Yikes! It’s Labor Day weekend! School’s already started in some parts of the country. Is the summer over? Didn’t school used to start in September? What’s the rush? Does this mean the lazy days of what has been a steamy summer in many parts –well, do we have to pack it in for the fall already? I want to still remember what I did this summer, which for one, was to come up with this year’s SMASHgods list of the most memorable, the most disposable, the most played —sometimes you wanted to poke your eyes out—songs of Summer ’11.
Let’s review some of the guidelines here. Summer songs are memorable not just because they are played on endless loops by absent djs on radio stations, or downloaded frantically on iTunes. They also have to minimally represent summer in some way –something frothy, something accessible, something that can withstand all those replays. What was the song of this summer? In the past we have awarded this dubious title to the likes of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” and BEP’s “I’ve Got a Feeling” –iconic titles for sure and certainly reminders of the last two summers.
We’ll review some contenders for those songs that later will remind us of Summer 2011 in America, and not just the blistering heatwaves.
Nikki Minaj, “Super Bass”
“Super Bass”, off Minaj’s “Pink Friday” CD, is instantly catchy not just because of the insane chorus and the thrilling rapid phrasing and intonation, but it’s also by far the most accessible song off her CD. That’s saying a lot because Minaj had a lot to prove in her first solo record. Previously she collaborated with many artists such as Kanye and Drake. Known for her loopy, colorful, asymmetrical stylings and her sass, she is also a nimble rapper, not much of a voice per se, but she can roll with the best of them right now. “Super Bass” is about her crushin on a guy and initially wanting to get busy with him –and her plaintive wondering whether he knows “who the f I is” –and it’s tossed off with quick trigger highs and lows, just until it gets to the soaring chorus that everyone knows by now: “Boom, badoom, boom, boom, badoom, boom, bay, he got that super bass”.
Summers are all about having crushes, aren’t they –and with this huge smash, Minaj has probably dispelled all fears that she is merely a novelty-type rapper, more a decoration than a unitary artist. Of course, opening for Britney Spears on her nationwide tour and even having a “wardrobe malfunction” –a “nip slip”—on “Good Morning America” can’t be all bad if it gets you some attention.
LMFAO, “Party Rock Anthem”
Apparently this song –to some—is about partying with “Red Bulls and Vodka” drinks in your hand. But I refuse to believe this frenetic and utterly dopey song is some kind of paean to drinking. Sure, this is what “partying” means in a way but I just think it’s just one cynical, calculated attempt to put together stupid lyrics about “makin’ money” and horrendous electronic beats that sound so, well, 1998. But the electro-pop duo known as LMFAO (please don’t ask us to tell you what this stands for) is also related to the founder of Motown Records, Berry Gordy –the son and grandson Redfoo and Skyler, respectively. “Gee, Grandpa Berry, can you try to get us a record contract cause we have this really important song about partying and drinking.
And we think it will hit #1 all over the world”. That’s’ precisely what’s happened this summer in what is probably the most inescapable song by far. Life is so simple, you know? “Party rock is in the house tonight. Everybody just have a good time”. This guy “runnin’ through hos like Drano” on the dance floor –classy. But the phrasing (if you can call it this) that drives me nuts is this one: “Step up fast and be the first girl to make me throw this cash/We got money. Don’t be mad. Now stop. Hating is bad”
Chris Brown, “Yeah (3x)”
Chris Brown has been on a redemption tour the past couple of years. The convicted felon has done his community service and it seems he has found some pretty decent producers to help him with his latest effort, “F.A.M.E” (Forgiving All My Enemies”), released last March, which has now spawned five hit singles. “Yeah” is easily the most notable but not necessarily the most interesting (the moody electro “Beautiful People” takes that one). It was also the lead single, a definitive pop single (like his “Forever” single that was used in the Jim and Pam wedding on “The Office”) that also incorporates Europop and electro vibe elements that raise it above the typical pop fluff. Brown gets obvious attention (or notoriety) of course because of all that went down with Rihanna, something that his public persona has not been able to live down.
We watch his performances, like the blazing one he gave on “Dancing with the Stars” in late March but there is always the hint of anger when he is interviewed. But as long as he doesn’t turn out the same cookie-cutter beats and can stand on his own as an artist (I think he has a superior singing voice, for example), perhaps he can be taken even more seriously. A felony and a public anger and humiliation are hard things to live down. No matter what your take is, this song is proof that he is still quite relevant to the pop music scene.
Pitbull featuring NeYo, “Give Me Everything”
Pitbull has been on so many songs by others before that it was high time he went on his own. This repetitive track that makes one genuinely sick of Ne-Yo’s voice, as if Pitbull’s raspy, often lascivious raps weren’t bad enough. It also doesn’t help that the female singer used in the song is breathy and doesn’t do much at all. But it’s also Pitbull’s first number one single. “I got it locked up like Lindsay Lohan”, he raps, and all he is really doing is setting up the incessant chorus by Ne-Yo of “give me everything tonight/for all we know, we might not get tomorrow”. The mixture of the vocal with the roughneck rapping, amid the flurry of beats all sounds a bit random and confusing, but there appears to be something there to keep it catchy. We prefer the Pitbull who does his work on his own or at the very least keeps it simpler. Generally speaking, can we really have a moratorium on the collaborations please? It’s so hard to keep up.
Bruno Mars, “The Lazy Song”
Last summer you couldn’t escape Bruno Mars’s mellifluous voice and the Grammys rewarded him with a slough of nominations in the fall. Seems like he was very much in demand and so too was his debut CD, “Doo-Wops and Hooligans”. His lead singles, “Just the Way You Are” and “Grenade” were a breath of fresh air –solid, fresh-sounding, soulful and convincing vocal performances. So what does one make of a, well, very lazy song called “The Lazy Song”? It’s easily the weakest track on the CD and a surprise why it was even released as a single, much less included on the uneven album.
I have to believe that the popularity of the reggae-influenced song rests on the fact that people really can relate to the unhurried, carefree nature of lyrics that say “I just want to lay in my bed”, “have some pretty nice sex” and wearing a “birthday suit”, “letting it all hang out”. That’s it. No complex emotions or epic thoughts, no lover-wronged or revenge or whatever. He really wants to stay at home. Or maybe the popularity stems from the video featuring the dark-shaded male dance crew known as Poreotics —dressed as chimps, along with Mars. I just thought of another reason this song irks so much: for some reason the single features some annoying whistling that, oddly enough, does not appear on the album version. I can’t stand whistling; it’s so …lazy.
Katy Perry, “Last Friday Night (t.g.i.f)”
The perennial Summer Girl is back at it with this spirited, almost retro-teenage song, harkening back to a wild party gone haywire. Perry makes all this seem so easy and she may not be done churning out hits from her CD either. A welcome follow-up to the just plain weird “E.T.”, “Last Friday Night” features Perry at her cutest, or most cynical –depending on how you process whatever personality she is channeling. This woman is not all that far removed from being a teenager herself again. Her “act” is two shakes from being novelty and her incessant yelps and deliberate pitch issues strains credulity in figuring out whether Perry is a really serious singer. Maybe this is all an act, the white Nikki Minaj so to speak, who brings not only 12 year-olds but also their Moms to feel what it’s like to wake up after a particularly eventful party. Haven’t there been movies about this in the 80s with Corey Feldman? Oh wait –this is the digital age, dude: “Pictures of last night ended up online I’m screwed/Oh well/It’s a blacked out blur/But I’m pretty sure I ruled”. But wait! Isn’t that Corey Feldman himself and the queen of 80s wholesome pop Debbie Gibson in her video?
There isn’t much else to say about this frothy, if cleverly written (“ginger ale” rhymes with “epic fail”) confection. It seems perfect for summer and tailor made for all the sorority parties that should be kicking off right about….now. Though it isn’t quite a “kegger romp” as Rolling Stone called it, it also isn’t in a league with the peerless pop perfection that was “Teenage Dream”. Still, Perry is making tons of dough just being a regular, bouncy, sexy blue haired girl.
Adele, “Rollin’ in the Deep”
There is absolutely no musical artist in the world that’s bigger than Adele right now –by far. She has sold almost 3 million copies of her “21” CD in the US, a remarkable feat when you figure that music sales are down significantly. Just last week she set a record for having the most weeks (non-consecutive) –12—at #1 on the Billboard Top 200. Why is this so remarkable. Well it’s because there is something utterly special and massively emotional and honest about Adele, an artist that is the very antithesis of the fluffier Katy Perrys, Britneys, Lady Gagas, whatever that usually dominates pop music. And yet her music, which is not necessarily accessibly friendly to pop radio formats, has completely dominated them somehow.
This song is a torrent of emotion, a barnstomer of a breakup song –indeed the concept of “21” is a series of bitter and heartfelt feelings over a real relationship she had with her ex-boyfriend. Very few songs recently have achieved this level of mastery –of both tone, spectacular vocal range and driving, subtle beat. So unusual and memorable is the song that there have been other notable artists who, when they haven’t been professing their adoration for Adele (Beyonce, Lady Gaga), they have been covering this very song. R&B crooner John Legend strips it down and has now been singing it on his current tour with Sade; Linkin Park did a version in England last month that quickly became a viral success.
No other singer has had the impact she has had on the music industry this year and it’s more than gratifying that much of it has had to do with this young woman’s towering talent –that voice and the unbelievable aplomb she has shown on her current US tour. She had laryngitis earlier this summer so she rescheduled those dates –and I was thrilled to catch her two weeks ago in the Bay Area. Her tour is taking a break, but after a swing through her native England, she’ll be back in the southern part of the US in October.
Britney Spears, “Til the World Ends”
Britney, we get it. You’ve made a total transformation by now. You’ve made the record we were all waiting for. Don’t worry that you don’t actually sing; you weren’t winning awards for your soaring melismas before. So you don’t write many of your songs. You wait for music-writing hit maker factories like Max Martin and lean a lot on Auto-tune. That Good Morning America appearance in San Francisco where thousands waited to see you…sing. Well, it’s ok –lipsycing is becoming something you’re getting better at.
“Femme Fatale” has been the comeback hit that all Britney fans have known she could one day make. Gone are the days of the Cheeto-eating, frappucino-holding, midnight runs to Jack in the Box, to say nothing of her shaving her head year back. She’ll never be a Rock n Roll Hall of Fame inductee. She’ll never win a lifetime achievement Grammy. But she somehow knows how to work a nearly flawless pop tune and twist it in her own revved-up manner, almost devoid of any guile but yet still somehow conscious that all of this is, well, disposable. “Til the World Ends” is the apotheosis single that “Hold it Against Me” wasn’t: it’s as tight as her black spandex and full of the energy that seemed to be absent in “Hold”, the first single. This has also been borne out in the new single, “I Wanna Go” –so she has caught on to a formula that used to elude her. We get it now –this is perfection as much as “(Baby) One More Time” was over a decade ago.
Lady Gaga, “The Edge of Glory”
Not much to say here except that this is by far the most “pop” Lady Gaga has been, and thus far the most accessible of her songs. Again, like Britney, it was the second, not the first single that made this a hit. Actually, it may have been the third –behind the mawkish, contrived “Born This Way” (and the lyrics about cholas) and the overwrought “Judas”. This one is anthemic and easy to listen to, and it’s even got the late Clarence Clemons on an extended sax solo. For a moment there it sounds like an old Springsteen tune or retro, like an 80s ballad (Starship?) until you remember that you’ve got Gaga in the middle of this. Is it catchy? Yes. Does it necessarily remind you of summer. Hmm, maybe not. But she does make the last days of living on Earth memorable.
The Winner: “Party Rock Anthem” -LMFAO
We don’t really have to love these songs, you know. So how can you say no to the frenzied cacophony, the relentlessly idiotic beats that are “Party Rock Anthem”? I mean, look at the title! It’s not just that it feels like jackhammer have been pummeling your head. It’s not just the faux-DJ-as-lazy-rapper persona that LMFAO (oh my God, I really am LMFAO!) display so shamelessly. But this thing has been all over the radio everywhere the most. I’ve heard it in airport lounges. I’ve heard it inside Kroger’s supermarkets in the produce section. It defies description really. It’s the reason –like Ke$ha—that our music is so utterly trashy and knowingly so. Michele Bachmann would say that the Tik Tok girl (ok, it really is a brilliant tune) and these LMFAO guys are why the East Coast had both an earthquake and a hurricane in the same week. Who are we to argue with her?