First Hit #1: December 6, 2003
Stand Up is one of those songs that doesn’t quite work as its own. The shouts of Stand Up and the chorus itself are better suited to a clever DJ shoving them into a bigger mix, it’s something that seems almost designed to be a sample and a small supporting role in a larger dance program. The line Stand Up to get attention, then other bits spread about in the midst of other samples and ideas. On its own, it’s really repetitive, with a beat that can’t quite sustain itself over the entire running time. Ludacris’ verses are largely fine – even if any radio edit suffers death by 1,000 cuts – but they’re not quite interesting or compelling enough to make up for the song’s other shortcomings, and they generally stand as forgettable in the face of the big chorus. But that big chorus can’t sustain itself either, making a song that feels like a single ingredient for a much more interesting cake. Just as one would never eat a box of Baking Soda but would use it readily to bake things, it’s probably not a good idea to listen to Stand Up on its own instead of putting it in a much more interesting mash up or dance mix.
First Hit #1: October 4, 2003
Baby Boy is really a Sean Paul song with a feature spot for Beyonce, no matter how it’s credited. Beyonce’s got the chorus – and it’s a pretty good chorus, let’s not undersell her contribution – but Sean Paul has more verses and is never really far from the song. He is the prominent thread in the music, and he is a much larger component to the song than Beyonce is. Yet, she gets the main credit, probably because it’s on her album.
It’s one of those songs that looks more interesting on paper than it actually is, with a bunch of Eastern European references that are eclipsed by Paul’s reggae pull. No matter what the arrangement does, his vocal pulls focus, and it’s only if you make the choice to ignore the vocals that you notice that the song is doing a lot of interesting things, a confluence of world music influences pressed into service as part of a mainstream pop song. That is, in theory, what pop acts should aspire to do – go a little more eclectic than they have to – but in reality Sean Paul subjugates all, including the otherwise dominant Beyonce.
First Hit #1: September 6, 2003
Bad Boys 2 is an overstuffed goofball of a movie, full of stars and heavy production values that should fall apart at any second, but somehow works anyway. There’s a good reason why “Shit just got real” has become a comically absurd reaction to an escalating situation, and not just because of the frankly brilliant Hot Fuzz. It’s just a line that captures the ridiculous nature of the film.
The soundtrack to Bad Boys 2 features Shake Ya Tailfeathers, a song that references the film multiple times, and it attempts the same trick. Lots of names – though Murphy Lee isn’t quite as famous as Nelly or P. Diddy – enough production tricks for several songs, and something that seems like it would totally go off the rails if it wasn’t surprisingly successful in its aims. It’s not a great song – since it’s so concerned with the film itself there’s a feeling that it is aware of this – but it’s something that captures the mood and atmosphere of the film, fully aware that the mood and atmosphere of the film is totally insane. It just kind of rolls from subject to subject, aware of how goofy it all is and totally comfortable with that fact. Shit never gets real really, but it does get at least entertaining.
First Hit #1: July 12, 2003
If anything, Crazy in Love is celebratory. It’s the horns, when they show up in the chorus it conveys a certain sense of excitement and exhilaration. Whatever is being sung, Crazy in Love reads as a celebration of love and a new relationship. Lyrically, it’s a bit more ambivalent, with Beyonce not quite sure what to make of the rush of emotion and desire that defines the newfound relationship. It’s a contrast, one that’s not played up as maybe it should be – it’s so triumphant that any actual ambiguity is lost in all the celebratory horns. Then again, that’s probably the point, any misgivings about new love are spirited away as the rush of the relationship starts to take over. She is crazy in love, that’s sort of what it’s about, and if she wants to cling on to what she had before it’s not really working.
Jay-Z, from all indications the man she was crazy in love with, isn’t really a good fit for the song though. The only response to his verse is basically “Really? This guy? The one who won’t shut up about himself? This is who you’re in love with?” But I guess that’s why love is crazy.
First Hit #1: June 28, 2003
Now we are in the second season of American Idol, and into the big match-up between Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken. Stoddard won the day, being a fairly atypical pop star – a very large man who was mostly interested in just doing gospel – and Aiken got the number one single, bringing with him a certain non-threatening androgyny that lots of the really successful male pop stars have. But, while the show has learned from some of its mistakes – no misbegotten movie, for starters – it still hasn’t quite gone through the effort of making the first single worthwhile.
This is the Night is better than A Moment Like This. That doesn’t mean it’s good, it’s just better, like how you’re feeling a bit less awful three days after surgery than you are two days later. It’s another faux-inspiring song about a wonderful night, which could basically be about the show itself if it didn’t keep referencing kisses. It’s basically a retread of what worked for Clarkson, albeit with some nice electric guitars to add a bit of spice, and that’s the core problem of the song. It’s just what was done before with some new guitars, it’s not trying to really capture what Aiken is good at. Worse still, it’s an attempt to smuggle in a message about how wonderful American Idol is rather than make a song that people would ever want to hear again. It’s mythbuilding for a reality show, not an attempt to build a budding young star’s career. But that doesn’t matter, does it? If you bought this single, it was because you liked Aiken and were invested in the show, not because you liked the song, especially since the song wasn’t all that interesting.
Aiken has done alright for himself, though he’s not quite at the level of visibility of Clarkson, but he’s also struck with a somewhat poor first single.
First Hit #1: May 31, 2003
Last time, I said mean things about 50 Cent, and I will continue to do so. Alright, 21 Questions isn’t necessarily a bad idea for a song, and it actually makes a movement to a bit of vulnerability, as the rapper outlines a bunch of scenarios that might make a woman leave. The guy loves his braggadocio, but here he’s actually trying to be more than just a pile of money, which actually makes him almost endearing. For all his bragging, he wants a real human connection, and his obsession with money – the album is called Get Rich or Die Tryin’ after all – actually sounds like it’s making him unsure of whether or not he can manage that. Sure, the subject of the song is a woman, unnamed, but it’s also 50 himself, as he worries that he’s just a pile of money rather than a compelling person.
But 50 Cent is awful. Nate Dogg gives him a smooth hook, he has a good beat, he provides the same mush mouthed delivery, sounding like he recorded his lines after a trip to the dentist. Plus, after a relatively serious song he throws in the fat kid loves cake line, which is one of those things that might have worked in a more self-consciously silly song but takes away from something that’s attempting at least a measure of seriousness. To be fair, this shows that he’s at least a more compelling person than he might appear on first encounter, but in all honesty, he’s not very good at rapping, and that’s kind of his job.
First Hit #1: May 10, 2003
The year 2003 was dominated by what I will term stupid club music, and here’s the next stupid club track. Sean Paul has made a song about shaking butts, and as refreshing as it might be that he’s not really trying for anything more than making sexy ladies move their butts, it’s perhaps less than interesting outside of the club atmosphere. Which isn’t anything against Paul – he clearly wanted to make a club track and had little to no interest in how it played in other contexts. It’s frantic, with Paul’s vocals providing a counterpoint to the chaos of the beat, given that they take the relative smoothness of reggae and Paul’s own accent to make something which counteracts the pure chaos underneath. That’s kind of interesting, but it’s also pretty one note, and it doesn’t really change much over the course of the track. In the right context, sure, it’s at least something to pick people up to, but it’s also a song that doesn’t play well in other contexts, since without a whole pile of sexy butts around it doesn’t have much use.