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Today's Top 40 Spectrum: Time Travel To The Year 2000!

Welcome to Today's Top 40 Spectrum, where we look at the latest round of mainstream pop radio jams and rank them for you, best to worst. This month is a huge upgrade from September, which brought us an onslaught of stale hookless mumbo jumbo, but the big downside is that while I hate none of the songs discussed below (a rarity), only one of them is in the current top 5 of either Minneapolis/St. Paul Top 40 station. Instead it seems like the charts are uncharacteristically still populated with old hits like "Billionaire" and "California Gurls", which is too bad, because at least 1.5 of the songs below should be more welcome to the straightforward Auto-Tuned hip-pop mix. At the same time, I understand because the weird trend amongst the newbies this month is that they all sound a little dated, and not really in a nostalgic way either. Regardless, here they be...


"Like A G6" by Far East Movement feat. The Cataracs & Dev: I have absolutely no idea what a G6 is, but I totally wanna be like one too after I listen to this song. (Actually, after a quick Google search, it seems it's most likely either referring to the European Union or a sports car. I wonder which it is!) I have no clue where this conglomeration of no-name artists came from and why they're suddenly bringing electroclash (a la Le Tigre), known for being a counter-culture phenomenon, ten years later, and to mainstream Top 40 no less, but it is a welcome dark-ish change from the bright neon sounds of Usher and David Guetta. The detached apathetic female voice clearly saw its place in 2010 with some of Lady Gaga and Ke$ha's catalog, so I'm glad to hear it from a new artist that makes it sound a wee bit more authentic, and also to go along with a beat that does sound semi-grungy and dirty rather than glossy and over-produced. Well done mystery trio!


"Mine" by Taylor Swift: She's back with a vengeance! Or as much of a vengeance as a waify faux-twangy girl could have anyway. Seriously though, it could be easy to write her new single off as her old stuff redux and leave it at that, but since I'm biased (possessed by the Tay-Swift devil so to speak) and find her pop constructions a little slice of heaven, I can't help but look one level deeper and find this a slightly more boring but, yes, more mature step in the direction her target audience probably wants her to go. It's a little less tween and a little more flat, but listen for the small things that made her original singles such huge hits and you'll find all the buttons being pressed the right way. Sure it sounds a bit too much like female-fronted Vertical Horizon nowadays, but dammit even though I'd like to deny it, VH (as I call them) had some awesome pop hooks for such dull instrumentation. The drum fill before the final chorus is particularly epic!


"Take It Off" by Ke$ha: I go back and forth quite violent about whether or not I like this song, which is not atypical of my relationship with Top 40 in general, but I was a pretty adamant Ke$ha apologist for the seemingly interminable duration of her first two singles. But this one just rubs me the wrong way sometimes. "Tik Tok" sounded gross but in a completely celebratory way. "My Love is Your Drug" only had a gross metaphor wrapped in a molten gooey sugar treat. But this one is just oozing with grossness. It's unabashed still, which is why I can sometimes let go and just enjoy the half-thought-out yelps about glitter and freaks, but it's got this undeniably icky Missy Elliott-meets-Ray-of-Light-Madonna dichotomy to it that just makes you think about terribly unsettling combinations like sparkly skinheads or overly mascara'd sewer rats. And while the thought makes me wanna hurl, you also gotta admit that it's an aesthetic that's as curious as it is vomity.


"Just A Dream" by Nelly: Speaking of barftastic, check out this guitar lick. It just screams early 3 Doors Down (I can't believe that "early 3 Doors Down" has become a logistically possible phrase in 2010) or Stroke 9. And it's laid out underneath a Nelly croon no less! Nelly! The guy responsible for that class of 2000 classic "Hot in Herre", cranked up in sweaty high school gymnasiums solely for its lyrically appropriate nature! Who knew that ten years later I'd be a married 26-year-old hearing his new offering blasting through a brand new baseball stadium PA that didn't belong to the Milwaukee Brewers? Anyway, in an attempt to actually critique this mind-boggling big hit (it's the only one here currently riding high on the charts), I don't have much to say other than despite that awfully-mastered guitar noodling, the man manages to create a completely innocuous few minutes of plastic-yet-soothing atmospherics. Well done, sir. I won't seek it out, but I won't turn it off either.


"Just The Way You Are" by Bruno Mars: It's so hard to have an opinion on this man. And not because he boggles my mind like the re-emergence of Nelly, but because he is an R&B-ish singer who has big pipes and little to no style. This is depressing, considering all the flash-in-the-pan Auto-Tuners out there who are catching everyone's attention (including mine) despite having any actual natural performance abilities. Even sadder is the fact that even though Mars can belt it, and it can be appreciated in spurts, his knack as a performer is decidedly limited because his voice has been so pre-packaged and commodified into others' styles (B.O.B., Travie McCoy, Cee-Lo) that his original tunes have come with little to no actual fanfare, despite appearing on SNL and barging his way onto Top 40 by name credit alone. Take this, his biggest completely solo success thus far, as an example: the drums sound soooo good (tight, crisp, and loud!) and his voice sounds soooo objectively good (prissy yet bright and clean!) but the whole thing has absolutely zero connectivity because that's all it has to rely on. No tricks, no pizazz, just technical proficiency. Kinda like the ultimate 2000 artist: Matchbox Twenty.

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