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Today's Top 40 Spectrum: The Ladies Prevail

Every month I make Jerksica a mix CD featuring my fave recent indie jams. I typically don't put any Top 40 hitz on it because a) I don't download Top 40 musix and because b) there's a reason it's called Top 40 (it's on the radio so often there's really no reason to have it on hand anywhere else). But this month the rule was officially broken with my inclusion of the first song in the spectrum below. It is light years beyond the other songs on the spectrum, but for the most part none of this month's new songs from the KDWB/96.3NOW playlists are particularly wretched, save for the very last one below. Before I give too much away, here's Today's Top 40 Spectrum, ranked from hawtest jam to mild/weak sawce...

"Your Love Is My Drug" by Ke$ha: Here's a link to the actual studio version of the song, but really the SNL performance is not that bad, with the exception of a couple warbly notes that I give a pass because she's going ape-ish on stage in that glow-in-the-dark makeup! Obviously, my preference for K-dawg over Gaga is no secret by now, even as I've been warming up to the pop sensation of 2009 with her past couple singles (though I think that'll change again with the ganky-sounding new "Alejandro"), but this song clinches it. Not only is it good enough to sneak into an indie rawk mix disc, but I believe it holds its own so well amongst the other newbies to the Top 40 not in spite of but because it's the only of the five that doesn't feature a guest verse rapper or singer of any kind. This is completely and only Ke$ha and that's all it needs to succeed. The hook is pure sugar and the backing beat is infectious, simple as that. There's no aggressive wink-nudging (see directly below) and there's no 80s pop sampling (see further below); it's just Ke$ha and that's quite enough for me, thank you.

"Telephone" by Lady Gaga feat. Beyonce: It's no "Bad Romance" but I'll take it. Especially the Beyonce verse. And I've said it before, but I'll say it again, while I completely dig the bizarro style of Gaga, I do think it's largely executed in an attempt to overshadow her very forgettable voice. Placing Beyonce's admittedly-vanilla-yet-undeniably-impressive throaty prowess here only exemplifies the issue at hand, so gimmicky tricks are employed from beginning to end like the glitchy hiccups (which I happen to adore) or the wacked-out music video above that basically acted as a confession to the world that Gaga is kind of always joking. That's okay, of course, but because of her largely vapid lyrics (I'm not saying Ke$ha's Proust, mind you) it places her more toward the Weird Al end of the spectrum than the Fischerspooner high-art-lampooning end, at least from my perspective. I mean, c'mon, dude uses a baguette as a phone.

"Break Your Heart" by Taio Cruz feat. Ludacris: Here's another refreshing track that has no secondary self-mocking message and largely just aims to please in a very straightforward, almost banal way. It's almost so neutral that if you thought that Iyaz song was a little too hip, what with its iPod referencing and what have you, then you should assuredly love Mr. Taio Cruz. Luckily, the sleeping-as-he-works Ludacris almost always makes any forgettable bubblegum pop song interesting, if only for a single verse, and this is no exception. In fact, if it weren't clear that Cruz is a tad more mature than Justin Bieber, both lyrically and vocally, this might just be a reworked version of that "Baby" song, in which Luda also just dropped a somnambulist rambling of internal rhymes that brightened up an otherwise sunny array of synths and pre-pubescent hooks.

"Young Forever" by Jay-Z feat. Mr. Hudson: Did you know that Sean Carter, aka Jay-Z, is 40 years old? I knew this song was originally written for himself as he ages into oblivion with anti-youth diatribes like "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)" and not Betty White as he dedicated it on SNL this weekend. On the real though, even though this song is super boring, I have way more respect for the old timer than I used to. He may be dopey but at least he has convictions and his songs aren't just club bangers about booties and cash. So while the current landscape of Top 40 has ruined me and I'm unable to listen to this track, which by the way apparently has some guy who sounds like Phil Collins singing instead of just sampling the original chorus for some reason (prolly to save some bills), for more than a minute or two at a time, the man has proved himself the only vital mainstream rapper to actually say something during a time when basically no one is saying anything of value on Top 40 radio. For that I applaud him.

"Billionaire" by Travie McCoy feat. Bruno Mars: In comparison, the Bruno Mars-sung chorus on last month's now-officially-awesome "Nothin' on You" is Mozart. There is so much wrong here, beginning and ending with the drunken upstrumming, that you find something new that you hate with each successive listen. It's like Jason Mraz meets Everlast, or Sublime meets Michael Franti, or at its essence, acoustic balladry meets reggae rap. If that doesn't make you want to vomit down your own shirt and let the droplets trickle down behind your belt buckle then you sir need to go back to the late 90s. The funniest/saddest part of all of this is that Fall Out Boy's Fueled By Ramen label is behind this drivel, and they're a band that, like Jay-Z, I would say is (for the most part) still trying to say something interesting, or at least in a clever way, on Top 40 radio. But this is just a song by a guy from a band called Gym Class Heroes that never made it big about how he desperately wants to get rich, bitch, no matter what. Grr.

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  1. Blogger qualler | 10:30 AM |  

    Alright, Chri$, I, too, enjoy both Ke$ha and Gaga, but why you gotta pit them against each other? And I call bias on your passive-slam on Gaga's "very forgettable voice." I would classify her voice in the Incredibly Versatile range, while I would put Beyonce's in the Very Strong But Not Really All That Versatile range. And if we're in the game of classifying, Ke$ha's voice (wholly in terms of singing abilities) is somewhere between Lizzy McGuire and a computer animated cat. (In a good way!)

    I also still maintain that, while Gaga's theatrics are also over the top, they generally seem to make more sense as to what her persona is, while Ke$ha dressing up in African garb with blacklights just comes off as awkward and kinda racist.

    Still! Why we gotta pit them against each other! They've both got their merits! (I guess we wouldn't have a blog if we didn't pit things against each other, though.)

    Papa Thor -- here's another Steve Allen Meeting of the Minds!

  2. Blogger Brigitte | 10:39 AM |  

    You make Jessica a mix cd every single month?

    did you hear that, Qualler?

  3. Blogger qualler | 10:43 AM |  

    That too, Chri$! Why you gotta make me look like a jerk? I thought I was doing good with a quarterly mix!

  4. Blogger qualler | 10:50 AM |  

    Also I just asked Brigitte if she was going to chime in, and she said, "I don't believe in music criticism; I play for the fans, not the critics."

  5. Blogger chris | 1:56 PM |  

    Fair points all around, except the not believing in music criticism thing. That makes me frowny.

    I think I endlessly pit them against each other in my mind because their current mega-popularity could end up influencing a new breed of female pop star in one direction or the other, despite their obvious similarities. Either would be better than the previous notion of female pop star, but I find too much cynicism and self-hate wrapped up in the Gaga persona (her recent lame tongue-in-cheek comment about how "pop stars shouldn't eat" didn't help my growing dissatisfaction with her either).

    Yes, you could argue the Ke$ha outfit idea was racist, and wasn't cohesive to her persona like all of Gaga's wackiness, but I didn't feel dirty after watching it. Also, I was entranced rather than laughing or ironi-smirking, which always makes a better genuine pop star, in my opinion. Plus Ke$ha's got curves!

    And yes, I concede her voice has nowhere near as much versatility as Gaga, but I at least find her snarky scowly pop voice more unique than Gaga's deadpan wailing (which is so often overshadowed by her producer's awesome melodies or wowza music video theatrics).

    Also, Beyonce GOT PIPES. FOR TRULY. Gaga's big notes, based on the live performances I've seen, are almost assuredly an illusion aided by studio computers.

  6. Blogger qualler | 3:17 PM |  

    Fair points across the board, Chris. Now that my beloved Joanna Newsom has come out as the third semi-major artist to slam Gaga, I see the validity!


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  8. Blogger Papa Thor | 7:53 AM |  

    Mix CD? Don't you mean IPod playlist?
    Also: book reviews are written, why aren't music critiques sung? Maybe that's why Brigitte has a problem, music is its own language, and she is fluent, so to Brigitte Chris sounds like I must have to that Parisien when I marveled at how tall the Eiffel Tower was.

  9. Blogger qualler | 1:09 PM |  

    OK, this is way late, and I apologize because this means I obviously didn't listen to all the tracks on this post when it first came out. Buuuuuut....

    That "Billionaire" song is probably the worst song I've ever heard. Not because the lyrics are dreadful to the point of being offensive (which they are), or the dated, slacker-style reggae/Jason Mraz-infused blandness (which it also includes), but the painful use of pop song cliches, including repeating the chorus about 1000000x and ending the song by repeating the chorus one more time, a little slower, and ending with a few cymbal rolls. I just puked all over my shoes.

    How could pop radio generate some songs that are so good and then generate songs that are this terrididdle?

  10. Blogger TG | 12:36 PM |  

    Really, Really nice article and video...I like it!
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