Friday, March 15, 2013

10 Random Thoughts I Had While Watching/Listening to the Top 20 on This Week's Billboard Hot 100

1. I'm glad something sort of new (Baauer's "Harlem Shake," at No. 1) and better has replaced PSY's "Gangnam Style" as the novelty smash of the day. But what does having had two of them in such rapid succession say about the taste of the world's pop music fans? Have we finally plummeted to the nadir where viral Internet memes and non-choreographed dance routines are now being confused with good music? As for the YouTube clips that launched both sensations, maybe I'm just showing my age, but when I'm in the mood to watch (people dancing poorly) for free, I'd rather stick to those vintage YT videos of Soul Train, American Bandstand and the Solid Gold dancers.

2. In the early days of MTV, when the network was launching '80s stars like Duran Duran, Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper and Madonna and one-, two- and three-hit-wonders like A Flock of Seagulls and A-ha, their songs were often sturdy and durable, holding up independently of the visuals, which is why we're still listening to so many of them today. But where would former No. 1 (now No. 2) "Thrift Shop" by Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis featuring Wanz and The Heist be without its video, currently at 165.5 million YouTube views and rising? More importantly, will anyone still love the song tomorrow? I have to admit, though, I'm not immune to the charms of a compelling clip: I won't remember the track by this time next year, but in the here and now, I'm still a sucker for a guy pimping the hell out of a crazy-ass vintage jacket.

3. Bruno Mars (at No. 3 with "When I Was Your Man" and at No. 10 with "Locked Out of Heaven," a former No. 1) is ridiculously talented and nice to look at, but he has yet to offer a single song that I just had to listen to more than once.

4. The opposite holds true for Rihanna, who is nowhere near as ridiculously talented as Mars but even nicer to look at. I prefer "Stay" (No. 5) and "Pour It Up" (No. 20) to "Diamonds," her recent No. 1 from Unapologetic, but I can't understand why her team insists on releasing the album's lesser songs as singles when "Phresh Out the Runway," "Jump" and "Get It Over With" are the real money tracks.

5. I'm thrilled to have Justin Timberlake the pop star back, but two singles into The 20/20 Experience (due next week), I'm still waiting to be wowed. After listening to "Suit & Tie" (No. 5) and "Mirrors," I'm starting to wonder if I have been remembering him as being a more adventurous musician than he actually is. The songs are well-constructed and well-performed, but I can't help but think he's just treading water, that he'd rather be on a movie set somewhere with Jessica Biel than onstage or in the studio singing about her (presumably).

6. Nearly three albums into his rap career, I still haven't figured out whether my appreciation for Drake stems more from the way his music sounds or from the way he looks. "Started from the Bottom" (No. 7), the first single from the upcoming Nothing Was the Same, lacks the musical and lyrical depth of the singles from 2011's Take Care, but it passes the litmus test for decent songs/videos. After hearing/watching it once, I wanted to repeat the experience. But why must Drake hits always come in groups of three or more? (He's a featured artist on Lil Wayne's "Love Me," at No. 9, and on ASAP Rocky's "F**kin' Problems," at No. 15.)

7. "Don't You Worry Child" by Swedish House Mafia featuring John Martin (No. 11) makes me want to spend the spring and summer of 2013 in Europe dancing all night long in house-music clubs. I hope the DJs in Berlin, Rome and Istanbul are playing better music than this, though.

8. Poor Christina Aguilera. The only way she can score a hit these days is by tagging along on someone else's song. Following her long-delayed 2011 return trip to No. 1 with "Moves Like Jagger," which did more for lead act Maroon 5's subsequent album, Overexposed, than it did for Aguilera's Lotus, she's back in the Top 20 (No. 13) alongside Pitbull on "Feel This Moment," which, incidentally is one notch below "Daylight," Maroon 5's third Top 10 from Overexposed. Aguilera is always welcome around here, but she deserves better than a chintzy (as usual) Pitbull track that rips off the aforementioned A-ha's "Take on Me."

9. Speaking of derivative dance music (Nos. 7 and 8 above), when did every club hit start to sound like something else we've all heard before? "Sweet Nothing" by Calvin Harris featuring Florence Welch (No. 16), though, has two things working in its favor. The first Top 10 U.S. single for both British DJ Harris as a lead artist and for Florence + the Machine's Welch, with or without her band, has an excellent video clip (Remember the good old days when they told mini-stories and didn't just flash images at us?) and a great singer who hearkens back to the '90s golden age of the dance diva. You better work, girl!

10. The presence of The Lumineers (at No. 14 with "Ho Hey"), Imagine Dragons (at No. 17 with "Radioactive") and Mumford & Sons (at No. 20 with "I Will Wait") among the now-standard issue pop, hip-hop and dance music, makes this week's Top 20 more varied than usual, but it's still hard for me to get overly excited about any of it ("Ho Hey" aside). Maybe I'm just showing my age again. Bring on the Solid Gold dancers, please!

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