Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Playlist: 10 Guilty Pop Pleasures

I hate calling something a guilty pleasure.  Lately, I've started to believe that if you like something, you should just own up to it.  In spite of this, with some of the songs listed here, I do actually feel like I'm hiding a shameful secret when I listen to them.  If this isn't the textbook definition of the phrase guilty pleasure, I don't know what is.  Certain artists make me sneer.  I can't stand them.  I can't stand their personas or radio singles, and yet I have that one track or so that I really like listening to every now and then, usually because it wormed its way into my head and hearing it is the only way to exorcise the beast.  As I've grown out of my teen years, I've become more receptive to straight-up pop music than I was when I was its target market.  My elitist walls can be broken down by a catchy dance hook, for better or worse.  If you scroll through my iPod, you're bound to find more than a few things you might not expect.  Because I don't really care if you judge me (I'm already judging you. Silently.  Be afraid.), I now present for your perusal the 10 songs of 2010 that brought the most shame upon my house.

And yes, this means the favorite songs list is coming...

10. Uffie / "ADD SUV"  Alright, so the 10th slot here was initially held by Nicki Minaj's "Massive Attack,"  but then I decided there was zero guilt when it came to enjoying that song.  Why?  Because that song is awesome and there are few things as enjoyable as yelling "We got tom-toms over here bigger than a monstah" in the car.  So, I brought in another track that I'm still not quite guilty about, but which I sense I maybe should be.  Uffie's album Sex Dreams and Denim Jeans got scathing reviews when it was released this past summer.  She's one of the original Ke$ha prototypes; the little white girl who doesn't quite rap, doesn't really sing, but just sort of talks about parties and drugs over a beat.  "ADD SUV" is just another song about both, listening drugs drugs drugs in a tinny, electronically altered robot voice in between strange appearances by Pharrell Williams.  It's just silly, a weird sort of trying too hard mix of extreme hipsterdom and Gossip Girl, yet, I like it.  I like it a lot.  There's a party monster menace that makes it fabulous for heading out to a late night party.

9. Rihanna / "Rude Boy" Alright, so the only real reason this is a guilty thing is because I've said about a million times that Rihanna can't sing, she can only bleat like a sheep.  Yeah, she still can't sing.  But, though I don't think she's a fantastic vocal performer (she is, however, an interesting one), she does have some decent songs.  Mostly, I like her songs when they're on the aggressive side. "Rude Boy" grew on me, like Rihanna was taking back her life after that incident we shall not name.  She's got attitude in her songs, if only we could see that translated in real life.  Is this a thing that's happened?  I don't know. It feels sometimes like outside of her wardrobe, she's being puppeted.

8. Ke$ha / "Take it Off"  and "We R Who We R"  For the purpose of this list, these songs will be considered one.  This is because they're essentially the same.  Sure, there are some surface differences, but if you watch the music videos back to back, the similarities even there cannot be denied.  Ke$ha is our current bottle blonde goddess of gutter slime.  We do not look to her for something intelligent, poignant, or even slow.  We look to her for something that goes thump thump thump and talks about just how much fun we're going to have when we do that thing we do.  Ke$ha, even as she spouts paradoxically self-aggrandizing and self-deprecating comments about just how much partying she's capable of doing, is inclusive.  I'm starting to think that this is her appeal, Ke$ha is the pop star who's always inviting you to the party.  She is, however vile, rarely aloof.   Plus, she actually tries to sing a bit in these songs and they're really just catchy.

7. Katy Perry / "E.T."  Grumble, grumble, Katy Perry.  Ugh.  She's the pop music equivalent of a crappy prize in a box of stale cereal: you think it might be something exciting, but it never pays off.  Perry is bizarro Gaga.  She's the bright, shiny piece of plastic who seems to hold up nice girl values even as she acts the part of coy, pin-up sex toy.  Where Gaga plays knowingly with artifice, aesthetics, and homage, Perry has no idea what she's doing, and her shtick feels disingenuous in a way entirely different from Gaga's.  Gaga's entire persona is built up as performance art, Perry is the amateur opening act at the tiki tiki tiki room.  She seems blissfully unaware of anything past a gleeful joy of kitsch.  That's alright, sometimes, I guess, though "California Gurls" was my summer nightmare.   I gave her and her scented album a chance, though.  Just as with the Katy Perry living doll, there are some shiny-produced tracks on Teenage Dream.  Grammy worthy?  Oh no, no, no.  But, "E.T." is a pretty alright, slightly more menacing pop number that carries a certain darkness in its stuttering chorus.  It's different from Perry's bubbly, high and low perkiness, and I shudder to think that if she ever got the courage to run in this direction, I might actually be able to like her.

6. Die Antwoord / "Enter the Ninja"  I know that several other year end lists are counting this track as one of the best of the year, but I have to admit I still think South African rap outfit Die Antwoord's theme song is sort of creepily ridiculous.  Like a combination between a song written for Dance Dance Revolution and a joke internet meme, there's something that just feels artificially produced about "Enter the Ninja."  When I see the video, I can't get past this notion that group members Ninja and Vi$$er are some sort of cartoon, post-ironic, uber-Aryan children of runaway Nazis.  Which is essentially the opposite of what they're supposed to represent.  I know this, but like I said, I can't get past it.  Are they sincere?  Are they self-aware?  Are they pretentious or absurd?  I don't know.  All I know is that Vi$$er's little helium voice on this song and "Wat Kyk Jy?" (which I kind of like just a little more) will cycle in my head for days.  Frankly, they creep me out.  I don't know why they creep me out, but yeah, they do.  

5. Christina Aguilera / "Vanity"  After ages of speculation and hype, Xtina's Bionic  was a serious flop.  Boasting collaborative and production credits from the likes of Sia, Peaches, Ladytron, and Goldfrapp, there was no doubt I was going to check out the album.  Rumors of its sucking have been, I think, greatly exaggerated.  It's not so bad.  Of course, I only really listen to the upbeat songs ("I Hate Boys" and "Woohoo" are pretty fun, definitely the runners up for this spot).  I'm just not a ballad person.  Anyhow, the thing about Christina Aguilera is that, in spite of having one of the best voices around, she's got some serious self-esteem issues.  With Back to Basics as a slight respite, her usual theme is one of assertion, struggles with identity, and having to remind you she's 'not what you think.'   In interviews, in song, she's always reminding you that "you don't know her."   She's bionic, she's not herself tonight, she's a fighter, she's a genie in a bottle, she's dirrty, she's beautiful, no matter what you say.  On "Vanity" the self-assessment comes to a glorious, narcissistic head and it's the most straightforward drag queen song I've heart on a pop album in a long while.  It's fabulously unapologetic, and I want to see the competitors on the next season of RuPaul's Drag Race make a video for it so bad.  Perfect fit.

4. Katy Perry / "Teenage Dream"  Grumble, grumble Katy Perry part two.  A friend pointed out that he would feel much better about liking this song if it had been done by Robyn first.  I agree.  There's something about it that resonates as having the potential to be a truly amazing work of bubble gum, but I'm not sure Katy Perry's voice was the perfect fit.  "Teenage Dream" has a thunderous, hormone loaded anthem for a chorus, and there's something a little bit nostalgic and just a tiny bit sad about it, like the whole teenage dream sequence is a big tainted illusion.  It's not a bad song, really.  I will begrudgingly admit this.  However, I would rather hear this "Teenage Dream" most days of the week.  Oh, Marc Bolan.

3. Justin Bieber / "Somebody to Love"  I have to admit, I've had quite a few people try and sell me on the merits of the Biebs.  I honestly don't really get it, but then again I didn't even like sentimental boy pop when I was an actual teenybopper.  I hated Hanson, Backstreet Boys, NSync, etc, and to me Justin Bieber is just another in a long line of marginally talented Tiger Beat heartthrobs.  Yet, I have friends who love unabashedly his song "Baby" and who enjoy (perhaps semi-ironically) Ludacris's first love rap and Kanye West's remix.  So, I tried to give Justin Bieber another shot.  I tried to listen to My World 2.0.  When I heard "Somebody to Love," there was a brief moment where I actually thought I was totally wrong about Justin Bieber.  This song is alright.  It's an upbeat floor-filler with loads of synth and some dark grooves to it.  But, when it ended, it wound up being the only glimmer of hope for me on the album.  I had to skip through the rest, but "Somebody to Love" did find a place on my iTunes, right between Justice and Justin Timberlake, the latter of whom Bieber may or may not manage to follow to victory.

2. The Black Eyed Peas / "Someday"  Wow, yeah, so, um, this one kills me to own up to.  Is it because I sometimes feel like Will.I.Am and company are single handedly responsible for the total homogenization of the American Top 40?  Maybe.  Somehow, every song they release winds up being one that appeals to literally every demographic at a base level.  It's like they've tapped into some sort of primal human receptor for celebratory songs.  Seriously, can you think of the last major event you went to where they didn't manifest themselves in one form or another (and yes, Fergie's solo work and Will.I.Am appearing with Usher do count)?  No, you can't.  Weddings, dances, parties, clubs, the end credits of G.I. Joe...it literally does not matter.  The Peas will be there, even if you didn't invite them.  What's worse is they overstay their welcome.  If you hear a new single on the radio, you will still be hearing it a year later.  They're annoying house guests who seem like fun at first, but once you've caught up you realize they're just going to keep sleeping on your couch, watching reality TV dance competitions, and never vacuum up the Froot Loop crumbs all over the floor.  That's why I'm seriously guilty about listening to "Someday."  In my defense, there's something about the synth instrumentals here that feels very lived in, very 90's.  It's a little less of a gimmick, has a tight focus, and no nonsense or dance commands.

1. Adam Lambert / "For Your Entertainment"  Alright, so, technically American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert's (BTW: I don't watch Idol) album was released in 2009, and this single was from that year as well.  However, I didn't catch on to this song until early 2010, so we're going to let this pass.  The reason Lambert's track makes it to the #1 of guilty guilty songs is for one reason and one reason only: I actually really like it.  I can't even lie.  I didn't download this song because it got stuck in my head or because I needed it for emergency dance parties, no, I downloaded this song just because I actually legitimately enjoyed it.  That's right.  I saw Lambert's video and I went, "huh, I actually like something produced by American Idol."  It was a new experience.  Don't ask me to explain it.  Sure, Lambert has a really impressive vocal range, but who cares?  I just like this song.

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