First Hit #1: November 14, 2009
Whatcha Say is a song about vocal processing and possibly a breakup. Sometimes I feel like I’m being a stick in the mud about the whole autotune thing, as though I should just accept, if not embrace, the technology. After all, it was popular and apparently other people liked the sound. I’ve even heard a couple songs where it felt artistically justified to put a distancing effect between the listener and the vocalist. But then Whatcha Say comes along and I think “Oh, no, I’m completely justified in my hatred of this technology, because this is crap, but it could have been okay.” The problem is that it’s just plain distracting, throwing in some robot voice when it’s unnecessary, making Derulo sound like he is an inept vocalist even though he’s probably completely competent. The chorus, an Imogen Heap sample, is even worse, so processed I could have believed it came from absolutely anyone. I could have done the chorus, it’s so barely recognizable as a human vocal. Whatcha Say is just an exercise in ruining a vocal, and if it makes me sound like an old fuddy duddy when I make that statement, so be it.
First Hit #1: November 7, 2009
Is Fireflies a kid’s song? No song for grownup could get away with singing a line about lightning bugs giving people hugs and teaching them how to dance, that’s the kind of painfully earnest and fanciful lyric that only works before the age of 10. Yet, Owl City does have some grown-up accouterments, whether it’s some light darkness in the repeated line “please take me away from here” or the fact that he’s kind of obviously influenced by the Postal Service. It just doesn’t feel like it’s written for adults, it’s just so fanciful and silly, and even if it’s trying to appeal to all ages I can’t see taking it seriously as an adult. But there are a lot of people out there who aren’t adults, and they listen to music too, so Owl City does represent a sound that is fairly rare – kids music that it’s possible for parents to listen to. Maybe not enjoy, per se, I found my eyes rolling quite aggressively at some of the sillier lines, but it’s certainly better than some of the music marketed to the preschool set.
First Hit #1: October 24, 2009
Britney Spears is kind of an exercise in branding at this point. For this heavily processed song about threesomes – it’s as subtle as a brick to the face, if the brick was also having sex with two other bricks – I’m not sure why Spears is even here apart from the need to have a recognized name on the box. Her vocal is processed to an absurd degree, and it’s not like she’s actually doing much singing – it’s clear that she’s not actually singing much more than one note, it’s the processing doing all the work. That’s the thing, it’s a producer’s track, if anything Max Martin should get all the credit instead of Spears herself, who does nothing here. But Spears is a brand name, even in 2009, so here we get her on the front of the box, singing about sex, and we even get a week at the top of the charts to show for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the vocal was literally phoned in, to be honest, I’ve seen uncredited singers do more actual singing on a song.
Posted in 2009
Tagged 3, Britney Spears
First Hit #1: October 17, 2009
If you had a very advanced machine programmed to make a hit in 2009, it would probably produce something like Down. Pointless auto-tune, synth driven and fairly propulsive beat, Lil Wayne verse for some reason, all the trends are present. The lyrics are certainly better than, say, The Black Eyed Peas’ two fisted attack, but they’re still not great, and you’ve got that Lil Wayne-shaped fly in the ointment – here buried under so much processing he sounds like a possessed Macbook. This isn’t to say Jay Sean is bad, because he isn’t, but he’s also not quite good either. He’s just there, making a song that hits on what sells records in a particular year without actually doing much special or all that memorable – it just sounds like the year, rather than something unique and special. But I won’t begrudge Jay Sean for trying to make a few dollars, even as it becomes increasingly difficult to remember the song.
First Hit #1: July 11, 2009
I don’t hate part 2 of the summer of the Black Eyed Peas. I have plenty of reason to, it’s repetitive, the lyrics are pandering and lazy as hell, the vocals are over-processed to the point of making everyone sound like if someone broke Stephen Hawking, all valid reasons to hate this song. However, there is one good thing about this song, which I discovered at a fun run that very summer – it’s kind of the perfect tempo for jogging. Not so fast you wear yourself out quickly, fast enough that you still are getting exercise, with little pauses in there that help you pace yourself, it’s like it was made for jogging. Lyrically, of course, it’s made for partying – with the outright laziest lyrics ever written about partying, when you resort to listing the days of the week under gratuitous autotune you’re not hiding your lack of interest in actual words – and as a party song it’s worthless. But if you’re jogging you just want to set the pace, and this song actually does set a great pace.
There are also other good songs for jogging, of course, and I’d recommend them over this, but finding a purpose this song kind of justified its existence to me.
First Hit #1: April 18, 2009
I remember the first time I heard Boom Boom Pow. I was driving home from work, and I was reminded of the Flight of the Conchords’ song Boom, which was a Black Eyed Peas parody which deliberately tried to write a song where most of the lyrics were Boom. That song came first, and then BEP did the same thing. At that moment, driving by the local hospital, I realized suddenly that the Black Eyed Peas had suddenly become a parody of themselves.
Boom Boom Pow has more problems than just being based around the word Boom for the most part. It’s also coated in unnecessary auto-tune – Fergie can sing, she doesn’t need to sound like a robot with a head cold – it’s incredibly simplistic, copying an idea that was specifically parodying the group, the beat is a mess of glitchy nonsense, and it completely wears out its welcome by the one minute mark. It’s absolutely terrible as a song.
It also was the most successful single of the year and lead to an entire summer dominated by the Black Eyed Peas, so what do I know?
First Hit #1: April 11, 2009
Poker Face is more interesting than the last Gaga single, but it’s still nothing particularly interesting. An extended card-playing metaphor – this was the height of Texas Hold’em mania, if I remember right – some playing around with repeated syllables, Gaga trying out a rap verse on her own, and a chorus that could easily be confused with Christina Aguilera. Gaga, at least at this point, seemed to be trying on different identities rather than forging one of her own, and on this specific song she hot swaps a few within the same song, exploring a few different pop trends within the context. Whether it’s derivative or an artistic statement depends largely on your opinion of the artist herself, but I personally side with the derivative side of the argument myself. She can sell it, of course – eye-catching video, eye-catching personality too – but when I listen to Poker Face I don’t hear much more than a pretty well marketed pop song, but nothing that feels all that new or original. Gaga was chasing fame and fortune, she has never been shy about this – the album was actually called The Fame, after all – but I wish that the music lived up to the outre image she was attempting to project.