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Today's Top 40 Spectrum: Mostly White People

If you're ever curious why white people typically don't rule the Top 40 airwaves nowadays, check the majority of the people responsible for this month's new hits. Sure white people can be good at creating striking melodies, but said striking melodies also often come with a heavy dose of blandness. How can a powerful vocal trill or an obnoxiously catchy chorus be bland, you ask? I'm not sure, but as much as I cannot deny Adele's deep-ranged beauty or Adam Levine's earworm prowess, I do not find either of them particularly interesting. In fact, if we were to rank today's Top 40 spectrum by sheer brightness, meaning how much a song can brighten up a dreary day and actually make your mood change for the better, well then Big Sean would be at the top of the list and all the others would be in arbitrary order below him because none of them FEEL good to listen to. But for argument's sake, here they are, your newest batch of Top 40 spectacle, listen from most tolerable to least...

"Someone Like You" by Adele: This video just went live last night apparently. It's black and white just like the song. Piano and voice. Once soft and then passionate. Low arpeggios on the ivories and then high ones. And yet even if it's just on in the background, whenever she gets to those big notes ("don't forGET") it's like you're suddenly a vulnerable American Idol audience member and you get verklempt. It's so simple and often so boring but if you have just one iota of emotion in your bones at any given time, then it's likely going to connect and dig in and never let go. At least not until another ballad dominates mainstream radio.

"Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People: Clearly since I felt so ambivalent about this month's top song it should not be interpreted that of course I, the nerdy white hipster, like it when a nerdy white "hipster" song gets hugely popular on the Top 40 station in town. Yes it has an imminently hummable chorus, and that is probably the only reason it's higher up than the others in this group of five, and yes it's got a wuss-rock mentality more so than anything that's been blasted through sports stadiums since "Young Folks" by Peter Bjorn & John flirted with ubiquity, but neither of these factors matter because the song itself is frustratingly terrible. It's about shooting somebody who's running away from you, apparently, and while there's probably a good reason for that, I don't care. It doesn't sound like they care what they're singing about either. Even the production is full of torpor, like they were whistling to themselves one day and decided to quick record it before getting a good night's sleep on that decision.

"My Last" by Big Sean feat. Chris Brown: If the Auto-Tune wasn't so aggressive and/or the lyrics weren't so excessively discomforting this would have likely taken Foster the People's spot in the spectrum. Underneath both of these factors is a decidedly free-flowing and almost modest-sounding anthem. Perhaps it's because it's playing against four songs that feel so cookie cutter (even when that works) that when someone takes the laid-back ethic of "Roll Up" by Wiz Khalifa or "Whatever it Takes" by T.I. but ratchets up the life-or-death histrionics even further, it somehow feels like a liberating swan song for the ages in comparison. It's really too bad that the soaring beats get too often interrupted by hyperbole about alcohol that sounds exactly like it's coming from an alcoholic rather than a morose partier, or at least some combination of the two.

"You and I" by Lady Gaga: Blogulator friend and commenter Molly had me watch this video before the song started getting played incessantly here in Minneapolis and she introduced it by telling me that this was her "country song." Immediately I knew I was in trouble. At first I thought I could handle her bombastic take on the most generic characteristics of modern pop country that she infused into her now by-the-numbers mix of weird The Cell-esque visuals and driving accessible diva pop, but then that awful booming distorted guitar came in, and alongside the "woo hoo" flourish no less, and I immediately made a face that resembled a leaner Jabba the Hut having bad gas. And as she gets more and more "wild" throughout the song/video, making way for her Joe Calderone persona, I suddenly had flashbacks to Chris Gaines, the big Aerosmith ballads of the mid-90s, and I just wanted to do anything but give in to Gaga's latest shock tactic - tackling genre-specific pop music in the most egregious way possible.

"Stereo Hearts" by Gym Class Heroes feat. Adam Levine: For some reason my brain likes to think of 90s acts like Scapegoat Wax, Citizen King, and Bloodhound Gang whenever I hear this strange concoction of "rapping" and neon-colored bile. It automatically puts the melodies at a disadvantage, which have the odd ability of ingraining themselves into my inner jukebox for exactly the duration of the song (no more, no less), because I'm tricked into thinking I'm once again 15 years old and unable to tell the different between an ADHD-fueled love song that happens to have rhythmic verse-spitting and something that is legitimately unique, interesting, and vibrant. Luckily the trick only happens while the song is playing and for the purposes of this feature I can just press pause and exit the window rather than get stricken with horror while in the car when it comes blaring on.

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  1. Blogger .molly. | 11:57 AM |  

    A little late commenting on this, but that's how I roll. BTW: One of my favorite Top 40 posts ever! Scapegoat Wax reference! Expressing my feelings about Adele [great voice, but "meh" on the excitement/interest level]! Chris Gaines reference! Shout-out! Also, for head-boppin, shoulder-shaking, blast in your car stereo song - check out this right here.
    [strangely similar video vibes to Big Sean video, but the song is BALLIN' in comparison].

  2. Blogger chris | 3:21 PM |  

    Ha! Thx Molly! Yeah that song is WAY good. Hope it catches on like "The Show Goes On" did. Lupe should usher into Top 40 more rappers like him. It would make me happy.

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