|Or it would be if every single pop culture site on the internet hadn't turned into a Game of Thrones recap/review site.|
So I stand by my point: this shit needs to be discussed, for reasons I mentioned in the original post, and the iffy or downright bigoted messages pointed out. I'm not a music critic. But I'm an excellent pointer-outer. May as well make this a monthly thing. Or bi-monthly, given the absolutely glacial pace of change in top 10 songs lately.
So here's the American top 10 pop songs at the time of writing, as taken from Billboard's Hot 100.
(Content note: top 10 pop music and all that entails. Cultural appropriation, sexual objectification, homophobia, the lot.)
10. Sam Smith - Stay With Me
Wait, don't play the video yet! On the off chance that you haven't heard the song or seen the video before, take a gander at the lyrics first:
Guess it's true, I'm not good at a one-night stand
But I still need love 'cause I'm just a man
These nights never seem to go to plan
I don't want you to leave, will you hold my hand?
Oh, won't you stay with me?
'Cause you're all I need
This ain't love, it's clear to see
But darling, stay with me
Why am I so emotional?
No, it's not a good look, gain some self-control
And deep down I know this never works
But you can lay with me so it doesn't hurt
I can't lie, part of me loves the hell out of that. One of the things I like about pop music is that male singers can often get away with displaying genuine emotion. It's not any great poetry, but it is very evocative. These lyrics would be absolutely cringe-worthy in the hands of a female singer, because it's all about emotions that are coded feminine: clinginess, irrational emotion, self-deprication and vulnerability.
As for the video, I like that the unnamed, unseen lover could be anyone. This is where a lot of music videos would take the time to pan the camera over the strategically uncovered body of whichever white actress or supermodel is trending on Google, but no. The one-night-stand could be anyone, any gender, ethnicity, body type, and so on. And the video clearly goes out of its way to show some diversity.
That being said, I seriously hate this goddamn song, from it's ear-splitting falsetto vocals to its underutilized pseudo-gospel chorus right back to the use of the imperative in the title. I'm not going to harp on it too much, because the lyrics don't do it, but man, I really hate it when love songs are filled with direct orders. But what really creeps me out about it is just imagining the situation. Who wants to wake up to that? The unspoken golden rule of one-night-stands is that you do not do exactly this.
Of course that goes back to the self-insert aspect of pop music. It's rare to hear a love song (or rather an introspective emotion song) on the radio that isn't addressed to the nebulous You. And this here is exactly the problem with singing songs about You. Sure, it's not a cheap way to pander to a young female fanbase (looking in One particular Direction with that), but here this pandering is disguised as being addressed to the unseen lover. And because of how the lyrics are structured, coupled with Sam Smith staring intently right at me for like 70% of the video, clearly that unseen lover is Me. And holy shit am I sick and tired of white boys doing a FEELSDUMP all over whatever object of affection they've chosen this week. Go home, angsty white boy. You knew what you signed up for. It's 7am, I'm hung over and your shrill falsetto is piercing my fucking brain.
And I know the word "darling" is basically pop song filler by now, but no, sir, you may not address Me so familiarly.
In the current social and cultural climate, one-night-stands unfortunately aren't for everyone. On some level you're always playing emotional Russian Roulette. If you're this woefully unequipped to handle losing a round, if these nights never go as planned, then no. Casual sex isn't for you at this point in your life. That's just fine. Sam Smith sounds to me like he really wants to be in a steady, comfy, farmer's-market-and-B&B-weekends relationship right now. I'd rather he do that than sleep with random people and then have a feelsbarf all over their shoes, no matter how sincere and vulnerable he makes himself in the process.
Calvin Harris - Summer
It's another song about Me! And apparently I'm a treacherous cow.
And we could be together baby
As long as skies are blue
You act so innocent now
But you lied so soon
When I met you in the summer
Good lord, angsty white boy. If you dislike Me this much, I wonder why you even want to be with Me. Baby.
This doesn't require any deconstruction, it's just garbage. He met Me in the summer. I was treacherous in some way. Now, he must pout. I have no idea what I did to this guy, but man, he sure is bitter about it. I'm sure his buddies often pat him on the back and say "there there brah."
If I ever make an art movie about the insecure male id, I'm using this video for reference. It's so blatant that for a second I actually thought it might be self-aware, but it's not ridiculous enough for that. It's just a checklist of trashy music video cliches. I can perfectly imagine the director going over a checklist he got from the internet. Cars? Check. Babes? Check. We're done.
Remember a long time ago when I said something to the effect of
this is where a lot of music videos would take the time to pan the camera over the strategically uncovered body of whichever white actress or supermodel is trending on Google [...]
I was going to ask why, if your intent is to make a flat, copy-paste dance track, you would feel the need to throw some misogyny into the completely inconsequential lyrics, but it's pretty obvious. Babes are hot brah.
8. Pharrell Williams - Happy
Pharrell is still happy. Good for him. Give me two more solid songs like this and Get Lucky and I might begin to think about forgiving the man for Blurred Lines.
7. Nico & Vinz - Am I Wrong
I have no idea what this is, but if I had to guess, someone got smashing drunk after watching Dead Poets Society and his asshole buddy transcribed it and made it into a bland mess of Auto-tuned vocals and bafflingly messed up platitudes. Any minute I expect to be told that what doesn't kill me makes me stronger and it's not the destination, it's the journey, but in lieu of that, outright gibberish will do just fine.
6. DJ Snake & Lil Jon - Turn Down for What
You'd think I'd have a problem with a music video where the sheer force of a man's twerking blasts a woman's clothes off her body, but no, I don't. I love this video. If you've been following this blog, you know how I feel about ludicrously over-the-top female violence in heightened reality. I have nothing bad to say about this song, because it doesn't have any lyrics, and I like the video as much as anyone else.
5. Jason Derulo - "Wiggle" feat. Snoop Dogg
The only good thing I can say about Jason Derulo is that he keeps nasally whining his own name at the start of each song to let you know when to change the station.
It's not that his music is crap. It is, objectively so, but it's more that he sounds like a proto-rapist on every single song he's released since he realized that ugly, brain-dead misogyny with a twangy hook sells more records than limp-dicked Nice Guy whining. Jason Derulo has always disrespected and outright humiliated women with a greasy glee that makes me want to bleach my soul, but he's evolving as a misogynist (although not as an artist.) For a pop singer who only just barely forced himself into the public eye in the void Chris Brown left behind for a year or so, at least that's appropriate.
I've already wasted a lot of words on this rancid little shit stain on the underpants of the universe, so I'll try not to repeat myself too much. As much as I hated his insincere and slimey Nice Guy whining on Whatcha Say and his utterly insipid "hurk hurk I'm thinking sex stuff about you" nose-yodeling on In My Head, I think I actually preferred him as a parody of every whiny, over-privileged, entitled boyfriend ever. This new incarnation of him as a sexy ladies' man (code for sexist asshole) is just so much worse on so many levels. This song should have been called I'm Sexist And I Know It.
At least back then he pretended to do the whole simpering lover boy schtick. Those songs were ostensibly about and for women, about relationships and whatever he imagined women wanted to hear. These songs aren't for women who want to imagine being Derulo's latest victim. This is for his bros. Look at all the cars and women I own, Jason brags to his bros. I mentioned sleazy insecure male id before, but damn. DAMN.
"You know what to do with that big fat butt!" he hollers. Then the beat cuts out. For, like, an uncomfortably long time. It's like the producer shares my opinion of this walking turd and played a practical joke on him. Jason Auto-tunes that line, somehow still barely able to carry a goddamn tune, and then, boom, silence. He just stands there, waiting, grinning smugly like a fucking dork utterly incapable of realizing what it is he just said. I like to imagine that for one beat, everyone in the studio just dropped what they were doing to stare at him with a mixture of bafflement and disgust.
Of course what you do with that big fat butt is wiggle it. Again, not a music critic, but this song is basically a straight up carbon copy of Flo Rida's Whistle, an equally repulsive song addressed to Me that also assumed I'd be thoroughly flattered at being sexually humiliated and objectified with an obnoxiously infantile hook to make it extra-strength creepy.
Sometimes the pop charts feel like an instruction manual on what I should do with my body. My butt is for wiggling at shitty, entitled little pricks like Derulo. My lips are for sucking Flo Rida's cock. My breasts are for pretty much everyone to stare at and appreciate as the independently existing bags of flesh they are. And I just feel so, so gross. What is wrong with these men that they think this is an okay thing to say? How the hell does a person get to be like that? Why are we rewarding this shit?
It doesn't stop at crude objectification and breaking women down to only those physical traits that make shitty little twerps like Derulo deign to stick their cock in you (and no, he doesn't care if that's what you want.) One of the first things we see in the video is a woman opening what I presume is a gift from her lord and harem keeper: shoes. Because women love designer shoes. They just do. Don't judge them, they're born that way.
And, of course, that fucking imperative. Wiggle. Wiggle wiggle wiggle. Do it. Now. I don't know what he'll do to you if you refuse, but it won't be pretty. So wiggle for Jason. You whore.
I'm so done with this creepy little puke. I can't even get over my hatred and disgust long enough to properly write about this shit. I had to watch Lupe Fiasco's Bitch Bad three times just to wash the phantom taste of grease and jizz out of my mouth.
4. John Legend - All Of Me
This is still around? Seriously? Okay.
3. MAGIC! - Rude
True story: for the longest time, I misheard this lyric:
Got in my car and raced like a jet
All the way to you
as "got in my car dressed like a chick." I dunno. Wishful thinking I guess. Dude can't enunciate for crap.
But anyway, the song.
In a way, this reminds me of those early comedy story rap songs, only those were fun and ridiculous and loud and this one is self-aware and boring and smug. I don't like it, but I don't find it too objectionable when it comes to the content. For one thing, at least the couple in the video look like they might actually be a human couple you might see at the local organic coffee place. This line though:
Can I have your daughter for the rest of my life?
Ew. Was that really the best way to phrase that? If you're going to do that annoying sing-talk thing anyway, maybe use any of the literally dozens of less creepy phrases that would also fit the meter. What little there is of it.
But he's going to marry her anyway. Alright. Good for them? I don't know these people and I really don't care. This song is like reading the wedding announcements in the newspaper. For a band optimistically called MAGIC! they aren't exactly doing much of that here. It's utterly bland and pointless and inoffensive and I think it gave me narcolepsy, but kudos to this song for being the only one in all of pop history where the nebulous You actually refers to the woman's dad. That's new, I guess. Wish you'd done something with it besides boring, lazy strumming and whining.
And that would be the end of that, if not for one thing:
Can't live without her
This sentiment is fucking everywhere and I find it so goddamn toxic. Don't want to live without her? Absolutely. I would prefer not to live without my husband either. Gotcha. But can't? That's more than a little troubling. I'd worry about that, if he said that to me. That would signal to me that maybe, just maybe, marriage is not the best idea right now, if the plan is for this dude to make his future happiness and ability to continue drawing breath my personal responsibility. It reeks of co-dependence, which is often mistaken for love, but holy shit, no, it isn't.
But that's hardly the crux of the song. The crux of the where am I? I fell asleep typing.
2. Ariana Grande - Problem ft. Iggy Azalea
Hey, speaking of ear-splitting vocals...
I'm pretty sure this song has the same producer as Talk Dirty. That, or twangy brass has replaced fucking whistling as the hip new hook. I wouldn't be sad about that. Maybe some day someone will actually build a listenable song around it.
So anyway, here's a minstrel show of female caricatures.
Presumably Ariana just broke up with Big Sean, which, right, good for her. They seem to really hate each other. She even says so. Really hates that guy. The rest of the song is her screaming about how emotional she is and she hates him but she loves him and wants him back but ah, no, my uterus! It's all adrift! Hysteria hits her so hard she goes completely infantile, crawling on the floor, lashes aflutter, making kissy faces at the camera.
Meanwhile Big Sean lurks unseen, a specter popping into the foreground like a cheap jump scare to ominously whisper "I've got one less problem without you."
So the story of this song is pretty clear: Big Sean plays a deeply disturbed homicidal man who couldn't deal with the breakup and tragically lobotomized this poor girl.
Next up is Iggy, who seems pretty confident about the fact that she is black. She is not. But more on that later. At least she doesn't resort to squirming on the floor Golluming about how she hates the nasty hobbitses but she loves them but she hates them! Precioussss! None of that. She seems pretty okay with the idea of her jerk ex going away now. Good for her. Make note of this, because unless the sky falls and the oceans boil, this is the last nice thing I'll ever say about Iggy Azalea. Starting now: she looks and sounds disturbingly like a Wayans brother in White Chicks.
I'm thinkin' I love the thought of you
More than I love your presence
Boom. Hear that, Ariana? Store that one away for later, because man, are you going to feel stupid when this whole theater of sexy histrionics is over.
Eh, maybe I'm making too much out of her lady-Golluming. It's mostly just her crawling on the floor like a sexy, sexy baby and turning around to stick her most traditionally attractive parts at the camera. Part of me wants to talk about how that's totally okay and she can do what she wants, but...
You know, a week or two ago, this horrible caricature of a woman prompted me to privately ask myself: "What is the feminist equivalent of an Uncle Tom?"
I'm just going to let that sit there.
1. Fancy - Iggy Azalea Featuring Charli XCX
For a racist, homophobic, sexist asshole, Iggy seems to be doing quite well for herself. I was actually sort of pleased to see a female rapper at number one, just for a fraction of a second before I remembered what I keep telling everyone I meet who will hear it: that "female" is not synonymous with "feminist-friendly." I always fall into the trap of thinking that marginalized people would have a certain sensitivity to the plight of others, but no. No.
You know, when I started writing and researching this post, I assumed it was going to be a whacky three ring circus of cultural appropriation, because that's what pop music is now: black women's bodies as props and 90% of whatever the hell it is Katy Perry thinks she's doing. I was sort of surprised to find it wasn't like that at all. I know why now. It's all been congealing at the top.
I'm not going to go on about it. Unlike most of them, this song actually does get talked about by people with a better grasp of it than I do. Go Google it, see where the night takes you. (Spoiler: it takes you to racism, homophobia, sexism, slurs and many a drooling online reporter going "chick fight yummy!" Look for words like "claws," "catty" and "girlfriend.")
I keep saying I like pop music, but I don't actually think I do anymore. I might have talked myself out of liking it. I like a handful of pop songs. That's about it. Here, let's you and I detox together: