Saturday, June 30, 2012

Radio Daze Vol. 11: May/June 2012

The following is based on the Billboard Hot 100 chart dated June 30, 2012.

1. "Call Me Maybe," Carly Rae Jepsen

I'm not even sure if I have to say anything about this song. You most likely know it; even if you don't know the 26-year-old Canadian who recorded it, you've likely seen any number of viral videos starring a wide swath of stars (everyone from Justin Bieber to Katy Perry to the Harvard baseball team to former Secretary of State Colin Powell has one). "Call Me Maybe" is more or less the perfect pop song: a brisk three-minutes-and-change, with easy-to-digest lyrics and, most importantly, its insanely catchy. Even if Jepsen never has another hit, and long after we've forgotten her name, we'll all likely remember that we just met her, and her song was crazy. A-

2. "Somebody That I Used to Know," Gotye feat. Kimbra

Somehow, this managed to make it to number one. For seven weeks. Seven. Damn. Weeks. I'm not saying that's a bad thing; I really like the song a lot. But this is a true left-field choice for number one. Stranger things, I guess, but man, what a time we're living in. A-

3. "Payphone," Maroon 5 feat. Wiz Khalifa

Maroon 5 come roaring back after the number-one hit "Moves Like Jagger" with another pop confection. Adam Levine and company deliver a bitter ode to love lost via a hilariously analog form of communication, but despite the bouncy uptempo beat, the lyrics sting, particularly when Levine wails "all those fairy tales are full of shit." Khalifa's guest verse doesn't really add much to the song besides a quick cameo and an even more literal interpretation of the song's theme. All the same, "Payphone" is remarkably delightful for a band I used to not be able to stand. B+

4. "Wide Awake," Katy Perry

Ever since Perry divorced Russell Brand, her new songs, on her deluxe edition of Teenage Dream, have been downers. Former number-one "Part of Me" was a defiant kiss-off to an ex who took everything but her sense of self, and in "Wide Awake," she finds herself hurt by a man whom she loved and lost. Ballads, though, have never been Perry's strong suit, and it shows here, with flimsy lyrics that could have been written by a high school kid and a repetitive "I'm wide awake" motif that grates as the song goes on. Hopefully the future will find her cheering up again. C+

5. "We Are Young," fun. feat. Janelle Monae

The ultimate anthem for the melancholy of a night on the town, when you feel the possibilities opening up but ready to fall into the arms of someone close. I'm still obsessed with this song and the album that spawned it, Some Nights. A

6. "What Makes You Beautiful," One Direction

If this is the dawn of a new boy band era, we're going to have to do better than One Direction as the leaders of the charge. "What Makes You Beautiful" is the kind of song that was clearly calculated to be a pop hit, like "Call Me Maybe," but not nearly as hooky. It doesn't help that, musically at least, the members of One Direction have no personality. They lack the complex harmonies that defined the Backstreet Boys, and they don't seem to have a charismatic star like N*Sync did in Justin Timberlake. Its innocent-enough teen pop, but this is a weak beginning for a new era. C

7. "Starships," Nicki Minaj

As I've said before, I really wish Minaj would stick to the bugfuck-crazy and leave the shameless pop grabs behind. But as far as shameless pop grabs go, you could do much worse than this. B+

8. "Where Have You Been," Rihanna

Another day, another Rihanna rave-up. I've mentioned before that the new dance-influenced sound of pop music fits Rihanna perfectly, allowing her to become an even bigger pop star than ever. Her voice perfectly wails on this song of finally finding the proverbial "one," whether that be the One or the One-Night Stand, most likely amid the strobe lights and glowsticks of a pulsating dancehall. It's a great song, one that sticks in the mind while not requiring any thought to enjoy. Instead, it goes straight for the pleasure center, in the way that only Rihanna is doing. B+

9. "Wild Ones," Flo Rida feat. Sia

I think I've mentioned this before, but Flo Rida has pop smashes in spite of himself. I guarantee you there is no one out there going, "wow, Flo Rida has fantastic rapping skills and really has a lot of interesting things to say." In all honesty, for the purposes of this column I had to really concentrate on Flo's verses to hear them, rather than tune them out in anticipation for the chorus. That's Flo's strength: a monster beat pared with a terrific hook, usually a sample or sung by an up-and-comer (see "Right Round," which featured a yet-to-be-famous Ke$ha on the hook). Here, Australian singer Sia (best known for "Breathe Me," aka the song from the Six Feet Under finale) takes on that role, and the result is an instant earworm. I'd give this an A for being an indelible slice of pop, but since Flo Rida has to make an appearance on his own song (like some sort of jerk), it'll have to settle for a B+.

10. "Boyfriend," Justin Bieber

If Justin Timberlake isn't going to make new music, why not have Justin Bieber fill that role? It seems odd at first glance, but surprisingly, the Biebz makes it work better than anyone could have expected. I've long advocated that Bieber would be more than a one-hit wonder, and that as long as he matured musically as well as vocally, he would have decent career longevity. He's still fairly innocent lyrically, singing about being a good boyfriend without explicitly mentioning anything too risque, but there's a shocking degree of sexuality in his voice now that gives it a little more of an edge. Way to go, kid. You might just be something more than a teenybopper heartthrob. B+

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