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Category Archives: pop stars

It hasn’t been a great couple of months for blonde alt-rock icons who meant the world to me when I was thirteen. First, Courtney Love reconstructed Hole to release Nobody’s Daughter, a meaninglessly brash update of the heartbreaking and raw solo demos that floated around the internet last summer. What has been lost from the post-rehab versions is the sense of vulnerable humanity that pulsed within the warm guitars, the open spaces of the songs, and Courtney’s disheveled croak which actually enhanced the tales of burnout and decay and hopeful redemption. In the Hole record, that croak sounds weak and thin when backed by pseudo-grunge guitar crunch, and with new songs (or rewrites of the old ones) that contain lyrics full of silly bluster; where once Courtney Love sounded as if she was staring her demons in the eye (finally!), she now sounds as if those demons are insignificant and barely worth attention.

This new iteration of Nobody’s Daughter is unfortunate because it really could have shown a new Courtney Love—an honest, poignant, sympathetic, and artful one—instead of all this hollow bluster. She really is a fantastic writer; if only she’d get out of her own way more often. Hey, Courtney: rock music is dead—at least the kind that you want to play—so do you really want to make a record that sounds like it should be played on radio stations that pump out Chevelle? Next time—if there is a next time—stick to the warm SoCal 70s acoustic guitars. They worked a lot better, and made you sound like a real person.

She’s done a lot of terrible or confusing things, but worst of all (for me) is what she did to “Pacific Coast Highway.” The original is right up there with “Malibu,” proving that for all her faults, Courtney Love is a tremendous chronicler of Los Angeles.

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Liz Phair is getting laughed at—AGAIN—for her terrible music decisions, leading people to think that the music itself is terrible. This happened most recently in 2003, when she wrote and recorded a handful of songs with The Matrix (responsible for at least two of Avril Lavigne’s best songs) on her much-derided eponymous major label debut (I myself think the record is cynical and a little cringe-worthy at worst, but contains some exuberant and occasionally touching songs).

Phair is now getting mocked for releasing her new album Funstyle—rejected by her record label, which does have a point—on her website, including the head-scratching “Bollywood,” an honest-to-God rap over a faux-bhangra beat that details how she began to work as a television composer (or something?).

Look, there are other songs here—songs like “Miss September” (which wouldn’t sound out-of-place on Whitechocolatespacegg) and “Satisfied” (a song that Taylor Swift could do wonders with if she rewrote the lyrics, proving an earlier point, though isn’t it weird that Swift is now a better writer than Phair?)—but the weird joke-songs like “Bollywood” and “Smoke” (which seems to poke fun at her post-Liz Phair career) and “Beat Is Up” (a send-up of Chicago ladies and their self-help gurus) and “U Hate It” (appropriately the final song on the album, which is hilarious and also contains the immortal lyric “I think I’m a genius/You’re being a PEEN-IUS”) will garner all the attention. As they probably should, and certainly Phair wouldn’t want it any other way.

Because look: how long has Phair been a troll? Let’s not forget that Exile in Guyville was a deliberate response to not only the Rolling Stones, but all of Chicago and dude-centric indie rock to boot. Her Girlysound tapes contained the cowfucking diptych “California” and “South Dakota.” So these new songs, as far as intent goes, are really nothing new. You could say that even her foray into glossy pop was a large-scale trolling in line with Guyville, but directed at a much larger population. Taking all this into account, Liz Phair may actually be the world’s most successful internet troll, with Funstyle as her latest salvo.

Does this make Funstyle a good record? Absolutely not. But like Zappa, like Metal Machine Music, it makes for an interesting listen (of course, because Liz Phair is a woman with a certain reputation, the assumption is that there is no semblance of thought behind her artistic intent, which is bullshit: songs like “Bollywood” and “Smoke” are too galling and knowing—too self-conscious—to be anything less than the kind of pop-art statement that makes Lady Gaga look like the shallow pretender she is; hey “Little Monsters,” this is how you do subversion). Which is more than you can say about Somebody’s Miracle—to quote Pitchfork, “Now [that] is a terrible Liz Phair record.” Funstyle is the sound of Liz Phair not giving a shit, and daring you to do the same. The fact that you are angry or bemused or interested or appalled only means that Phair—loser that she may often be—has won again.

Oh yeah—”Bollywood” at the very least showcases better white-girl flow than anything in Ke$ha’s oeuvre. Also? That part where she goes “CONNNNNTRRRAAAACCCT” all evil-like reminds me of that skit in “Dre Day.” Finally: “I was trippin’ lookin’ at my portfolio” is possibly the funniest opening line to any song that has ever existed. God bless you, Ms. Phair. Just, you know, try to write a fucking song again, at least once in a while

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Speaking of Ke$ha, how terrible has pop radio been lately? There have been exactly zero good songs this year that have gotten any play. Lady Antebellum’s crossover “Need You Now” was the one bright spot earlier this spring, though its debut on country radio in late 2009 disqualifies it from contention (Justin Bieber’s creepiness and Ludacris’s embarrassment also disqualifies “Baby”).

At least last summer had a few certified summer bangers, no matter how terrible (“I Gotta Feeling”), slightly douchey (“Best I Ever Had”), or marginalized (“You Belong With Me,” “Party in the USA”). This year we are relegated to Katy Perry, a singer/personality so abhorrent she can’t even make a song about the superiority of California girls sound even remotely listenable or fun.

Highlight of the year so far: Miranda Lambert’s month-long country chart-topper “The House That Built Me.”

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I don’t know if it’s my SoCal homesickness, but lately I’ve been listening to two indie rock acts (GASP!) from Southern California who slather reverb and fuzz onto their specific genres. San Diego’s Wavves and Los Angeles’s Best Coast have struck a laidback breezy vibe that reminds me of SoCal beach lounging; Wavves with surf-inflected punk-pop and Best Coast with their vaguely girl-group sound. Of course, being so typically indie, the production makes both acts sound like absolute shit, obscuring the fact that some actual tunes are buried underneath all that pretension. Wavves’s Nathan Williams is hot but douchey, which is perfect for a Southern California boy, and his voice produces the exact kind of obnoxious whine you’d expect (I keep thinking Cobain crossed with someone else I can’t quite place; maybe a bit of Pete Shelley?). “Green Eyes” has the great punk line “My own friends hate me/But I don’t give a shit.” And Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino could actually be a force if she matured beyond indie aesthetic; songs like “When I’m With You” showcase an actual songwriting talent and vocal presence sorely lacking in much of contemporary indie rock (including Wavves).

And if their aesthetic and their locale weren’t enough to have me conflate the two acts, here are their recent album covers:

I CAN HAZ FUZZPOP.

Just doing my weekly check of the Hot 100 and my initial “guh, Ke$ha is still #1” disgust was tempered by seeing Taylor Swift’s Valentine’s Day song “Today Was A Fairytale” at #2, already tying the peak position she got with “You Belong With Me” (though “Fairytale”‘s success is almost wholly due to digital downloads).

Followed by a delightful surprise:

Looking quite handsome lately, Ms. Swift!

Also what the hell is “Baby” by Justin Bieber ft. Ludacris?…After one listen, it is hilarious that Luda has followed up his collaboration with former tween sensation Jesse McCartney (“How Do You Sleep?”) with a collaboration with current tween sensation—and Jesse McCartney v2.0—Bieber, meaning some crazily mushy rapping that includes hilariously insincere-sounding pronunciation of “my HEARRRRT” in both songs (you know he really means to talk about his dick).

The most played songs on American radio from a roadtrip beginning in New York City and ending in Virginia, and back again. Who says the monoculture is dead? Note to radio: Start playing some new songs please, but no “Tick Tock” thanks.

11 plays
Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind
I must be the only New Yorker who actively dislikes this song. Jay-Z’s flow is as lazy as the rest of his late-period output (couldn’t he have stayed retired??!), with the added bonus of sounding like he’s holding in a belch on the second verse. He is decently mediocre on his third verse, which sounds like a miracle in comparison. Alicia Keys provides the proper bombast that the chorus necessitates, except she continues to sound like Alicia Keys: strained and strident and serious, and as if she’s constipated. Gassiest rap song ever? Only played once outside of the NYC/Philly area. Sounds perfect while on the BQE in Brooklyn Heights as Manhattan twinkles across the river, otherwise 5/10

Owl City – Fireflies
Sub-Postal Service twee nonsense, full of lines aiming for “clever” but ending up at “cloying.” Gained in popularity the further south we went. A moratorium must be placed on men who sing like this. 2/10

10 plays
Iyaz – Replay
Incredibly irritating chorus melody that actually serves as a meta-comment regarding the song’s content, becoming slightly charming even if there is no actual “Replay” setting on an iPod. Nice that he wants to cook her favorite meal, shame about the lousy grammar. 5/10

9 plays
Kelly Clarkson – Already Gone
OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder sells Beyonce and Kelly Clarkson the same song; Beyonce’s sounds stately, dignified, and slightly stiff while Clarkson’s is simultaneously messier and more frigid, sounding more human in the process. Quite possibly the best and most complex-sounding vocal performance of Clarkson’s singles career. 7/10

8 plays
David Guetta feat. Akon – Sexy Bitch
Akon: “I’m tryna find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful.” David Guetta: “Damn, she’s a sexy bitch.” 8/10.

Jay Sean feat. Lil Wayne – Down
Asian Ne-Yo sweet blandisms can only put off the Requisite Terrible Weezy Verse for so long. 4/10

Britney Spears – 3
Britney is always best when she’s saying absolutely nothing of worth, and this ode to menage-a-trois is as good and human as she’s sounded since “Toxic,” even if she seems to run out of batteries when she’s counting. Bonus points for making the threesome MMF and including the line “Let’s make a team/Make him say my name.” Gay sex acts on the radio are fine so long as you aren’t male. 7/10

7 plays
Jason DeRulo – Whatcha Say
I want to say that the blatant rip of Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” (made popular due to The OC and an SNL parody of same) is incredibly lazy, except it actually fits the song’s narrative perfectly. Doesn’t make it any less irritating, but props due where they are earned, I guess. 6/10

6 plays
Beyonce – Sweet Dreams
Another example of the music in pop becoming gayer and gayer (see also: “Sexy Bitch,” “3”). Beyonce’s ridiculous charisma means she can pull off these bangers in her sleep; the only difference is this is more synth-oriented than beat-oriented. It’s a good look on her, as just about anything would be, even if it’s not at all Beyonce at her best. 7/10

Taylor Swift – Fifteen
Fitting that the only singer in 2009 more charismatic than Beyonce is Taylor Swift, and partly because her style of music and sound—clean, clear, and uncluttered—is so exceptionally different to everything else on pop radio. And then you get to the lyrical detail and message of the song, making it stand out even more so: A song by a young woman for young women, urging them to realize that there is more to life Out There, that there is more to life than boys and the petty dramas of high schools and small towns. A big-hearted miracle of a song, a beacon of quality in pop music, whose only flaw is its five-minute running time meaning a truncated version gets played on the radio, lopping off the final narrative twist. 9/10

Hey, remember this?

Well, Taylor Swift has now released a video for “Fifteen.” Does the look remind you of something?

Seriously y’all. Two great tastes that taste great together. I am the next Jon Hamm.

Also, new Friday Night Lights episodes start airing on October 28th. Taylor Swift’s “Platinum Edition” of Fearless will be released the day before. BEST WEEK EVER is what that will be.

Huzzah! After 79 months, the Black Eyed Peas are finally dethroned from the Hot 100’s perch by…a song much worse than “I Gotta Feeling,” called “Down.” Eh, we’ll take it I guess, even with the terrible Lil Wayne guest spot. Jay Sean is apparently the “Asian Ne-Yo.” Okay. Mazel tov! L’chaim!

black-eyed-peas

40th_Birthday_Toast-8273

The two dominant sounds of mainstream pop in 1999 were undoubtedly the melodic perkiness of teenpop (Britney, Aguilera, Backstreet Boys, and NSync) and the shouting misogyny of mook-rock (Limp Bizkit), while the underground saw the beginnings of the short-lived robo-synth hipster fagginess of electroclash (Le Tigre, Fischerspooner, Peaches). The ungodly spawn of this threesome is now making headway onto American pop radio a decade later in the form of the horribly named bands 3OH!3 and Cobra Starship. 3OH3+30H3

Pictured above is 3OH!3, named for the area code of their native Boulder, CO. Don’t they look like they come from Boulder, CO? And they make music that sounds like it too. (Doesn’t blondie look like beardo Jesse McCartney?)

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And this is Cobra Starship, named for no reason that I can see except that they contributed a song to the Snakes on a Plane soundtrack.

3OH!3’s “Don’t Trust Me” and Cobra Starship’s “Good Girls Go Bad” have both incredulously peaked at #7 on the Hot 100, which is apropos considering they both feature synth-fueled rave-ups supporting standard issue emo boy whine-vocals which undercut the bravado both songs/bands aim to project (main goal: treating girls like shit) while also shoe-horning cheerleader chant middle eighths that are completely unnecessary.

“Don’t Trust Me” is interesting in that in seems to aim for Lady GaGa-esque metajokeness and falls as flat as GaGa in the clever sweepstakes while also lacking her natural songwriting talent, but there’s something nearly breathtaking about the song’s (and the band’s) commitment to being Completely Wrong but sounding as if they’re Having Fun doing it. Sample lyric: “Don’t trust a ho/Never trust a ho/Won’t trust a ho/’Cause the ho won’t trust me.” Charming. And why would she?

“Good Girls Go Bad” is, in contrast, a joylessly shouty piece of braggadocio featuring actress Leighton Meester, who fulfills this song’s apparent need for a female voice to repeat the protagonist’s point of view, reinforcing his awesomeness (and her complete lack of agency, so who better than a Gossip Girl star?). Look, bravado is fun and great when people like Beyonce or Courtney Love or Tupac or even Toby fucking Keith do it, but this lead singer kid named Gabe Saporta? He has negative sexual charisma, so his boasts need a little bit more color to be convincing. And he doesn’t even provide that. Sample lyric: “I make them good girls go bad.” Oh? How? “You heard that I was trouble but you couldn’t resist?” Why is that?! “I make them good girls go bad.” Classic example of tell-not-show writing.

Both songs don’t hold a candle, however, to the repugnance of 3OH!3’s current song “Starstrukk,” which flopped so bad on release that they decided to do a remix with Katy Perry (as if this wasn’t hate-worthy enough). It sounds ugly, for one, and also has the jaw-dropping lines “I think I should know how to make love to something innocent without leaving my fingerprints out now/L-O-V-E’s just another word I never learned to pronounce.” This has none of the supposed Fun of their previous hit, and instead shows that any attempt at humor or self-awareness in “Don’t Trust Me” veiled exactly how much these two were actual sociopaths.

When I first heard these songs I thought, “Popped-collar music.” But these two bands’ self-presentation indicates how far scenesterism’s American Apparel
stunted-growth appeal has drifted into mainstream culture, now becoming Cool and Edgy. Because hipster men have always been misogynists (what do you think Exile In Guyville was reacting to?), and now the mooks are wearing the same clothes and highlighting the gross anti-woman subtleties of scene culture. And making it seem “fun.” 3OH!3 is much worse though; if Cobra Starship is just some frat dude hounding you at a bar thinking he’s all that (and calling you a bitch if you turn him down), 3OH!3 is that dude using his peculiar charm to bring you back to the house to get gang-raped. In your ears especially.

I know she professes to be some kind of “performance artist,” but she’s gone too far this time.

orlyLady-Gaga-jet-4

Video here. If you can make it past, oh, let’s say the one minute mark, you win unlimited blowjobs for life by Rachel Weisz and James McAvoy.

Last night, my favorite bartender and I had the following paraphrased conversation, one which I hope to never have again with anyone who doesn’t know my musical tastes:

Bartender (who had previously scoffed at my Taylor Swift love, even though a fucking Marit Larsen or somebody like that song played later, which is basically Taylor Swift without anything good or fun): Do you have any recommendations for new music?
Me: No, I am really the last person you should ask.
Bartender: (something about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear, oh no!)
Me: I mean, that Phoenix record is ok?

And then I recommended the new John Doe record. I am sorry, I didn’t have NPR’s list memorized. One of the things Bartender and I discussed is how a lot of these new hip bands have records that we don’t actually like or care about enough to listen to the whole way through. I really like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Phoenix songs when they come up on shuffle, but listening to them for longer than ~4 mins at a time is remarkably uninteresting. And I won’t rehash any kind of rockism or indie purity debate, but the fact that NPR listeners have a Best Singles of 2009 list that doesn’t include anything by Taylor Swift or Beyonce or “Birthday Sex” or even a boring Good Taste choice like Amerie in favor of, like, Bat for Lashes–who is one of my least favorite current acts in music (there is no point in a watered-down lo-fi Kate Bush, people)–is nonsense.

Anyway! Let’s have a very quick analysis of NPR’s top ten singles and the current Billboard top ten and see how they match up:

#10. “The Wanting Comes In/Repaid” by the Decemberists vs. “Battlefield” by Jordin Sparks
Holy shit this Decemberists song is like 6.5 minutes long. Starts with a very Victorian-sounding piano and then there’s Colin Meloy doing his usual effete nasal thing. This is very Arcade Fire bombast that quickly becomes prog. I am not so into prog. Who is this woman (maybe?) singing instead of Meloy? This guitar riff sounds like something that would’ve been on Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods except, you know, it would’ve been LOUD and FUN and ROCKING on the S-K record. And now Meloy again. And then the lady. Why are indie rockers doing prog? This is totally unnecessary, but the bloat gets kind of fun when it isn’t totally obnoxious. If only they sounded like they were actually having fun. 3/10

As for “Battlefield”: talk about bloat. This song is co-written by Ryan Tedder, who is currently the object of scorn for selling basically the same song to Beyonce (“Halo”) and Kelly Clarkson (“Already Gone”). The difference between this song and those songs is that Jordin Sparks is a much worse lyricist than Bey or Kelly. Sorry Jordin, but Pat Benatar did the “love = battlefield” metaphor better. Though the “Ya betta go and getcha armor!” part is the real hook, and is totally funny and great and makes me feel like raising my arms and screaming, so points for that. 6/10.

#9. “Laughing With” by Regina Spektor vs. “Waking Up In Vegas” by Katy Perry
Ugh, Regina Spektor? Really? Nice stately piano line, very autumn leaves being pelted by rain. But then: Ooof this voice. I can’t stand it. And I like Joanna Newsom! At least Newsom does something interesting with her voice and lyrics. The lyrics to this song are incredibly pious and holier than thou. I hope to never hear this again for the rest of my life. 1/10

Talk about a singer who is pious and holier than thou! Katy Perry is so fucking smarmy and smug: “That’s what you get for waking up in Vegas”? That’s just what you get for being dumb and annoying, really. She also can’t sing. But she knows how to write a hook (see her other hits as well as Kelly Clarkson’s “I Do Not Hook Up,” a song whose lyrics again show that Perry is a self-righteous prick), and this song is pretty massive once it gets to the chorus. This was already a great Carrie Underwood song called “Last Name,” and would be even better if it was sung by Gretchen Wilson or Miranda Lambert. 7/10

#8. “Sleepyhead” by Passion Pit vs. “LoveGame” by Lady Gaga
I have never heard of Passion Pit. Oh hey, beats! And some weird grating vocal sample? I can’t believe NPR listeners like this. Oh no, what unfortunate singing. How come indie dance tracks rarely have much of a groove that makes people want to, you know, dance? The very simplistic beat is the best thing about this song. 4/10

Ugh. “Disco stick” is a Bottom 5 of All Time euphemism. But at least there’s a groove to this, and I like American pop stars using more Eurotrash synth sounds on their songs. I can at least see myself dancing to this, especially if it’s mixed so loud that I can’t hear what the hell Gaga is saying. 6/10

#7. “This Tornado Loves You” by Neko Case vs. “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas
Oh man no contest. Great song great conceit great vocal, a driving guitar sound that wouldn’t be out of place on an early U2 record, and that final heartbreaking squeal, Neko you are a 10/10.

The BEPs are a scourge on humanity, and this song is the sound of hell. Fergie’s “I’m so 3008/You’re so 2000 and late” is probably the line of the year, though, sadly. Every time there’s a moment that makes me think this song isn’t so bad, something like the JockJam “Let the beat rock!” happens that makes me facepalm. This song was #1 for 70 weeks, come the fuck on America. 1/10

#6. “Zero” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs vs. “Fire Burning” by Sean Kingston
This song and this band would be so much better if Karen O could sing (I mean, even “Maps” was better when it became “Since U Been Gone”). Totally fun and I love Nick Zinner trading in his guitar for synths. Would be a transcendent dancefloor experience if Karen O could match the music and soar, instead of being all cheeky. Give this shit to Martha Wash. 9/10

Raise your hand if you thought Sean Kingston was gonna be a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing. Okay, settle down everybody! This song is pretty great, totally everything you want from a summer jam. Good production by RedOne, whose work with Lady Gaga proves that he knows how to burn shit up even if it’s kinda annoying. Birthday cake! Also: I am predisposed to bumping up the score of any song that has a “whoa-oh” in it. 8/10

#5. “Lisztomania” by Phoenix vs. “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon
This is very much what I like about brainless indie rock, when it gets really bouncy and vaguely loose and not too concerned with making some kind of artistic statement. The entire Phoenix record is like this, kind of the perfect soundtrack for a summer barbecue after you’ve had about five beers and it’s about 6:30. 8/10

God, indie rock all over the place! I have never heard a Kings of Leon song in my life, so this should be fun. Remember them, the Southern Strokes? Lolz. Weird how these nominal guitar-rock bands are using these breezy keyboard sounds all of a sudden. And then the singer kind of clashes with the background, like a short stubby guy enthusiastically doing a pretty ice skating routine. This isn’t bad, and I appreciate the fact the singer sounds like he’s listened to soul music before (thanks, the South!), but it doesn’t become anthemic enough, and ends totally suddenly and anticlimactically, like some kind of Collective Soul song. 6/10

4. “The Rakes Song” by the Decemberists vs. “You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift
Not another one! Give me a big fat break, NPR listeners. I assume Meloy isn’t singing about a garden tool. I think this is the Decemberists trying to do crunk! No, for real! 6/10

Please see previous post for why “You Belong With Me” owns your face. One thing I neglected to mention, however: the Beyonce-esque way she trills “You say you’re fine/I know you better than that/Hey, whatcha doin’ with a girl like that?” To the boy in this song: Wake up, cos Taylor could have another you in a minute. 10/10

3. “Blood Bank” by Bon Iver vs. “Knock You Down” by Keri Hilson featuring Kanye West and Ne-Yo
Bon Iver does the kind of music that is basically not my thing, but this has a nice containment about it, something that is both eerie and comforting, like a power outage in a cabin in the woods during a snowstorm. When he goes into a falsetto, though, and throughout the last half of the song, he sounds like an American version of Chris Martin. 7/10

I enjoy the beat’s pulse at the beginning, even if Kanye is doing whatever that is over it. Keri Hilson is an okay singer, I guess, though the sentiments she’s expressing are pretty trite and bland, even if it kind of doesn’t make sense. When love knocks you down, get back up? So, refuse love’s actions and power? Uh, okay. Ne-Yo’s appearance saves this from being what seems like a pleasant but unforgettable trifle, and then: KANYE. WTF. “OMG, you listen to that shit?/Woe is me, baby this is tragic!”?????!!! GTFO. “This is bad, real bad, Michael Jackson/Now I’m mad, real mad, Joe Jackson”?! Are you even trying?!?!?!!?!?!?! 5/10 (based on an average score for each performer, wherein Kanye gets 2/10, Hilson gets 5/10, and Ne-Yo gets 8/10)

#2. “Two Weeks” by Grizzly Bear vs. “Best I Ever Had” by Drake
So much repetitive piano plonking going on in indie rock nowadays. Like everyone’s angling to be on the trailer of the next Wes Anderson movie. I’ve seen this guy around my neighborhood, seems like a nice dude. This song is really just a bunch of swirling Spector-ish prettiness desperately looking for a purpose. Like a hook, maybe? The song just comes in all good-looking charming-like and does nothing to justify any emotion besides boredom, like a really bad first date that makes you want to just fuck and run. I’ve already forgotten about it. 3/10

I am not so into heterosexual men talking about the myriad ways they’re going to Get Down, but “Best I Ever Had” somehow manages to sound classy, like some kind of old 90s chestnut, and, you know, in spite of all that TMI sexytimes talk, it’s pretty sweet. Makes me wish I had a hot tub. 8/10

#1 “My Girls” by Animal Collective vs. “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas
Is “My Girls” a Temptations update? No. Okay. I’m waiting for something to happen in this song, besides the crickety noise and the drumming circle chanting. This is kind of like the Polyphonic Spree, maybe? Maybe I’d like this if I still did drugs. I guess I have to admire the band’s dedication to a song that sounds busy even if it goes nowhere. Jesus Christ, NPR listeners, this and the Grizzly Bear are your favorite songs of the year so far? Um, okay. 3/10

Not the Peas again! Give me a break, America! This guitar is very indie rock! Like something Interpol would come up with if they weren’t so dour. And then there are, like, Vitamin C-worthy strings. What?! And everything is so optimistic, like you’re putting on your Axe body spray before picking up the boys, and there’s a whoo-hoo! They just wanna have fun, you guys, like oh my god! In their case, fun = getting drunk and jumping off sofas. L’chaim, mazel tov! If only they could get Fergie to shut the hell up. A glorious piece of cheese. A shamefaced 8/10, would be higher if it knew to leave the party earlier, god this song doesn’t have enough in it to last five minutes you guys.

Average scores
NPR: 5.4
Billboard: 6.5

Sorry eeeeelites, you lose out to REal AmurriKKKa!

Above is a picture of Taylor Swift performing at a country music festival, possibly in character for this song:

“You Belong With Me” is Swift’s third single off of her sophomore record Fearless–a record that, though she may have proven herself a pretty good country artist on her self-titled debut, shows that Swift is an even better pop star. On Taylor Swift, she hopscotched through various conventions of country songwriting, acting out a bit of vengeful female here (“Picture To Burn”), lovelorn pining there (“Teardrops On My Guitar,” such a classic country title also), with a fair dose of perky down-home good ol’ girl sentiment thrown in (“Our Song,” “Mary’s Song [Oh My My My]”). What elevates Swift’s songs beyond their traditions, however, is the quality of her songwriting craft–whether it’s in the specificity of details, the tweaking of a chorus lyric or in the subtle way she sings a line that creates an unexpected texture to the writing itself.

This kind of exceptional craft is all over the place in Fearless, and every song on here is a winner to boot. Easily my favorite thing about Swift is her dedication to being a certain kind of teenage girl–the kind of bright-eyed optimist who believes in the stories of fairy tales and reimagines Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending (“Love Story”). This naivete is all the more striking when the record takes its downward turn to heartbreak, starting with the refutation of fairy tale imagery in “White Horse” with such clarity so as to make it striking:

I’m not a princess, this ain’t no fairy tale
I’m not the one you’ll sweep off her feet
and lead her up a stairwell

Except for rhythmic innovation, her songwriting contains much of what I want out of pop music; while there’s a strong dedication to convention and tradition, what Swift does within the lines are charmingly fresh. Liz Phair and Sheryl Crow only wish they could write songs like these, and Swift is decades younger than they are. Even better than the heartbreak of songs like “White Horse” and “You’re Not Sorry” (in which she sounds like she’s been directed to think of whatever Jonas brother it was that dumped her), however, are the big-hearted ones like “Fifteen”–another exercise in teenage mythology that simultaneously celebrates it and tears it down–and “The Best Day,” a song so moving that, as Sasha Frere-Jones put it in his stellar New Yorker profile on Swift, it should become the official Mother’s Day song.

But to get back to “You Belong With Me” for a second. It’s already her highest charting single on Billboard‘s Hot 100, currently at #3, and I hope she finally gets a #1 single soon, especially if it means dethroning the horrible turd-filled run that the Black Eyed Peas have had with first “Boom Boom Pow” and now “I Gotta Feeling.” Why? Fearless is probably my favorite ever pop album made by a teenage girl (sorry, Fiona), and “You Belong With Me” is like a sweeter, non-grating version of Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend”; the fact that these two could make a song and video so thematically similar and yet one comes off as bitchy and cruel and the other comes off as sunny and adorable speaks volumes to their respective personalities.

“You Belong With Me” also takes a hackneyed teen movie concept and boils its essentials (the dichotomy of shorts skirts/t-shirts, of high heels/sneakers, cheer captain/being on the bleachers) down to a delightful 4 minutes rather than the interminable 90 which would have included, oh, Rachel Leigh Cook’s bitchface or Freddie Prinze Jr.’s non-personality. The absolute zoom on the chorus, and how Swift’s reed-thin voice manages to ride its bombast before flattening with vulnerability. And then there’s my absolute favorite moment of pop music in 2009: Swift’s audible gasp at 2:46 before breathlessly listing every lovesick reason why she’d be this dumb oblivious schmuck’s perfect girlfriend. So desperate and sad and hilarious, like much of teenage existence.

And the mere fact that she deserves it; since 2006’s “Tim McGraw,” she has had my favorite run of singles this decade with nary a #1 to show for it. Putting this in perspective, B2K has more #1 hits than Swift. One of these acts is keeping the music industry afloat, and the other is one you have never heard of. And there’d be no one more fitting to knock off the Black Eyed Peas–who represent everything that is evil and wrong with pop music–than Swift, who represents much of what is wonderful and great about it.

Also, look at that picture! Conceptual dedication and regular gosh-darned cuteness.

On New Year’s Eve, my favorite uncle–a vaguely chauvinist rockist and contrarian par excellence–got on some rant about how all Beyonce songs are anti-man bitching. Considering this was after he also shockingly debated with me the merits of G.W. Bush’s presidency, I decided to leave it alone. This was also after he played Rock Band and did the best non-Bowie version of “Suffragette City” I’ve heard to date. This was also before he was really really happy that I sang “Bette Davis Eyes” during family karaoke time (the second time that week I’d done “Bette Davis Eyes” at karaoke, FYI, the first of which is documented here with the most ludicrous photo caption), as well as before we sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” and a family-singalong to “Livin’ on a Prayer,” on which we scored 100. Aside from this Jew, our family is Filipino, which means karaoke is SERIOUS BUSINESS.

Anyway, I would like to announce that I have finally heard “Single Ladies” in full for the first time. I am behind the times, not having a TV or listening to the radio (of which I did a lot while driving in California, mainly oldies until I drove to Ventura and found KHAY, which played amazing lame modern country songs about Daddy and Amerikkka). Not to say that I didn’t already know basically all of it, considering that SNL skit and also the surprise party for Joe in Berkeley, wherein his younger brother roasted him about not being married to his girlfriend of five years by saying “As a philosopher once said, ‘If you like it then you should put on a ring on it.'”

Verdict! The song’s pretty good but I have a similar rant about Beyonce songs as my uncle, though unrelated to song topics: Why does almost every Beyonce song have a horrible part in the middle (what, the bridge? I’m dumb) where she does some tuneless blathering when all you wanna do is like PLEASE JUST GET TO THE AWESOME CHORUS, BEYONCE.

Also, I kind of would like to see her play Etta James in Cadillac Records.