Thursday, March 24, 2011


People are still talking about Rebecca Black, right?

The pint-sized aspiring pop tart with an affinity for the start of the weekend (and for having cereal in a bowl) recently rocketed to Youtube infamy with her hit(?) song "Friday."  Almost immediately, the song was lambasted by listeners far and wide for its simple, auto-tuned melody and inane lyrics.  Web trolls suggested that Rebecca Black should consider acquiring an eating disorder or maybe perish in flames. 

That's pretty darn harsh for a 13-year-old.  I don't know about you, but when I was thirteen I was somewhere between drooling over a cute boy in class and figuring out which Halloween costume would make me look young enough to garner more candy.  I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I wouldn't have been AT ALL ready for a life of fame, fortune, and web-haters.

(... though I'm totally ready now.  Bring it, stardom.)

Anyway, this whole Rebecca-Black-gate got me thinking about the state of pop music.  Is she REALLY any worse than the other super-successful yaps we listen to on the radio every day?  The ones who are routinely topping our charts, filling our stadiums, and lightening our wallets?  I decided the only way to really give Miss Black a fair shake is to compare her to some of these current pop "icons," considering such variables as musical ability, lyrical prowess, and overall presentation.  Therefore, I proudly present


A la Scott Pilgrim, Miss Black will now face off against the Seven Evil "Exes" (as in, "Expert at making the public believe he/she has a modicum of talent")


Yes, this one is a softball comparison.  Both Bieber and Black got their start on Youtube, both are proponents of highly repetitive music, and both were born during the Clinton presidency (cringe).  It would be easy to compare Bieber's hit "Baby" to "Friday", as Drew Grant so skillfully does in this piece for Salon.  However, I decided that a less-traveled comparison to "Friday" might be this piece of JB's musical soul:

First of all, has Li'l Justin even learned what a common denominator IS yet?! 
Secondly, he sounds like an auto-tuned Cindy-Lou Who. 
And third, lyrics like "And through all the heart achin'/jealous females hatin'/I'ma hold it down for you, whoa, whoa" make about as much sense as basing a "love" song on a sixth-grade math concept.  That is, not much sense at all.
Bieber can't sing any better than Black, his lyrics are no better, his melodies no less repetitive.  And pretty soon his voice will change, morphing him into nothing more than a musical version of Hayden Christensen.


#2: KE$HA

Really, this isn't much more of a stretch than Justin Bieber.  Ke$ha boggles my mind, because she occasionally seems so self-aware in her own over-the-top-ness that I can't help but wonder if she's secretly researching for a doctoral dissertation, titled something like "A Culture in Ruins: The depths to which the American public will sink in its consumption of popular music." 
For example, when it was revealed that she received no compensation for her career-starting feature in Flo Rida's "Right Round," Ke$ha explained that she chose to not appear in the music video because
"if you want to be a legitimate artist, it’s more important what you say no to. I knew [Mr. Rida] would want me to be some sexpot, shake my booty, and whatever." [1]
Cut to two years later:
Kesha embarked on her first headlining world tour, Get Sleazy, in spring 2011. [2]

Regardless of whether Ke$ha is a secret genius, studying the human fascination with glam-trash-pop stars who will do anything (ANYthing) for a chart-topper, there's no excuse for the crap she produces.  Case in point - this little number, her SIXTH-STRAIGHT TOP TEN SINGLE.

Okay, I have to admit, she got Dawson for her music video.  And unicorns.  Creeeeptastic, demon-sheep-like unicorns, to be sure, but still.  And the witty repartee in the middle is just deadpan enough to be clever.  Ke$ha's stage presence is years ahead of Rebecca Black's (which makes sense, considering that Ke-dollar-ha is eleven years older), but her auto-tuned lyrics consist of such gems as "We're pretty and sick/we're young and we're bored/It's time to lose your mind and let the crazy out/Tonight we're taking names, 'cause we don't mess around/This place about to blow-ow-o-o-o-o-ow (4x)"

Evil Ex #2: DRAW.


Is there even much to say here?

This is ridiculous.  Her best lyrics in this song are "I go through guys like money flyin' out their hands/They try to change me but they realize they can't/And every tomorrow is a day I never planned/If you're gonna be my man, understand/I can't be tamed, I can't be saved/I can't be blamed, I can't, can't/I can't be tamed, I can't be changed/I can't be saved, I can't be (can't be)/I can't be tamed." 
Maybe Miley can't be tamed, but she can certainly be blamed.  This whole song is one exercise in sexualized corporate tripe.  And feathers.  RB's little "Friday" ditty is cute and catchy by comparison... and feather-free.

Evil Ex #3: DEFEATED.


Ah, yes, Miley's inspiration.  Here's the lead single off her latest album:

Does Britney even qualify as a performer anymore?  I kind of get the impression that she rolls out of bed, goes to the studio, and growls into a microphone for a couple hours, and then they auto-tune it into something resembling a melody, stick it over a drum loop and some synthesizers, and have her stand around in costumes and wiggle her arms while she mouths the words on camera. 

I am old enough to remember well when "Baby One More Time" was released in 1999, and it was awesome... for a 17-year-old.  If this kind of laziness was what Britney started with, we would never have heard of her (I mean, Youtube wasn't even invented until 2005).  Maybe Rebecca Black's debut is no "Baby One More Time," but it's at least as good as this.

Evil Ex #4: DEFEATED.


Well, I'll say this for Katy Perry.  I think she's getting better.  Of course, when you start with the bored vocals and one-dimensional beat of "I Kissed A Girl," you've kinda got nowhere to go but up.  Her latest hit offering, "Firework," quickly gained traction as an anthem to being yourself.  The Slant magazine expressed my feelings about this song well:
"[It's] not an actively painful listen. Sure, the would-be inspirational lyrics ('Baby you're a firework/Come on show them what you're worth') are nonsensical, and the vocal lines, which sound like they were written for someone like Leona Lewis, are well beyond Perry's capabilities, but the chorus gains some momentum and the song would work well enough in a club setting that you could forgive its otherwise glaring weaknesses." [3]

Couldn't you say the same about "Friday"?
It's not an actively painful listen.  Sure, the would-be inspirational lyrics ('Partyin' partyin' (yeah)/fun, fun, fun, fun, lookin' forward to the weekend') are nonsensical, and the vocal lines, which sound like they were written for someone like Taylor Swift, are moderately beyond Black's capabilities, but the chorus gains some momentum...

Evil Ex #5: DRAW.

On second thought, Perry has a Friday ditty of her own on her latest album, with, er... more colorful lyrics than Black's song.  Alas, it has ABSOLUTELY NO additional musical prowess.  Rather than chanting "Gotta have my bowl/gotta have cereal" like Black, Perry simply bleats, "Think I need a ginger ale/that was such an epic fail."  Epic fail indeed, Katy.

Evil Ex #5: DEFEATED.


In researching for this blog post (read: browsing Wikipedia), I discovered something surprising.  Lil Wayne, born Dwayne Carter, was once a Gifted Ed/Honors student!  However, he dropped out of school at age 14 to pursue a "musical" career.  Oh, Dwayne, what possessed you to do that?  You could have had a PhD by now, and called yourself Doctor Wayne!!!
(sidebar: does it seem a little disingenuous/creepy that Lil Wayne has a single titled "Prom Queen", when he never legit-attended a prom?  Just sayin')

Anyway, here's Lil Wayne's latest track.

(WARNING: EXPLICIT LYRICS.  I can't speak to the video itself, because I could only make it through about the first thirty seconds before my ears started bleeding and I had to stop it... but I'm guessing the video is NSFW as well)

Can anyone tell me WHY this exists????

RB, you're just a little bundle of bubble-gum and cuteness next to this creeper.  Point to you.

Evil Ex #6: DEFEATED.


I saved Gaga for last, partly because I'm sure there are many of you out there who would have stopped reading in outrage if I had started with her.  But also, she's last because she exemplifies everything I loathe about current pop music: derivative, repetitive, artificially-enhanced spectacle.  For all the talk of "musical revolution" that she throws about, Gaga has yet to produce a song that to me sounds truly original or inventive. 

I'm putting this last part in big letters on account o' I think it's important.

While Rebecca Black's "Friday" may sound silly, repetitive, inane, and perhaps even stupid, Black has never claimed to be the guiding light for the next generation of music.  She's a middle-schooler, who wanted to make a music video, and her parents were willing to sink a couple grand into the idea, much like many other American parents who pay for space camp, or a study abroad, or a musical theatre camp.  Are we publicly flogging the progeny who haven't yet become brilliant astronauts, ambassadors, or Broadway stars?

Rebecca Black made a music video at age 13, with a song written by grown ups.  At age 11, Zac Hanson (whom I personally really like) had a worldwide #1 hit: the chorus consisted of "Mmmbop, ba-doo-ba-dop ba-doo bop." 

Lady Gaga's biggest hit to date, "Poker Face," simply prattles on, "Can't read my, can't read my, no you can't read my poker face/pa-pa-pa-poker face, pa-pa-poker face."  Her latest song, "Born This Way," which she says she wrote in about ten minutes, is little more than a shameless "tribute" to Madonna's "Express Yourself."  What's impressive about that? 

and P.S. I could wear a dress made of meat, too, if I wanted (I'm just not a fan of e.coli).  It doesn't make me a fashion icon.

Evil Ex #7: DEFEATED.

So, Internet, with these musings in mind, I'd just like to ask you to be a little easier on Rebecca Black and kids like her.  They're kids.  Let them have fun.  And if these examples mentioned above (excluding Hanson, of course) are truly the "shining examples" of pop music today, then maybe there's not even that much damage left for someone like Rebecca Black to do.

And if you, net-friends, disagree with my assessments, as some of you surely do, then isn't that just an example of the subjectivity of pop music altogether?  Can't we all just be a little nicer as listeners, and a little more creative as creators?  I'm going to go stare at my mounted James-Van-Der-Beek-head and ruminate on that.  I suggest you do the same.