Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Pop Music Project: 2007

I realize now that 2008 was a turning point for pop music.  It was truly when vapid dance pop entered the Top 100.  I consider that a bad thing, and I am hoping that euro-style dance music is on its way out now in 2012.  On the other hand, I am now even more happy to be going backward instead of forward.  2007 had some good pop music and, more importantly, some very interesting pop music.  Let's get right down to it.  I want to start off with something I'm still trying to make up my mind about.

Good/Bad Song: Big Girls Don't Cry by Fergie

2007 marks the fifth year that I've listened to the Top 100, which means I have listened to 500 pop songs, a stunning percentage of which are breakup songs.  Some of them are bitter, some of them are self-loathing, some of them are desperate.  Very few have been "well this is over so I have to take care of myself" songs.  This is.  Which is especially refreshing coming from a female singer.

I hope you know, I hope you know, that this has nothing to do with you
It's personal, myself and I, we've got some straightening out to do.

I really like that she acknowledges that she might have problems herself that need fixing and that not everything is about her relationship or the person she was in a relationship with.  On the other hand, then we get to this.

And I'm gonna miss you like a child misses their blanket
but I've got to get a move on with my life.
It's time to be a big girl now,
and big girls don't cry.

Uhhh, why not?  Look, I know our society has a much larger problem with the impression that men can't be emotional, but I don't think this is the time to try to flip that stereotype.  Women DO cry.  Men do, too.  And both of those things are okay.  You know what people who tell themselves not to cry and bottle up their emotions end up doing?  Shooting people.  Don't shoot people, Fergie.  Cry if you need to.

Then there's also the really weird bridge that's a whole metaphor about kids being friends in the schoolyard and the line "we'll be playmates and lovers and share our secret worlds."  The phrase "playmates and lovers" should NEVER exist ANYWHERE.  Just pointing this out.  Onward!

Bad Song: Before He Cheats by Carrie Underwood
I like being back in 2007 because it's finally back to a time when I was actually listening to pop radio.  And yes, this song was on my iPod when I was sixteen.  You want so badly to agree with this, because who doesn't love an angry revenge song?  There was a good example of the revenge song in 2007--actually the number one song of the year--and that was "Irreplaceable" by Beyonce.  This...well, Before He Cheats is actually about just being fucking crazy.

We start off with a little slut-shaming...

Right now he's probably slow-dancing with some bleach-blonde tramp
and she's probably getting thirsty,
right now he's probably buying her some fruity little drink
'cause she can't shoot whiskey

...and then we go to Crazytown.

I dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped-up 4-wheel drive,
carved my name into his leather seats,
took a Louisville Slugger to both headlights,
slashed a hole in all four tires,
maybe next time he'll think before he cheats.

Yeah, look, that's not sweet revenge.  That's jail time.  Seriously.  I am a big fan of Donald Glover and he has a bit about how every guy has a crazy girlfriend story, but women don't have crazy boyfriend stories because if they get a crazy boyfriend they're gonna die.  I want you to pretend that it is a man instead of a woman singing those lyrics.  Still cute and fun?  Nope, then it's scary.  It is STILL scary when it's a woman.  It's okay, ladies, for you to be all "I hope when he's fucking his next girlfriend he's thinking of me!" or even to kick him out of the house if he cheats on you.  It's not okay to destroy his personal property in a really threatening way.  I'm going to conclude this PSA now.

Good Song: U + Ur Hand by Pink

I am writing this post as I listen to a bunch of frat boy jerkoffs party in the alleyway next to my apartment.  I am seriously considering putting my laptop in my window facing outward and blasting this song at them.  Hell, I wish I could walk down the street blasting this song all. the. time.  This song is so great it makes up for all of the "hitting on girls in clubs" songs that infiltrated the charts in 2007.  Check this out.

I'm not here for your entertainment, you don't really wanna mess with me tonight,
just stop and take a second, I was fine before you walked into my life
'cause you know it's over before it began
keep your drink just give me the money
it's just you and your hand tonight.

She's going into a club to have fun without being hit on, groped or ogled.  Newsflash, guys: We don't dress up and go out just so guys will stare at us.  We want to have fun sometimes without your assistance.  We don't need a supporting cast.  I especially like this line.

You know who you are, high-fiving, talking shit, but you're going home alone, aren't you?

Damn straight they are.  There need to be more songs like this, seriously.  

Bad Song: Girlfriend by Avril Lavigne
I don't think I can properly articulate just how much I loathe this song's very existence.  Everything about it is terrible.  It is terrible musically, lyrically, and ideologically.  I'm going to make this quick because if I think about it for too long it will get stuck in my head and it'll take me three hours' worth of Tom Petty songs to get it out.

Avril doesn't like your girlfriend.  She thinks your girlfriend is "so whatever" and that, with her magical powers of description as one of her key assets, she could make a much better girlfriend.  "Because she's "damn precious" and "the motherfucking princess."  Now doesn't this girl sound charming?

She's talking to a guy here and she's literally telling him to leave his girlfriend for her because he's "so delicious" and she knows he likes her because he looks at her sometimes.  And, because she's fifteen years old she tells this guy that his girlfriend is "so stupid."  And then she threw spitballs at her, I can only assume.

Look, why does it have to be a contest?  Why did you have to tear down his girlfriend for a whole song instead of saying "that guy that I like has a girlfriend and I don't like her so clearly I should back off"?  This is high school level crap and it leads to the same crap happening between mature, intelligent adult women.  And that is bad.  And truly, truly annoying.

Good Song: Like A Boy by Ciara
I went on for quite awhile about the failings of If I Were A Boy by Beyonce back in 2009.  I pointed out that she scratched the surface of something but didn't bother to follow through.  This song follows through on the premise that Beyonce's song set forward.  The fact that this song by Ciara came out two years earlier only makes the failings of Beyonce's song that much more inexcusable.  

The problem with Beyonce's "If I Were A Boy" mostly came down to the fact that it treated gender differences as if they were a difference in the way men and women loved.  The verses were about actual differences in privilege but the chorus was all gender essentialism: "Men don't understand how to love women", etc.  This one is all about switching roles, about treating people a certain way and ating a certain way vs. actually being a certain way. 

The difference is especially stark because the two songs are basically about the same thing: men treating women badly in relationships.  But this song is more about expectations than accepting the way it is because that's how it always is.

Wish we could switch up the roles
And I could be that...
Tell you I love you
But when you call I never get back
Would you ask them questions like me?...
Like where you be at?
Cause I'm out 4 in the morning
On the corner rolling
Doing my own thing

I wish there would be more songs like this.  Not necessarily because I think they're right, but because at least they open up the conversation and lend some kind of variety to the narrative.  This isn't whiny at all, it's frank and honest and not wrong.  It's a different perspective, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Bad Song: Smack That by Akon and Eminem

I don't usually do in-depth analyses of club songs on this blog because it's pretty pointless to do it.  I just can't find a club song that's not both somewhat offensive and really, really boring.  But this is a special case.

I think my favorite anecdote about this song is the time my mother--who is a teacher--told me that she was in the principal's office at her school and a parent who was in the office's phone rang.  This song was her ringtone.  Keep that in mind now.

This is a song about spanking a girl.  Straight up. 

Maybe bend you over, look back and watch me
smack that out on the floor,
smack that, give me some more,
smack that 'til you get sore

If you're a lady who's into spanking, more power to you, I don't object.  But keep in mind he has not EVER SPOKEN TO THIS GIRL EVER.  He wants to speak to her expressly so that he can take her home and spank her.  And not just a couple times.  Until she's sore.  Ugh.  And, for some reason, Eminem's verse is about taking a stripper back to his place.  What is it with the strip club thing?  Someday I will find out, I swear.

Good Song: Runaway Love by Ludacris and Mary J. Blige

I'm just gonna put this up front, Ludacris is kind of a gross rapper.  Maybe this song seems so great in contrast to all of his other songs, but I think it's genuinely pretty cool even on its own.  Is it a little Dateline-sounding?  Sure.  But I believe that these could be real stories.  And they're all about girls.

This song has three verses, each of which is devoted to the story about one little girl.  The first has a mother who's a drug addict and a prostitute whose clients abuse her nine-year-old daughter.  The second is a girl whose father is abusive and whose only friend dies is a drive-by shooting.  The third is a girl who has a tough home life so she takes drugs and ends up pregnant by an older boy who doesn't want anything to do with her.  They sound melodramatic, but I guarantee these are not impossible or even unlikely situations.  The fact that this song was made by a major rap star and was a hit is really really awesome.  And yes, I do cry every. single. time I hear this song.  Seriously, every time. 

Bad Song: Rockstar by Nickelback

I swear this wasn't one of my selections just because I hate Nickelback, though it definitely helps.  This song is the rock equivalent of every rap song about being rich and famous.  And this song just exacerbate the biggest problem I have with those songs.  In brag songs, women are just objects like cars and expensive bottles of booze and jewelry.  They are accessories that men use to accentuate and show their wealth.  Here, it's worse.

And we'll hang out in the coolest bars
In the VIP with the movie stars
Every good gold digger's
Gonna wind up there
Every Playboy bunny
With her bleach blond hair

Sure, this song is also about buying a bunch of stuff, but it seems to also be about buying women if the kind they expect to pick up are gold diggers and Playboy bunnies.  In the second verse he even emphasizes that he's going to "date a centerfold who loves to blow my money for me."  Uhhh, why?  Do you really just want a girl who wants you because you're rich?  Why is that a perk?

Women are not perks to being famous, music stars.  We're people, we have likes and dislikes "and not just those printed next to that centerfold's picture).  Give us a break.  It gets old fast.

Good Song: Beautiful Liar by Beyonce and Shakira

This is an incredibly honest song, I think.  It's about two women who find out that one guy has been dating both of them at the same time and telling them both the same exact thing.  So they do their best to reconcile what they believe their relationships were with the reality.  And they realize that they are angry at each other though they shouldn't be, and that they both feel ashamed.  But at the same time, they come to the conclusion that it isn't worth it to be ashamed or angry.

Let's not kill the karma
Let's not start a fight
 It's not worth the drama
For a beautiful liar
Can't we laugh about it (Ha Ha Ha)
 It's not worth our time
 We can live without 'em
Just a beautiful liar

I'm not always all "The men aren't worth it, sisterhood forever!" but in the case of some guy committing to two girls at the same time it's time to say screw him and not get pissed at the other girl he was with.  Thanks for not advocating girl-on-girl crime, Beyonce and Shakira!

Good Song: Face Down by Red Jumpsuit Apparatus

Yes, I had more good songs this year than bad songs.  Isn't that exciting?  Anyway, this song is fantastic.  I talked about Eminem and Rihanna's domestic abuse song in 2010.  That it it was somewhat good and bad.  This one is just straight-up good.

In this song, a man is talking about a girl who he likes and cares about who is being abused by her boyfriend.  There's not much else to say.

Do you feel like a man when you push her around?
Do you feel better now as she falls to the ground?
Well I'll tell you my friend, one day this world's going to end,
as your lies crumble down a new life she has found.

He is tearing this guy APART telling him that someday his girlfriend is going to realize what an asshole he is, and she's going to leave him and be happy without him.  I love that.  I think it's really awesome.  A little paternalistic?  Maybe.  But this song would work if a man OR a woman were singing it.  I think that this is a perfect sentiment for a song like this.

I'm gonna wrap this up here.  2007 was actually a pretty good year.  I'm glad to see that things are getting better as I go further back.  I hear that someone may have brought sexy back in 2006, so I guess we'll find out.

Some General Thoughts on the Billboard Top 100 Songs of 2007
  • There were 29 songs by female artists or male/female collaborations this year.  However, seven of the top ten were by female artists.  This is bizarre.  That is a shockingly low number in the Top 100 and a shockingly high number in the Top 10.
  • After doing 2007 it is clear that 2008 was a highly transitional year for pop music.  There were a lot of songs in the 2007 top 100 that could be classified as "rock" but in 2008 most of the rock songs were replaced with dance pop and it has remained that way ever since
  • Gwen Stefani's solo stuff is terrible, which is a shame especially since one of No Doubt's songs was the entire impetus for this project.
  • This was the year "Make It Rain" became a thing.  Gross.  Ten points from 2007. 
  • I will give one hundred dollars to the first person who can explain to me what "Welcome To The Black Parade" by My Chemical Romance is about. 

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