Pop Scene 

Hey, it’s Popscene! Our monthly feature in which Mike Conklin and Mark Asch climb out from under their indie-rockist, um, rock, to find out what regular people all over the country are listening to. This week’s installment features selections from the iTunes music store.

Title: Burnin’ Up
Artist: The Jonas Brothers
Mike: Remember how R.E.M.’s massively hooky ‘Radio Song’ from the massively hooky Green album started out really awesome, and then got even more awesome when KRS-One came in and started rapping for a verse? Yeah, this song is almost exactly like that, only it starts out kinda shitty, then gets even shittier when someone named Big Rob comes in and raps a verse.
Mark: The iTunes music store, as we shall see this Popscene, bends to the whims of an audience not really old enough to appreciate the subtlety with which the Brothers Jonas and their handlers bite Duran Duran and Hall and Oates. I feel nostalgic and confused; is this how dads in Unknown Pleasures t-shirts felt the first time they heard Turn on the Bright Lights?
 
Title: 7 Things
Artist: Miley Cyrus

Mike: At the beginning and end of this song, Ms. Cyrus (What up New York Times?!?!) repeatedly whispers, “sha,” and I do not know why, but it is definitely one of the 7 Things I hate about her. The other six, I think, are all being dedicated to the path of musical discovery to which she’s directing gazillions of little girls. I imagine it going something like this: Miley Cyrus, Ashlee Simpson, Avril Lavigne, Sum 41, Alanis Morissette, romantic comedy soundtracks, romantic comedy soundtracks, death. 
Mark: When I was your age, Miley/Hannah/Destiny, we could come up with ten things we hated about someone.
 
Title: Shake It
Artist: Metro Station
Mike:
Wait a minute. We didn’t even do this on purpose. This band, which I guess plays some sort of idiotic type of dance-rock (pardon the redundancy), features Trace Cyrus, who, you guessed it, is the son of Billy Ray and the brother of Miley. The song itself isn’t interesting or good, but it’s got me thinking about how hard it’s become to figure out who’s a Disney/record label creation and who’s not. Like, it seems entirely possible that, tomorrow, someone will tell me that this band was originally on Fueled By Ramen and has roots in the hardcore scene and really loves the Pixies.
Mark: This just makes me think that Trace had a really tearful argument with Billy Ray, his voice cracking all over the place, like, “Feck you, dad! I want to be in a band that sounds like The Cars! It’s who I am!
 
Title: All I Want to Do
Artist: Sugarland
Mike:
Continuing mainstream country music’s long tradition of enabling Americans to feel good about indulging their absolute worst tendencies, toward laziness and procrastination, this woman from Sugarland encourages listeners to duck out on their responsibilities and spend the day kissing some guy who does the same lip thing that Elvis did, I think? Then she says the same thing over and over again for two minutes, which is mostly fine, since the hook is admittedly strong. I know this will earn me the scorn of the music-crit police, but I am consistently disappointed by the lack of nuance in songs like this, and I reject the notion that my opinion here implies some sort sweeping distaste for the people who like it. To the contrary, it’s a distaste for the artists who don’t think their audience is capable of processing anything more complicated than what always boils down to, “You work hard all week, so for three and a half minutes right now, please don’t.”
Mark: Oh, these are grown-ups, kind of, except that “All I want to do-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo [and so on, for like longer than an entire Ramones song] is love you” is a pretty insipid, adolescent way of describing theoretically grown-up emotions. “I got my whole life to change the world and climb the ladders/Looking at you looking at me is the only thing that matters.” Yes, Sugarland, your simpering lovefest really is bigger than the rest of the world. Get a room. And never come out.
 
Title: Teenage Love Affair
Artist: Alicia Keys
Mike:
If I’m not mistaken, this song represents Keys’ submission for the title of Official Summer Jam ’08, and she might have something: wonderfully breezy production that doesn’t sacrifice anything in terms of punch, a breakdown that’s equal parts Motown and hip-hop, and, most of all, lyrics that play into listeners’ teenage nostalgia at precisely the time of year when one is already prone to such remembrances.
Mark: At last, an actual adult song — and one that stands both inside and out of teenage solipsism: the doo-wop-y production is bouncy-breathless and wistful-romantic, and “It’s a matter of extreme importance/My first teenage love affair” kids the whole center-of-the-world feeling while also selling it credibly. But mostly, I’m now convinced that every song needs a breakdown where the singer counts off “First base... second base... third base...”

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