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Today's Top 40 Spectrum: Second Singles Time o' Year

When the halfway point of the year goes by, the big pop music labels tend to use one of two methods of attacking the airwaves in order to make 2010 a financially successful year: keep trying to make new starlets out of nobodies just like the first half of the year, or second singles time, where they dig through their more successful current acts' records for another track that they cash in on before they have to do some real work and recruit more talent. Well usually a healthy dose of both happens: some labels choose the one-hit wonder approach and just try to plow through more fresh young faces while others are lazy and think their current roster has enough legs to get them through the rest of the year with minimal promotional push. This year, however, it is almost entirely made up of the latter approach, but with a somewhat new spin - if your artist doesn't have a strong second single, just make them do a duet. That's right - duets. And while only two have made it into the top ten, there's two more (Katy Perry & Timbaland and T.I. & Keri Hilson) that are climbing the charts as well. Now I think the over-saturation of fake hip hop is as obnoxious as the next person, but for what is typically an annoying trend at the year's midway point, I've gotta give the industry props for trying something different, even if it's cloying and obnoxious. Here's your spectrum, ranked from best to worst, for the month...

"Ridin' Solo" by Jason Derulo: No one even had to bat an eyelash to decide whether or not to keep pumping new Derulo jams through the airwaves. The man is a hit machine and get this, doing a club tour for his first headlining foray on the road. He's playing First Avenue this fall and while hipsters are trolling the venue's Facebook page for booking him, I am thrilled to see this development. I don't care if they're trying to co-opt indie culture to make his show seem all the more rare and hard to get tickets for; the labels are done trying to outdo each other. They're looking for creative approaches to hyping their artists, and Derulo, whether people like it or not, is much more of an artist and performer than so many of his Top 40 counterparts. He can sing, and while the Auto-Tune's at play more heavily here, it's still clear that he's feeling something when he does it, not just phoning it in. And man, that section when it's just his voice rollicking that groove-fueled chorus and the drums, it's downright ecstatic. Keep it up, Jason, and don't give into the duet or the objectification party game please.

"Magic" by B.o.B. & Rivers Cuomo: Here's the man that quite possibly populated so many label exec's with the idea of reinvigorating the duet format for pop radio. Two birds with one stone, right? B.o.B.'s collabs with Hayley Williams and Bruno Mars proved that using the exact same formula twice in a row was indeed okay as long as the melodies were strong and the verses were both as good as the guest choruses but not so good that they overpowered the foreign aspect of the song. And here he proves that is indeed okay to use that same formula for a third time, especially when you up the ante in the weirdness and energy departments. Bruno made sense because he was airy yet soulful like B.o.B. himself. Williams even made sense because she was earnest and accessible like B.o.B. But here it really shouldn't work, especially for ex-Weezer fans like yours truly. But maybe Rivers was right, maybe he does have the voice for pop radio; it's just that he should be writing and playing guitar for the songs that he sings. Indeed, put his voice on top of some whacked-out beats and synth splatters and you've got a hit, especially with B.o.B. interrupting his semi-monotone brattiness every little bit. P.S. Rentals fans, check out the subtle female harmonizing about two-thirds of the way through. It really is the best thing Cuomo has been a part of in years.

"Dynamite" by Taio Cruz: Slightly better than his first boring yet mostly just innocuous single "Break Your Heart", Cruz is still way milquetoast to my ears. The catchy part gets stuck in your head for a little bit, but then you realize that there's nothing in his style or flow that differentiates him from any of the other sing-rap guys. He's Kanye if Kanye wasn't delightfully full of himself, he's Chris Brown if Chris Brown wasn't constantly trying too hard, and he's Jason Derulo if Jason Derulo didn't care at all about anything. It's too bad, but at the same time, I guess I'd rather have something wistfully float through my ears that I could easily ignore (similar to how John Cusack said he'd rather have Belle & Sebastian on than anything Jack Black wanted to play) than something that was outwardly offensive, but compared to the two songs above, the pop music people behind Cruz should start getting some backbone and try out someone that actually has charisma and personality, because we deserve it if we're going to support Top 40 for the rest of 2010.

"Love The Way You Lie" by Eminem & Rihanna: Speaking of Chris Brown, how on earth could someone go through a relationship with the dude and then sing a duet with Eminem that's basically about how the violent relationship became something that was thrived on and not until it blew up publicly could the abused stand up for themselves? One might argue that it's controversial and cathartic, and thus healthy for it to be at least talked about through pop music, because rarely are things talked about through pop music anymore, but I would argue back that because it's been so long since anything's been actually talked about through pop music on a wide scale, when it's attempted it's horribly misguided, like it is here. It instead comes off as callous and not thought out, as if it seemed like a good idea on the surface, without any real thought put into it, that it didn't matter that it actually communicated a love for this kind of relationship without any critical self-doubt or fatal foreshadowing, because what mattered more was that it sparked attention. This is sad, but of course not surprising for someone as notoriously self-involved as Marshall Mathers, who I at first thought turned himself around with his first, much better single "Not Afraid", which while equally self-involved, was also self-critical.

"Impossible" by Shontelle: And the one new artist who's getting their shot at a first single this month is a young lady that recalls late 90s R&B. It's dreadfully plodding and plastic and doesn't even have a slight pleasant quality to it like the Cruz song does nor does it have any kind of attention-seeking myopic viewpoint that at least is fascinating for a few listens like the Eminem/Rihanna collab. It just sits there, lifeless, and trying so hard to turn its titular word into a memorable multi-note croon, like the olden days when all a girl needed was a good voice to get famous. Who knows if she'll make it to the second single stage, but if for whatever reason she does and it turns out she actually can turn her plain yet clearly capable voice into something with wow power, or even just place it atop a bed of programmed drums and sparkly melody that doesn't sound like it was lifted from a cosmetics commercial, then I will eat my hat. And I hope I eat my hat, because the ladies are sorely missing from this month's spectrum. I hope the new Perry and Hilson duets grow on me, because even though I've only heard them a couple times, they're not helping.

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  1. Blogger Papa Thor | 7:41 AM |  

    How come black women seem to ... never mind, I don't want Brigitte to get mad at me.

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