Where did Summer ’09 go? It’s Labor Day weekend and we’re already making plans to go back to school or work after our much-deserved vacations. Time to pack up all our gear and tuck away all of our memories that kept us on the beaches and parties during these past warm months of summer. With it, we remember all those songs that somehow made the summer distinctive.
You know what we’re talking about: don’t you remember how last year you couldn’t quite get Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” out of your head, and somehow you felt, well, edgy and liberated. OK, maybe not, but at least you heard this song everywhere in this country. That piece of pop confection, hyped by bloggers, helped make her typically overexposed on all the vapid awards shows –VMAs, Billboard Awards, AMAs, etc. Showing up wearing ridiculous costumes as if to mask her budding sex appeal, Perry was trotted out to belt out increasingly tawdry versions of “I Kissed a Girl”. She was the Lady Gaga before Lady Gaga was another-bitch-in-your face.
And you couldn’t escape that damn song. It appeared last summer and easily dominated any other song on the radio then. So it’s really about saturation when we consider this year’s contestants for the definitive song of Summer ’09. We’re not necessarily looking for quality here. Lady Gaga may have re-invented pop by throwing all conventions out the window –kind of an anti-pop statement in all her take-no-prisoners attitudes towards sex—but that doesn’t mean it’s any good. What, you didn’t really know what “Poker Face” was about? (Yes, it is a play on words –ha ha, how brilliant!).
We’re already creeping towards an apocalypse in pop culture, what with Britney melting down then returning, full figured with a Starbucks cup attached to her hands, in a seemingly endless concert tour, and Madonna, the ultimate survivor, who has now taken to foisting her own children in her own interminable world tour. The point is, who cares? Isn’t the point of pop music that it’s so very disposable?
What we’re looking for is a song this summer that simply got in our heads and wouldn’t let go. A distinctive beat, a cloying lyric, something new perhaps. Or maybe we’ll be surprised and find something a bit more long-lasting. In our opinion, these are the definitive disposable discs that we could not escape no matter where we ran to in the last few months. Let’s evaluate each one briefly, then crown an ignominious winner from the garbage pile:
Drake: “Best I Ever Had”
A protégé of Kanye West, Drake is from Toronto, so he doesn’t have any East v West rivalry or baggage holding him down. He also isn’t quite like anyone else in the budding hip-hop sweepstakes that’s going on to replace the disgraced Chris Brown. He has the smoothness and bravado to succeed, even if he isn’t the most able of vocalists like a Ne-Yo or Usher (back in the day, not now when he is bragging about public displays of sex in the embarrassing “Love in the Da Club”).
Drake made a splash this summer at the hastily-rearranged “BET Music Awards” on June 28 by storming out with Lil’ Wayne, who he managed to outperform, with this, his breakout hit, “Best I Ever Had”. Yes, he really thinks “it” is the best he ever had. Watching Joe Jackson there in the front row of the Shrine Auditorium, who really should have been in Encino mourning the very public death of his son, you couldn’t help but wonder what he and millions of others thought about Drake’s frankly salacious performance, accompanied by fairly decent choreography and adequate rapping. Still, we think it’s his fantasy-as-coach music video that propelled Drake’s fame this summer.
Jeremih: “Birthday Sex”
Who would have thought that it took civilization all this time to record a song that puts together the idea of a birthday gift and sex? I guess it’s similar to SNL’s “Dick in a Box” in its silliness but the raw and visceral sentiment is there. I mean, what guy needs to actually go out and buy a crappy and expensive gift like perfume or a handbag when all he really needs to do is do something thoughtful like….well, you get the idea. Or let Jeremih put it in his own words:
You say you want passion
I think you found it
Get ready for action
Don’t be astounded
We switchin’ positions
You feel surrounded
Tell me where you want
your gift, girl
See? It doesn’t take much, guys. You too can craft such meaningful lyrics because he knows what the girl really wants anyways, so why not just cut to the chase? Because there is no need for insistent, plaintive come-ons, with the “baby, please” words, Jeremih wants to even be more disarming. He wants to distract his girl. He wants her to be swayed not just by his charm, but by this curious thing he does with his voice at the end of a line. When he sings, “Girl you know I”, he extends the “I” forever, repeating it not naturally (it’s a vocoder), but it adds to the overall gimmick to the song.
How can he possibly lose with these winning lyrics:
Girl you know I-I-I
Girl you know I-I-I
I’ve been feenin’
Wake up in the late night…dreamin’ about your lovin’
Girl you know I-I-I
Girl you know I-I-I
Don’t need candles or cake
just need your body to make good
“Feenin’”! Like an addict! She can’t say no now. So as you continue to poke your eyes out watching this video, it’s hard to avoid being taken by whatever it is he and his technical wizardry have in store for his girl’s special day. And in gentlemanly fashion, at the end of the song he really does implore his girl to tell him “what it feels like when he hits that G-spot”. Indeed:
Jordin Sparks: “Battlefield”
How about something a bit more wholesome for a moment? Sparks was the Season 6 winner of “American Idol” and arguably, she’s been the most hard working. This song was a return to form for her, still just a teenager at 19, after a hiatus in which she focused on a new CD. She must have figured that she had to follow up “No Air”, her Grammy-nominated duet with Chris Brown, with something that she could truly call her own. The results were surprisingly competent, a record full of songs called “Battlefield” that she wrote herself and sounded not necessarily like they were spit out of the AI factory/19 Entertainment/Clive Davis/mawkish Diane Warren tune factory.
The eponymously named single also cleverly takes on Pat Benatar’s 1983 iconic song, “Love is a Battlefield” by imbuing a new found assertiveness about a girl struggling to maintain a relationship with a guy who’s no good. The song, written by Ryan Tedder of One Republic, gives Sparks a confidence and maturity that we had hints with her first hit, “Tattoo”.
Black Eyed Peas: I Gotta Feelin’:
The Peas’ fifth studio album dropped in early June, but their first single from it had long been an enormous hit. The single, released back in February on-line (conveniently leaked, which is no longer a surprise anymore), was called “Boom Boom Pow”. It reached ITunes at the end of March. It was insufferable –loud, insidious, annoying in the extreme, with Fergie’s creaky vocals and ill-advised chorus (I’m so 3008 /You so 2000 and late I got that boom, boom, boom /That future boom, boom, boom /Let me get it now). Earlier this spring and yes, into this summer, you literally couldn’t escape this song. Whether it was watching them sing these lyrics in front of the crowds at the Rockefeller Center for the Friday “Today Show” concerts (cue Al Roker pretending to be hip by faux-mouthing along with Fergie), or any host of other MTV/VH-1/reality shows or even car companies that somehow needed to adopt the singularly rotten sounds of the Peas to pass themselves as with-it hip-hoppers. “Boom” was atop the Billboard Top 100 chart at #1 for 12 weeks.
So how is it that the Peas were also able to produce yet another huge smash that was almost the polar opposite of “Boom” –and in fact, was #2 when “Boom” was #1—a feat rarely if ever done in Billboard pop chart history. The song was “I Gotta Feelin’ –a superior song in every way, blistering beat, decent vocals and the type of anthem that is works for these warm summer months. The Peas will never win awards for their writing ability; come on, this is the same outfit that unfurled “My Humps” a few summers back. But there is something upbeat and positive about “I Got a Feelin’”, and especially Will i. am’s vocals. The song is so huge that none other than Oprah herself has just invited the Peas to revamp it as the new theme song for her talk show.
In fact, Oprah and the Peas managed to shut down part of Michigan Avenue in order to film this extravaganza. Starting tonight at midnight, until Wednesday morning, the street will be closed for the live taping that takes place on Tuesday afternoon at 5 pm. This is set to be televised this coming Thursday (Sept. 10). Ugh –yes, expect Oprah BFF Gayle King to be there, also pretending to be hip once again. Oprah famously mouthing the words in the audience wrong? Guaranteed.
Check out the video of the newly remixed Peas song for Oprah: HERE
Lady Gaga: “Love Game”
What can you say about the global phenomenon that is Lady Gaga? No artist in the world has made the impact she has, both on the advance of pop music and culture, in the last year or two. Her “Just Dance” was not just anthemic when it broke in clubs two years ago; it was a cultural reawakening. She has been unstoppable since, with public appearances wearing whatever the hell she wants, and a punishing concert schedule that takes her anywhere.
The Italian-American pan-sexual oddity but admittedly entertaining performer with a gift for grabbing a mic in front of her for an interview, would seem to be emulating that other queen of pop, Madonna, were it not a fact that Madonna herself is a fan of Lady Gaga’s. Or what about both Britney and Christina Aguilera basically aping all that makes Lady Gaga unique: the severe hair wedge styles, the bleach in the blond hair, the shoes, etc. Lady Gaga gets away with it because she is new and we see her as especially inventive. Either that, or you just have to imagine something else entirely –maybe semiotics or deconstructionism—when in this song she describes wanting to ride someone’s “disco stick”.
In “Love Game”, Lady Gaga took things to another level for her: a song full of complexity and depth, not so much a throw-away ditty like “Poker Face” or a rousing crowd-pleaser like “Just Dance”. Nowhere in pop music today is an artist so connected with her own sexual desire –wow, a female voice—and ripping apart whatever barriers there are about expressing them. So out there and upfront-aggressive that she almost seems taunting, Lady Gaga has come to embody the very essence of disposable, yet in-your-face bold and unmistakable pop. Take just one look at this path-breaking video and you’ll see why it was nominated for Video of the Year at MTV’s Video Music Awards, to be televised on September 14.
Pitbull: “I Know You Want Me (Calle Ocho)”
After about the sixth time hearing this on Ryan Seacrest’s morning KISS-FM radio show in LA, I remember wanting to drive off the 710 in Long Beach last spring. LA pop radio, or what you may call computerized programming, tends to do this. If it isn’t Pitbull, it’s Kanye, Britney, Gaga, and stick around for, say 54 minutes and you’ll hear your song all over again. Pitbull’s single, “I Know You Want Me” wants to be edgy and different. For one thing, some of the lyrics are in Spanish –not the formal language of Cervantes, mind you. Instead, it’s coarse and suggestive, voiced in distinctly macho Latino tones. Pitbull, who is of Cuban descent, paints himself a tawdry, controlling persona in which he is the irresistible attraction to women. Exactly what the Spanish-lesson-like “Uno, Dos, Tres, Cuatro” refers to is unclear: the next part in the chorus? A countdown to sex? It doesn’t really matter. These curvy ladies from down on Miami’s Calle Ocho are the object of his fascination, and he’s proud to boast about their physical assets:
Mami got an ass like a donkey, with a monkey,
Look like King Kong, welcome to the crib,
305 that’s what it is,
With a woman down ya shit dont play games,
They up the chain, and they let her do everythang and anythang, hit that thang
And they love it gettin’ it in, gettin’ on,
All night long (Dale)
If Pitbull’s beats sound vaguely 90s C&C Music Factory to you, you aren’t alone, I suppose. The bravado and the counting in Spanish are silly, but admittedly catchy and gimmicky. I also wonder whether those who actually do understand Spanish think it’s odd that he is objectifying women, portraying them as playthings who, with their “bocas grandes” (large mouths), should be quiet and put them to work. Still, those who are packing the clubs don’t realize this. They just want to dance.
The winner: For sheer lasting power and overall quality –and also because it’s light years ahead of its normal, pandering pablum—it’s the Peas’ “I Gotta Feelin’”. Drake’ got a ways to go, Jordin keeps working hard, and well, Gaga, will continue to get her publicity no matter what wacky things she says (“I love my vibrator”) or does (getting electrocuted on stage, like she did the other night). Farewell, summer of ’09. The Peas have it where it’s at.