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 It sounds weirdly out of date, like something that should have come out in the mid-to-early aughts when Le Tigre was still making kids with asymmetrical haircuts bomp around.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.
On March 20 at 5:51 p.m. PDT, @MileyCyrus tweeted a Facebook video of a figure in a baggy unicorn onesie dancing very professionally to J. Dash's booty-friendly track "Wop." It's a mesmerizing, grainy, black-and-white clip, shot in one take, and at the very end, the figure makes a face and walks out of the frame, right after removing her hood and revealing herself to in fact be Miley Ray Cyrus herself.
Miley Cyrus is an amazing dancer. I had no idea.
This clip is unnecessarily artsy, and somehow, despite the heavy twerking on display, completely avoids being conventionally sexy, which is intriguing.
I am no longer worried about Miley Cyrus (for the time being).
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.
Hande Yener is a Turkish pop diva who has sold 17 million albums in her 13-year career. Yener started out as a backup singer for "Queen of Turkish Pop" Sezen Aksu, which allowed her to eventually release a solo project. Yener is known for her fusion of Turkish musical traditions with modern Euro-pop sounds. "Hasta" is the lead single from her 2012 album of the same name. The video shows Hande serving up some Madonna "Hung Up"-era lilac feathered realness from a horizontal dance floor.
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.)
As ubiquitous as Will.i.am may seem, he hasn't been a part of the central pop conversation in the past year or two the way a Ke$ha or a Drake has been — it's been four years since "Boom Boom Pow" and "I Gotta Feeling" were the aural wallpaper du jour. But then again, neither has Britney Spears. In terms of sales and longevity, both are legitimate pop icons, but in 2013 both are probably more well known for their participation in reality singing competitions; they have now achieved "mentor" status, somehow. Fitting that that was where "Scream and Shout" made its debut last month, despite the general lack of what can actually be called singing. I wrote about it briefly in the recap for the X Factor episode it premiered on; I believe my overall first impression was that it made me deeply depressed about the direction our society is headed. I would like to amend that statement right now: This song sounds like at least one of the directions our society is headed in, and it is both depressing and kind of cool. Which qualifies it as cyberpunk, I think?
On February 12, 2012, I happened to watched two events in the span of an hour that wound up epitomizing my year in pop music. I had met up with some friends to watch the Grammy Awards, but about an hour in we started to get a little bored, paused the DVR, and started down a YouTube black hole. My friends were fresh on a K-Pop high — specifically on Girls Generation, generally considered to be the biggest girl group in Korea. We watched a clip from their first Japanese tour — the camera glided over a darkened football-size arena filled with hundreds of thousands of points of light as what looked like a giant, angular circus tent billowed with smoke and changed colors a few times before slowly opening up to reveal nine leggy, immaculate pop divas all clad in white. "Look at that. I don't know if you can tell how big that is," Sam said, referring to the gargantuan set piece, but he may as well have been talking about the Girls Generation phenomenon in general. As I watched an impossibly huge arena erupt into a rapturous roar as the band started their first song, I had the strong sense that something huge and important was happening on the other side of the world, something so huge that it couldn't possibly stay on that side of the world for too much longer.