I've been trying to figure out if there's anything important to say about "I Love It" for about a month now, other than the interesting footnote that Lena Dunham now apparently has influence over mainstream radio play (I heard "I Love It" on KIIS-FM for the first time the day after "Bad Friend" aired). I suppose it's interesting that Icona Pop graduated from the music blogs to the Billboard charts in a matter of months, but that doesn't excite me the way most mainstream-crashing songs do, because whenever I hear this song I have the overwhelming sense that it's trying to sell me something I can't exactly put my finger on. It's already been used in advertisements for smartphones and mail-order shoes, but there's no reason to stop there — it also sounds like energy drinks, casual dining chains, and new-wave tampons. It sounds weirdly out of date, like something that should have come out in the mid-to-early aughts when Le Tigre was still making kids with asymmetrical haircuts bomp around. If it makes Icona Pop and Charli XCX into global household names, then good for them, but I'd rather listen to "Thrift Shop" for the 358th time than continue to get shouted at by these hiply accented ladies.
The most frequently asked questions in the wake of the “Accidental Racist” debacle were “How?” “Who?” and “Why?” How could this happen? Who thought it was a good idea? Why didn’t someone push a bookshelf on top of this person until Brad Paisley and LL Cool J were persuaded in the studio parking lot to return home to their respective mansions? If I can offer a marginal defense of “Accidental Racist,” it’s not as if pairing a pop-country singer with a past-his-prime rapper automatically leads to disaster. It is possible for this equation to also produce an outcome that’s about as innocuous as the Hot 100 can get in 2013.
Over the past year, Demi Lovato has slowly moved into the often-thankless role of the gimmick-free vocal-centric pop star, a significantly less crowded market than it was, say, 10 years ago. (Its reigning queen is now Taylor Swift, against whom public opinion has been shifting at the same time Lovato has been quietly stepping up her game.) I still stand by "Give Your Heart a Break" as a solid piece of songwriting, precisely because it feels old-fashioned next to the more sexed-up kind of dance jams that Rihanna and Nicki Minaj have been cranking out. (I love the sexed-up dance jams, too, but you gotta keep it fresh.) "Heart Attack" continues Lovato's track record of irony-free, emotionally sharp pop songs that stick in your head for weeks at a time. It's her best single to date.
I first got put on to "Bugatti," at the embarrassingly late date of "a month ago," during a set by Crank City DJ's infamous DJ Horse Hoof Haver (a.k.a. my friend Jackson). In my defense, I'd been out of the country for six weeks — but really, that's no excuse for failing to keep up with the latest in advanced American radio rap technology. Because when you first hear a song as massively and perfectly, to borrow a phrase from the children, "turnt up" as "Bugatti," you feel as if you might not have need for any other musical sounds ever again. These particular windows-down volume-all-the-way-fucking-up jams, you see, they lay waste and salt the earth. And that first time with "Bugatti," I felt that way, even though DJ Horse Hoof Haver was peppering his trademark "horse neigh" drops all over the place.
The first (and possibly last) thing you need to know about Imagine Dragons is that the name really oversells the band. The existence of Imagine Dragons is a sad reminder that Ronnie James Dio is dead, and therefore the perfect moniker for a Ronnie James Dio side project is left to a pop-rock group from Las Vegas that’s clearly inexperienced in the hydra-balladry arts. (Does Pirates of the Caribbean include a dragon? Not good enough either way.)
"F**kin' Problem," the song that bumped A$AP Rocky into the mainstream, is still hanging onto the midsection of charts, and sounds more and more like a Linkin Park song with every replay, but today I'd rather talk about Rocky's would-be other single "Wild for the Night," which has been struggling to get an airplay foothold for a few weeks now (where is 2 Chainz when you need him?) and which I have just had to resort to playing on repeat in my car. Rocky released a big-budget on-location video for the track earlier this week (see above), which included a bonus Skrillex mini-track at the end and got people talking about the song again for about 24 hours, but its time seems to have already passed, and the video hasn't even cracked 1 million views on YouTube yet. It's a reminder that in the chart world "Problem" is still bigger than A$AP Rocky, and with his Vegas days nearly upon us, the Skrillex Factor may no longer be quantifiable, if it ever was.
Well, I'm glad this appears to be out of our systems now. It wasn't going to be very long before the name "Swedish House Mafia" stopped being funny, and if we as a society ever normalize a name like "Swedish House Mafia," then there might be no saving us. I liked SHM better when they were making awesomely silly steampunk Absolut ads; this attempt at a heart-tugger is completely flat and boring by comparison. I'm not sure who this John Martin fellow is ("John Martin is a Swedish singer-songwriter, best known for his collaborations with the Swedish House Mafia." Thanks, Wikipedia), but for some reason I always imagine Jax from Vanderpump Rules is singing this, preferably while wearing a pristine off-white fisherman sweater. That five-step jump between notes in the chorus sounds like it is actually physically hurting him; I can hear the wince, and pretty soon I'm mirroring it myself.
Weeks on chart: 11 Peak: No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100, March 16, 2013 Current radio play frequency: N/A
YouTube hit count: 20,240,160
For a while now, I’ve been forwarding a half-baked theory that Bruno Mars is the reincarnation of Billy Joel. Granted, the seed was probably planted because both men happen to have hit songs called “Just the Way You Are.” But Bruno and Billy are also guys who I would describe as “old pros” — they have a special knack for turning out easy-listening chart-bait that would be popular no matter the era, and performance-wise, they display an affinity for durable show-business pizzazz deriving from the non-rock worlds of the ’50s and ’60s.
Weeks on Chart: 1 Peak: No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100, this week Current Radio Play Frequency: N/A
YouTube Hit Count: 7,360,592 at time of publication, innumerable video reinterpretations
The revamping of the Hot 100 to include YouTube traffic in its algorithm means that "Harlem Shake," a sputtery bedroom trap track by Mad Decent artist Baauer, has landed seemingly out of nowhere at the top of the mainstream charts like an off-course UFO. It hasn't gotten much in the way of radio play yet, but if/when it does, I imagine it might take a lot of people not already entrenched in the flighty meta-genre of blog music by surprise. This is not to say that it's alone on the charts in spirit right now: its no. 1 debut pushed previous champion "Thrift Shop" — another memey jam that nonetheless climbed the charts the old-fashioned way — to no. 2. Regardless of how sick you are of either of these songs, there is something kind of exciting happening in popmetrics right now if two tracks with such D.I.Y., antiestablishment sensibilities are what the numbers tell us people want to hear.
Pop music allows for about five genuine weirdos to get meaningful play at any given time, and usually three of those spots are taken by rappers. Florence Welch may not have had a song take off like 2010's "Dog Days Are Over," but she's proven to be good for more than just Eat Pray Love trailers, and has since become a perennial figure in the Starbucks CD rack scene (which may not be the coolest niche to find yourself in, but is worth something; Mom Rock is of course important because moms still buy physical music discs), as well as the soundtracks to just about any young-adult film or TV show released in the last two years. All of these career highlights are very helpful in making you forget that Welch is still really weird and, as such, a potentially powerful pop weapon.
Back in October, I discussed how the video for the third single off Believe, Justin Bieber's 2012 "big boy" album, managed to soften my heart toward the increasingly obnoxious heartthrob for its five-minute run time, but only through repeated semi-voluntary listenings have I come around to the song itself. I don't think this is an accident; the song and the video are Justin and the people who make him systematically wooing the listener, simultaneously creating and fulfilling a fantasy, saying all the right things. They may not be particularly original or interesting things, but it doesn't matter, because we've Won A Date With Justin Bieber and now he wants to show us off, eh eh eh. It's hard to deny that this song makes such a proposal sound kind of fun, even to a non-Belieber.
One topic that people seem keen to write about in 2013 is how the pop climate has suddenly shifted to become friendly for more melodic, actual-instrument-playing music; a shift that has allowed for a song called "Ho Hey" that has nothing to do with hollering at prostitutes to crack the Top 5. Mumford and Sons have planted multiple flags in the Hot 100, and I suspect someone from Fox has been making sure that American Idol winner Phillip Phillips's pleasant, earbuggy "Home" has been rising up the charts again to drum up enthusiasm for the show's 12th season. Oh, and everyone seems to like that Ed Sheeran song about the crack addict. There seems to be a general agreement among the Skrillex-averse that this is a good thing; that acoustic guitars creeping back into Autotune and laptop territory means our pop songs are going to be more thoughtful and meaningful and good for society; promote healthier lifestyles and bring back our daughters from prom before midnight. This ain't your mama's rock and roll, kids! (She was more into Hole.)