Pop Scene: Proven Winners, Creative Spellers and Boobies

Hey, it's Pop Scene! Our monthly feature in which Mark Asch and Ben Sutton climb out from under their indie-rockist, um, rock, to find out what regular people all over the country are listening to. This installment features selections from the Billboard Hot 100.

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Title: Whataya Want from Me
Artist: Adam Lambert
Mark: Honestly, I hadn't given much thought to it, but, since you asked, A-Lamb, I guess I would prefer that, if you're going to take hair and makeup tips from Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Velvet Goldmine, you would hitch those pipes to something other than sexless bombastic nu-arena rock?

Ben: Mark, Adam's going through a lot right now, ok? Can't you tell from the music video's dark, sparse set-dressing, his Goth-lite makeup and the voyeuristic POV camera angles that his career is destroying his private life? That said, there is a chart-friendly vagueness to his angsty lyrics that's a little disappointing, especially since this is the rare pop star who you get the impression might have some very specific and maybe even interesting grievances to get off his chest—having to do, for instance, with being a gay performer in a mainstream that still flows very straight. Also, I wonder who chose the queer construction "whataya" instead of the more common "whadya"—probably Pink, the creative speller who co-wrote the track.

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Title: Over
Artist: Drake
Mark: Drake may be the David Brent of rap, poorly integrating bizarrely corny and outdated references into his flow and then immediately explaining them to you. Consider: "'Bout to Set It Off/Set It Off, Jada Pinkett"; "I can teach you how to speak my language/Rosetta Stone"; "Two thumbs up/Ebert and Roeper." I have friends who've spit iller rhymes about their Photoshop skills, and I'm not even kidding.

Ben: Drake's tendency to reduce similes to bullet points irritates the hell out of me too, but in the doughy-eyed Canuck's defense, at least he's making light of his frightful lack of personality and style. He comes to halfway through the chorus and mumbles in an autotuned daze: "I just can't remember at all/what am I doing?/What am I doing?/Oh yeah, that's right, I'm doing me." And then he does a riff on the stunning opening verse from Dead Prez's seminal hit "Hip Hop." Canadians, even the ones who are rap stars, are self-effacing to a fault.

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Title: hinking 'Bout Somethin'
Artist: Hanson
Mark: In middle school, I was asked to contribute a brief testimonial to a friend's MTV FANatic audition tape, and I expounded rather snidely on how proud she was of loving Hanson despite how frequently I made fun of her for it. I probably would have been far less snide if I knew they would eventually release what is basically a self-mocking, horn section-heavy cover of George Michael's "Faith," a song whose essential brilliance was, of course, recognized by corny people first. Anyway, if you're reading this, Julie Rapaport, I wanted to let you know that you were right all along. Also: Hi!

Ben: Hanson got me thinking 'bout middle school too. In ninth grade my scrawny frame, pasty complexion and shoulder-length hair earned me the nickname "Hanson"; apparently my fellow students hadn't heard that I had recently maimed my copy of the trio's third album—which I received after mistakenly joining a Columbia Record Club—in a series of microwave experiments. Thirteen years later the brothers proclaim in the Blues Brother-referencing video for their comeback single: "Not gonna make that same mistake," which, I guess, is an allusion to their new hairdos.

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Title: Winner
Artist: Jamie Foxx feat. Justin Timberlake
Mark: Jamie Foxx, who has an Oscar and a Grammy, has written a song called "Winner," and persuaded his friends, Justin Timberlake and T.I., to appear on it. The song is about how Jamie Foxx is a winner. This seems somewhat incontrovertible, really, and would likely remain so even if Foxx were to tell us about it over the instrumental track of, say, Leonard Cohen's "The Stranger Song" rather than the triumphant fanfare-n-bass backdrop here. Jamie Foxx: Winner.

Ben: Well, if we determine the winner by whose athlete avatar is currently in the lead, I think T.I.P. is actually the winner here. J.F. and J.T. both say they're "soarin' like [Michael] Jordan," who's still living down his disastrous Hall of Fame induction speech, but T.I. is as fast as Usain Bolt. The King always wins.


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Artist: Usher
Mark: It's increasingly the case that singers will attempt to split the difference between complimentary R&B loverman music for married people and players' ball leering. This never works: mostly they just sound pubescent in their eagerness to obsess over some invariably nameless lady's physical attributes. Which is why, in this perfectly fine slice of future-shock club soul, we hear Usher explain, "Honey got some boobies like 'wow, oh wow.'" Boobies. Have you ever heard a grown person use the word "boobies?"

Ben: will.i.am must use his beats to bribe people into letting him rap on their records. As in: "I'll give you this instrumental for free if you let me spit a verse." This track is pretty outstanding despite Usher's text message-coded expressions of teenage horniness, until Will chimes in just as his mounting techno jam dissipates right when it should crescendo. This wouldn't be such a glaring problem on a Black Eyed Peas song, where each member is fairly marginal to the ensemble chorus, but alongside someone like Usher, will.i.am is a total buzz kill. OMFG, Will, stop ruining your own songs and let Usher sing about boobies! WTF?!


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