I can see now that we've made a grave mistake. This bracket, this choice we made in the dead of summer to celebrate the fun and foolishness of popular songs, was all wrong. There were other opportunities, dismissed without a second thought. Great brackets. Brackets you'd never forget. The Coolest Cats Ever. The Best Sitcom Stars of the '90s. The Coolest Cats Ever Who Were Sitcom Stars in the '90s. The possibilities for cats and sitcoms were endless. But we went Big Tent. We wanted people to join us in the yelling and the crying and the pain. And now we're here. Left with these songs. Four days have passed and voters have turned out in droves. But have we done right by a generation? Are these songs really the Songs of the Millennium?
[YOU HAVE NO INTEREST IN RECAPS AND WOULD LIKE TO PROCEED DIRECTLY TO THE FINAL FOUR VOTE, WHICH IS UNDERSTANDABLE, SO PLEASE DO SO NOW.]
Oh, you thought Jay and Kanye were going to be in the video? They've got stuff to do. Jay's warming Blue's bottles and Kanye's eating ice cream with Kim Kardashian at Cannes. Who gon' stop them, HUH? Kanye obviously saw the video for M.I.A.'s "Bad Girls" and shot his MacBook Air because he was so angry he hadn't come up with it himself. Then he presumably called up director Romain Gavras to demand he do one of Watch the Throne's videos, and this is the result. As the first track on the album, "No Church in the Wild" sets the tone for Watch the Throne's ominous proggy extravagance. Its creepy burbling guitar line interpolates a song by Roxy Music's Phil Manzanera, the drums sample Spooky Tooth, and the possessed wail is James Brown.
Here is Katy Perry karaoke-rapping Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “N****s in Paris,” because, I don’t know, a search engine became sentient and demanded it, maybe? Anyway: It is, like this needs to be said, shit of the cray variety. The first time you watch it, it’s actually suspenseful — what is Katy Perry, a German/Portuguese/Irish person, going to say when she gets to the two points in the song where the word “n****” appears in the lyrics? Will she say “n****”? Will she say nothing? Did she think she’d get away with this because she did it in England? Or because five years ago she put out a song called “Ur So Gay” and barely anybody got mad? Why is she doing this? What’s Gucci, my killa? What’s the message, my sender? What’s that sweater-dress, Aunt Linda?
We have been over this: It’s weird when songs have that word in them, especially songs that are really fun to rap along to. When I interviewed Jay-Z last year, I asked him if he felt creeped out by how many white people seemed to like “N***** in Paris,” and if he’d ever had white people use the word to his face in the course of talking to him about the song, and if he thought maybe the reason white people liked it so much was that they liked having an excuse to say “n****.” This was one of several questions he answered by chuckling and suddenly seeming super-interested in the flavor profile of what he was eating — which in this case was fine, because I was just trying to orchestrate an amusing-post-racial-yuks moment I could use in a story and he could tell and wasn’t going to make it that easy for me. But then after a second he told me white people should just call it “Paris.” Then he ate some fish. (Original reporting! There is no substitute.)
And just like that, Watch the Throne fever is officially over. Great run, but it's done.
With the chance of a lifetime to make the most amazingly literal video of all time, The Throne decided to immortalize their tour with a boring kaleidoscope-inspired concert video. I couldn't be more disappointed.
Every week we ask Molly Lambert to dive deep on one of the Billboard top ten songs of the week charts. This week's victim? The R&B and Hip Hop list, which Molly kindly transformed into film adaptations before grading.
1. Jay-Z & Kanye West, "Ni**as in Paris"
Wizards In Paris (G): A CGI-saturated family adventure about Apples (Jay-Z) and Grapes (Kanye West), two koalas on the loose in the City of Lights after stowing away on a luxury cruise (where they romance gold-digging squirrels, upend a millionaires' buffet and eat so many shrimp). Arriving in Paris on a chilly snowy night, the rascally marsupials face racist cabdrivers, a steep conversion rate, and evil time-traveling steampunk stage magicians. The movie climaxes with an exciting chase through the Chanel flagship store and an epic tumble into the catacombs to face off with both the metropolis's fabled wizards and their own fragile furry mortality. Listen:Here Grade: A
This year's Victoria’s Secret fashion show, which aired last night on CBS, was a bit gullier than usual. That’s because, alongside all the usual frilly pageantry — the bedazzled undergarments, the kissy faces, the Adam Levine — Jay-Z and Kanye West showed up to do “Niggas in Paris.” The Watch The Throne staple (it’s being played an exponentially increasing number of times per night during the power duo’s current tour) was the obvious choice for the evening. But that didn’t mean the delirious Hit Boy beat — certainly a harder-knocking sound than the Victoria’s Secret spectacular is typically accustomed to (again: Adam Levine) — sat too well with the models. Gloriously, every cut-away to a backstage shot of a beautiful person attempting to dance in this video is an instantly GIF-able bit of awkward magic. Why can’t these models dance? Is this that thing where good-looking people never get told they’re not good at something? (The theory was explicated on 30 Rock, in the brilliant episode in which Jon Hamm attempts to order off the menu — “a catfish po’ boy and a diet raspberry Fanta” — at Barney Greengrass). Doing much better at the "looking cool while at a show" thing: Beyoncé, hanging in the front row with a Danny Brown impersonator; Orlando Bloom, in his most visible role since Elizabethtown; and the general audience, who obey instructions to throw their hands in the air with all the dead-eyed obedience of a cult assembly. Just one question: where the hell is ‘Ye’s skirt?
It's been put forth that in a recession customers are more likely to splurge on impulse buys, things they consider small luxuries. Estee Lauder's chairman Leonard Lauder dubbed this trend the "lipstick index" in 2001, but since then lipstick sales haven't increased accordingly as everything else has continued to go to hell. But certain things have managed to continue trending upwards, eking out tiny squares of market growth. Places where the novelties boom has been noticeable: nail polish, candy, and soda. Tobacco sales also went up just when everything else started trending downward. Everything might suck more and more on a day to day level but DAMNED IF THIS APPLE PIE GUM ISN'T SO DELICIOUS.
In its first week of release, Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV is projected to sell between 700,000 to 850,000 copies. That would make Carter IV the year’s second-biggest debut, after Lady Gaga’s Born This Way; it would also significantly trump the super-hyped Watch The Throne, which managed a now-measly-looking 436,000 in its first week. How the hell did that happen?
Yesterday, James Blake (the ascendant electro-pop musician, not the hard-court-specialist) cryptically tweeted: “24th August 2011 — James Blake & Bon Iver ‘Fall Creek Boys Choir.’” Further details are nonexistent, but this much is presumably clear: James Blake and fellow Pitchfork darling Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon are teaming up! And this pairing is significant not just for its musical potential; it’s also a sign of the times. With Bon Blake (trademark pending), Watching the Throne — that is, the act of two individually successful musicians temporarily joining forces, a la Jay-Z and Kanye West — is now reaching critical mass.
When Kanye and Jay-Z's Watch The Throne made it all the way to its release date last Monday without leaking, the music industry sat up and spat out its caviar breakfast. How did such a high-profile album stay safe? The answer was the pair's bonkers commitment to security: They released Throne digitally via iTunes first, so nobody could steal a copy from a warehouse. And Jay-Z and Kanye recorded together only in person and in non-studio settings like hotels and Australian mansions, meaning no tracks were emailed between hackable accounts and no studio hangers-on could get sticky fingers. And most important of all, during the process, Kanye’s engineers saved all the songs to external hard drives that, Billboard reports, “[could] only be accessed by biometric fingerprint readers.” So how did all of this pay off sales-wise?
Jay-Z is smiling. He's not smirking. He's not cackle-chuckling. He's grinning like a school kid, just out for summer, who got away with having his girlfriend do his homework all year. Granted it's a video set, but have we ever seen Shawn Carter with his guard down like this? I knew he had cars for days, but I didn't know he genuinely loved cars, or driving, until I saw him do doughnuts in a custom Maybach-turned-Batmobile. I’d wager my date with Amber Rose that, at some point, Jay squealed, or at least giggled, with delight on the set of this video. Going back and forth with Kanye (red designer skinny jeans hanging off his ass, ensuring another five years of urban asscrack to avoid looking at), he looks more comfortable than ever.
On July 23, Lauryn Hill had a baby, her sixth. A week later she performed at L.A. Rising Festival. All in a week’s work, y’know. Word to Zion. Now I’ve been wrong (and hurt) before, so please correct me if this comes off sounding a little Miseducated, but I can’t help wonder if either on a symbolic level (she now has more children than Grammy’s), or just a fiscal level (so many kids to feed), this bodes well for Lauryn making a full-on return to the landscape as an artist, a performer. We all have the same wish, don’t we? The same flashback? It was an August much like this one when we first heard the 1-4-1-1-1-2-1-1 finger-snaps on “Nothing Even Matters,” announcing the undeniable truth: Lauryn Hill was president — nay, EMPRESS — of these here United States. The skies could fall! Your boss could call! But L spitting hot fire, singing lullabies could make the world seem so very small (snap-snap).
1. Jay-Z and Kanye West, “Otis”
This, the first "single" from Kanye and Jay’s Watch The Throne (single in quotes because Hov claimed there would be no official single from the album), dropped Wednesday night on Funkmaster Flex’s New York radio show (you should do yourself a favor and listen to Flex’s accompanying rant). The last time Kanye West flipped an Otis Redding sample he made the greatest song of his career (Late Registration's "Gone"). So stakes were high on this one. "Otis" doesn’t quit flip the Stax legend’s "Try A Little Tenderness" as much as it fluffs its hair and puts it front and center. But where the beat is a little underwhelming, the interplay between Jay and Kanye is stellar, as the two trade bars, and use the end of each other’s rhymes as jumping off points for their own. Jay-Z: “I got five passports, I’m never going to jail.” Kanye: “I made Jesus walk, I’m never going to hell.” Don’t sweat the technique.