Thursday, July 21, 2011

Radio Daze Vol. 7: July/August 2011

Happy anniversary! It's been one year since the beginning of this series, and so far what have learned? Katy Perry is massively popular, with Teenage Dream providing a wealth of huge singles (five and counting). The club sound has dominated the top 10, but that doesn't mean a few surprises haven't cropped up (Adele, anyone?). These trends are still in effect in this entry, which features an interesting bunch at the top. Read on to find out.

This column is based on the Billboard Hot 100 chart dated July 30, 2011.

1. "Party Rock Anthem," LMFAO feat. Lauren Bennett & Goon Rock

What hath club culture wrought? I've written in this column before about my distaste of Ke$ha and her cheap-sounding beats paired with lazy Valley-girl psuedo-rapping about living la vida trashy (I will admit, though, that "Blow" has grown on me; it's trashy good instead of trash). Well luckily, LMFAO is here to make "TiK ToK" sound like Lord Byron. Beyond a stupid name, what LMFAO has to show is tinny, awful-sounding beats and incredibly busy production while "rapping" in a manner that is both offensive to the art of rapping and a general affront to music itself. Repeating that we're party rocking (apparently a theme of their's) in the house tonight and dancing all night in bargain-bin AutoTune does not a great song make, but should we really expect more from the guys who made "Shots," the soundtrack for sorority parties for years to come? These guys have made a killing off of slapping together various noises and knowing that the drunk clubbing girls of America will dance it all the way to number one. In a similar sense to President Bush's infamous declaration, mission accomplished. F

2. "Give Me Everything," Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer

Our first of three holdovers from Vol. 6 (there's always holdovers, you know). I have to admit that this is still a sort of guilty pleasure of mine. Sure, Pitbull takes some time out to advertise for Kodak, his rapping certainly lacks polish, and it's basically a remake of "I Gotta Feeling" with more sexual undertones. It's sugar, but it goes straight to sweet tooth, and the feeling is bliss. B

3. "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)," Katy Perry

A part of writing this column over the past year has been forcing myself to listen to songs and artists that I had previously dismissed, and as a result I've had to retract previous statements about them. Katy Perry is the best example of this. Her first set of singles, from her first album, did very little for me: she was an enfant terrible more concerned with saying and doing provocative things in her music than actually crafting interesting and, let's just say it, good songs (not unlike her contemporary, Lady Gaga). But then came her Teenage Dream album, which is far from classic but is fun and actually pretty good, with some really solid pop songs such as "California Gurls," "E.T.," and "Firework," her best yet. But they're not all winners. "Last Friday Night" finds Perry recalling the events of the previous Friday, which involved too many shots, maxing out credit cards, and threesomes. Aside from a hokey chant break, followed by a rockin' sax solo, the song is essentially a remake of her own "Waking Up in Vegas." You're better than that, Katy. However, the video is pretty amazing, I Love the '80s distilled into eight minutes (plus cameos by Rebecca Black, Darren Criss, Kenny G, Hanson, Corey Feldman and Debbie Gibson). B-

4. "Rolling in the Deep," Adele

I maintain that this song, the second holdover, is astonishing to see sandwiched between Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj. My hat's off to Adele's banner year, and I still dig the gospel roll of this song. But is this going to be her one big song? None of her other singles have charted this high yet, but could that be because she hasn't released anymore? I'd hate to see her go down as a one-hit wonder. A-

5. "Super Bass," Nicki Minaj

Among pop stars, there really is no one else quite like Nicki Minaj. She sings and raps, often in the same song on her album, Pink Friday. She can go from spitting a fierce rap to singing a lilting R&B song to recording bubblegum pop like "Super Bass." Like her multiple "personalities," Minaj traffics in a variety of musical styles, and astonishingly she mostly succeeds in all of them. Take "Super Bass" for example. This is not typical fare from a female rapper, but Minaj attacks the material with gusto, starting with a spitfire rap before going into that booming chorus. Yet she also showcases vulnerability, something that has been missing in hip-hop for a long time. In the process, she makes a serious case for herself as a pop star, and legitimizes herself as a crossover phenomenon. With "Super Bass," Minaj has pulled off an incredible feat: she's created music that really unites. And it's the kind of song that only someone has wholly, truly unique as Minaj could pull off. A

6. "How to Love," Lil Wayne

Following Minaj in this edition is her Young Money collaborator, Lil Wayne. Wayne is, without a doubt, the most innovative rapper working today. Just look at his output over the last four years: a slew of free mixtapes, followed by a proper album in Tha Carter III, which itself was a grab-bag of various styles that showcased his enormous talents. He followed that up with Rebirth, which found Wayne boldly experimenting in rock (a noble, if ultimately failing, experiment). Then came I Am Not a Human Being, a spaced-out collection of tracks that built the hype as he left prison. Now, in preparation for the upcoming Tha Carter IV, he's released "6'7'," essentially a freestyle in lieu of "A Milli," "John," a huge rap radio hit with Rick Ross, and now "How to Love," which is the closest we'll probably ever get to a ballad from Wayne. The song finds him singing, in AutoTune, about a woman who just can't bring herself to love a man after all the abuse, rejection, and failed relationships she's been through. It's an unusually insightful song, with Wayne not promising to be a lover but rather a friend for her to sympathize with. It's amazing that this deep into his career, he's still finding new ways to surprise us. A

7. "The Edge of Glory," Lady Gaga

RIP Clarence Clemmons. A+

8. "Good Life," OneRepublic

OneRepublic has an interesting story. Producer Ryan Tedder puts a band together, and with the help of producer Timbaland create a smash hit in "Apologize." Like Cobra Starship, I don't think the band was supposed to go too far beyond that, but then came more singles, an album, a second album, and more hits. "Good Life" finds the band in it's usually not-completely-organic pop-rock mode, but that's not necessarily a complaint. Tedder sings in his decent-enough tenor about living a good life of waking up in London with no memory and being able to travel the world whenever he wants, while the cheery, atmospheric music (complete with whistle!) truly makes it sound like fun. It's easy as middle-class folk to dismiss songs in which artists flaunt their privilege, but I don't always take offense at it. Sometimes there's nothing wrong with gentle, inoffensive escapism like this. A-

9. "Tonight Tonight," Hot Chelle Rae

Hot Chelle Rae surely was formed for one reason and one reason alone: to be even more obnoxious than Train. And I'm happy to report that they succeed completely at this. They started by choosing a ridiculous name, reportedly inspired by a Myspace user who harassed them (geez, that's kind of mean-spirited, don't you think?). Then they came up with "Tonight Tonight," a synth-heavy answer to "Hey, Soul Sister" as frontman Nash Overstreet (potentially related to Glee's CHORD OVERSTREET!?) does his best Pat Monihan. The song reeks of tongue-in-cheek wit meant to be ironic but comes off as gratingly annoying, complete with references to dancing on the Hollywood sign and Zach Galifinakis. And all of this is designed to unite the world under one song, an anthem to the obnoxiousness that his Hot Chelle Rae. I've heard before that the Black Eyed Peas are musical evil personified. I disagree; that evil wants to party on roof top, top of the world. F

10. "Skyscraper," Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato is pretty much the perfect Disney kid. She didn't go off the rails with reported drug and alcohol abuse (see: Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus), nor did she become something of sentient press machine (Shia Labeouf), nor did she ditch the company to frolick with the latest teen pop idol (Selena Gomez). That's not to say she's been perfectly complacent; she was recently released from rehab, where she was treating eating disorders. But with that problem, none of the blame was placed on her; she became a victim of stardom in a way that didn't earn the chastisement of the entertainment community (as happens when drugs and alcohol are involved), but instead aroused sympathy. Which is what makes her new single, "Skyscraper," seem so bizarre. It's a Mariah Carey-esque ballad, complete with piano and rousing strings, that takes down her haters and proclaims that despite what everyone is saying, she will rise above. Yet there are not many "haters," and for the most part, as I said, the press has been sympathetic toward her. So why pick a song like "Skyscraper?" As a song, it's the kind of overblown melodrama that Dianne Warren or Linda Perry would have written, and Lovato does not have the pipes to make her vocals work. Still, here's hoping her troubles are behind her, and that maybe that means she can make more interesting pop that this. C

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