between calling us "dirty little freaks" and now this, she's got a passive-aggressive notion of how to make you feel better). Its a pop ballad that's on par with what one would expect from her, but her lyrics really do make an impact this time around, providing if not an original, than at least an effective piece of empowerment. I assume this, too, is part of the It Gets Better campaign, and hey, if this song does indeed help people feel better about themselves, then who am I to complain? B

5. "I Need a Doctor," Dr. Dre featuring Eminem and Skylar Grey

After years of promises, delays, leaked singles, and dead ends, it looks like Dr. Dre's Detox might actually, like, really come out this year (maybe). Dre's obviously changed with the times, as this is a far cry from anything on The Chronic. But Eminem lays down two ferocious verses (can we all agree on this: thank God he quit drugs? He's seriously never been better.), and the song functions as a tribute to Dre from Em as the latter's cry for a friend for sobriety. Its not old-school Dre, so fans expecting that will be very disappointed, but its powerful stuff, and Dre's verse isn't exactly memorable, but itsmuch more promising than "Kush," the other single that was leaked late last year. The most surprising thing is that this is the song's debut on the chart: I'm guessing Eminem is drawing more people to it than Dre, though. A

6. "Tonight (I'm Fucking You)," Enrique Iglesias

I have a lot of problems with this song. Let's ignore, for now, the generic, tinny house beat and Iglesias' overly processed vocals. Let's also ignore that the radio version, though more language friendly, is still just as icky as its explicit version. The biggest problem I have with this song is its brain-meltingly dumb and offensive content. The chorus finds Iglesias being very attracted to a woman, to whom he says, "Please excuse me, I don't mean to be rude/But tonight I'm fucking you." First off, that line, in the history of human civilization, has never worked on anyone with even a shred of dignity, and probably not on many without even that. Secondly, I hate to break it to you, Enrique, but that is in fact incredibly rude. This seems to be becoming a problem with pop stars lately, since, as you may remember, Akon was trying to find the words to describe a woman without being disrespectful, and landed on "damn, you a sexy bitch." To help matter, Iglesias recruits the chivalrous, golden-hearted ladies' man known as Ludacris for a guest verse. The fact that this song has made it this high on the charts really bums me out about America's current tastes. F-

7. "Rocketeer," Far East Movement featuring Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic

The last time we checked in on Far East Movement here, they were flying high on the smash success of their hedonistic anthem "Like a G6." I instantly wrote them off as destined to become one-hit wonders, putting out follow-up singles that would never take, and end up performing in hotels for audiences that don't want to hear anything that's not related to poppin' bottles in the ice and getting slizzered. But look at that, they went and proved me wrong, scoring another hit about things that fly (a motif of theirs?). This one's got a very polished production, but its not as fun as their previous hit. And their "rapping" has only further deteriorated, becoming something of a Fergie-less poor-man's Black Eyed Peas. It is decent though, and apparently, according to the song's producer, this was actually sampled in Justin Beiber's "Somebody to Love," and not the other way around (they actually share this producer, who must really like that synth squiggle). Now here's my challenge to you, Far East Movement: make a third hit. Think you can do it? B-

8. "What's My Name," Rihanna featuring Drake

Drake's ridiculously silly (but strangely charming) guest version still cracks me up every time I hear this song. I don't really have a change-of-heart about this song; its still the serviceable pop song that Rihanna has made her modus operandi since the beginning of her career. That's neither a compliment nor an insult. B-

9. "Hey Baby (Drop It to the Floor)," Pitbull featuring T-Pain

Who would have thought that Cuban-American rapper Pitbull would have ever become a major pop star? I certainly never thought it would be possible. But since he's latched on to the house-beat Euroclub movement from the very beginning, he's been one of its leading figures, as improbable as that sounds. "Hey Baby (Drop It to the Floor)" hardly features him, though (he doesn't say anything more than "ooh baby baby" for most of the song), instead relying on its heavy beat to move butts on the dancefloor. In fact, the lyrics of this song are practically non-existent, not meant for listening to intently or, really, for driving in your car (where, if you're like me, is really the only time you listen to the radio). Its meant to be danced to, particularly, I'm guessing, while at least somewhat inebriated. In other words, this is pure dance music, plain and simple. And with that as its goal, its an effective record, if completely forgettable. C+

10. "Hold It Against Me," Britney Spears

I've genuinely been looking forward to the day when I would be reviewing a Britney Spears song in this column. And I mean that without a bit of irony. Spears is a fascinating piece of pop culture, a perfect manufactured pop star who churned out hit after music-factory-made hit with breathlessly processed vocals and the best productions that label-money could buy. She made iconic videos that capitalized on her invented sexuality, with sell-out tours that were spectacles where the music was merely an excuse to dazzle with tight choreography, flashing lights and pyrotechnics. Then she faltered, had a major (and majorly public) meltdown, and her career virtually disappeared. After one failed comeback album (2007's Blackout), she returned with 2008's Circus. This song is being dubbed as her comeback single (because a four-times platinum album and three Top 20 singles is something that demands a comeback, question mark), and it's already made a big radio impact. Its a cheesy electro come-on, built on what may be one of the worst pick-up lines ever, "if I said I want your body now, would you hold it against me?" (har har). And its par-for-course what you'd expect from a Britney Spears single: slick production, outrageously AutoTuned vocals, and absolutely zero personality. And that's what so fascinates me about her: musically, she's an empty vessel, completely incapable of making a song that really comes from her and not her songwriting team. That's what I want to hear from her: something personal from Britney Spears, human being, instead of Britney Spears, Pop Star/Registered Trademark. C

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