Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Pop Music Project: 2008

I like looking for themes throughout all of the hit songs in one year, and 2008 hardly made this difficult.  2008 was apparently the year of the stripper.  There were so, so many songs about guys watching girls sliding down poles and "making it rain" on them that I am beginning to wonder what the cultural catalyst for this was.  It's not a particularly happy trend, either, and I'm going to cover that in this piece.  In fact, in many ways 2008 was the epitome of seeing women--and women seeing themselves--as sexual objects and not people.  On that note, I would like to get right to one of the most controversial hits of 2008.  Unfortunately, this one terrible song launched a whole terrible career.  Fortunately, this is the last time I will ever ever have to cover her on this blog.  But sure as hell she's going out with a bang.

Bad Song: I Kissed A Girl by Katy Perry

In this lovely little gem, Katy Perry talks about getting really drunk and kissing another girl.  I, in theory, have absolutely no problem with this notion.  If we simply looked at this on the surface and heard the lines "I kissed a girl and I liked it!" it would be fine.  Experimentation is good, figuring out what you like is good.'s when you look deeper...

This song is about the male gaze, plain and simple.  There are plenty of women out there who think that they are taking their sexuality into their own hands by making out with other women in front of their boyfriends or guys that they want to hook up with to turn them on.  And that's the problem--it's to turn on the GUYS, not the girls actually participating in the single-sex tonsil hockey.  Katy Perry projects this perfectly-manicured image of the good girl gone bad: the sweet, innocent angel who went to a party, got too drunk and ended up locking lips with a random hot girl.

It's not what good girls do, not how they should behave
my head gets so confused, hard to obey.

She's a good girl gone bad!  And she's gone bad by kissing another girl!  How taboo!  And sexy!

No I don't even know your name, it doesn't matter,
you're my experimental game, just human nature.  

She was just taking a TOUR of Gay Land, guys!  She was just visiting, so what difference does it make if she makes out with one of the locals without even knowing their NAME?

I kissed a girl just to try it,
I hope my boyfriend don't mind it.

Now this is the thing that truly drives me crazy about this song.  These "experimental" girls, the ones who make out with girls just randomly without necessarily any attraction because they think it's edgy or that guys will find it hot, they look at these women they're making out with as objects.  They don't look at it as cheating on their significant other because it doesn't count.  Why not?!  If you made out with a guy it would be cheating.  They're still people that you had physical, sexual contact with in a way that goes outside the supposedly monogamous bounds of your relationship.  It makes no sense that your boyfriend WOULDN'T mind it!  Unless you guys were having a threesome, you kind of fucked up.  

Am I all for pop songs about homosexuality becoming a thing?  Sure I am!  But this is not one of them. This is actually kind of mocking the idea of being bisexual in a creepy way.  

Good Song: Love Song by Sara Bareilles
Yes, I just love Sara Bareilles, she's amazing and this was her biggest hit.  It came in at number 7 on the Hot 100 of 2008, and that's pretty damn good for a song like this.  Sure, it's poppy, but it's piano-heavy and the lyrics are, well, maybe a little more strong-willed than I've gotten used to seeing on these charts.

I'm not gonna write you a love song 'cause you asked for it, 
cause you need one, you see
I'm not gonna write you a love song 'cause you tell me it's 
make or break in this
if you're on your way, I'm not gonna write you to stay
if all you have is leaving I'mma need a better reason to write you
a love song today.

Here she is talking about being in a relationship with a man who cannot see her for who she is, who guilts her and manipulates her into trying to want to be with him despite him metaphorically suffocating her.  My favorite line in the whole song is in the bridge and it summarizes the whole point perfectly:

I believe there's a way you can love me because I say
I won't write you a love song 'cause you asked for it.

She believes he can love her for being strong-willed, for having opinions, for recognizing problems and standing up for herself, for not being obedient.  That might seem like a no-brainer kind of deal but you'd be surprised the messages a lot of pop songs send out about simply trying to please and cater to a significant other (Destiny's Child I'm looking at you).  But it IS possible to love someone for saying no, for not doing what you want all the time.  And if a guy treats you badly, why should you write him a love song?  If he's basically saying "do this--even if your heart isn't in it--or I'll leave you" why should you try to keep him from walking out?  Unless it's something like not shooting his dog.  Then that's reasonable.

I'll admit I'm a bit biased on this one, as I've mentioned before I love Sara Bareilles and she is probably the pop artist from the past few years whose full body of work I'm most familiar with.  So I can put this song in context.  But seriously, Little Voice as a full album was fantastic both musically and lyrically.  I highly recommend it.

Bad Song: Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill) by Wyclef Jean, Akon, Lil Wayne and Niia
Of course, a year can't go buy without me including at least one song that Lil Wayne was in some way involved with. This song brings up a whole new issue: prostitution. I said before that this song was the year of songs about strippers, and strippers are included here too except instead of glorifying stripping the way a lot of the hits in 2008 did this one denigrates them.  This song's hook is about money, and how everyone has to get it, and blah blah blah the same way so many rap songs are, but the verses here are different.  Somehow, the guys rapping this song seem to hate prostitutes but love pimps, which is just so incredibly insulting to me.

See pimpin' got harder 'cause hos got smarter

Seriously? I feel so bad for pimps.  SO BAD.  Especially since this line comes at the beginning of the second verse when the first verse was all about a woman who got treated badly by her pimp.  I'd like to say right here that I think prostitution should be legal. There are a lot of reasons for that, though chief among them is the fact that legal prostitution would mean safer prostitution.  If it were legal we wouldn't need to worry about pimps, or at least not pimps that beat, rape, and steal from prostitutes.  This song is basically about the madonna/whore dichotomy: "this girl used to be so sweet and smart back in high school but now she's a prostitute! So gross!"  And that's not cool.  I get that it's saying that money corrupts people and makes them do unhealthy things, and that's a valid point.  Opponents of legalized prostitution aren't wrong in that prostitution is not the chosen career or dream of most women and that it is inherently objectifying in some respects. But a lot of the economic pressure to become a prostitute would be alleviated if it became legal, did not have to be underground and would be open to the free market.

And you know what?  If a woman genuinely wants to be a stripper or a prostitute, more power to her!  If she enjoys that, why do we have to be giant assholes about it? Why do rappers talk about how much they want to fuck strippers but then turn around and call them immoral?  It's a fucking ridiculous double standard and this song is a perfect embodiment of it.

Good Song: Touch My Body by Mariah Carey
I'm not a huge fan of Mariah Carey.  Yeah, she has a great voice but she's typically a little too Lisa Frank for me--sunshine and butterflies and "boy I'm gonna love you forever once you come along".  But this song is kind of awesome.  Again, it's a woman taking control of her sexuality--she wants this guy and she wants him NOW, and this is exactly how she wants him.  But that's not the part of this song that makes me grin from ear to hear.  This is:

If there's a camera up in here then it's gonna leave with me when I do, I do,
If there's a camera up in here then I best not catch this flick on YouTube, YouTube
'cause if you run your mouth and brag about this secret rendezvous, I will hunt you down

It's just the sickeningly sweet but totally murderous way she sings "I will hunt you down."  In an era where naked peephole videos of attractive female sportscasters and celebrity sex tapes are released without the knowledge of the women involved, this is a pretty spot-on set of lines from a famous woman.  There were a couple songs by women this year that had the "keep this shit secret" line thrown in--Please Don't Stop The Music by Rihanna comes immediately to mind.  Oddly enough, we saw the opposite from male performers.  This year Usher had a HUGE hit with a song called "Love In This Club" that was literally about FUCKING IN A CLUB.  It's a really interesting divide, and a very apparent one.  More power to Mariah for being like "hell no, keep your mouth shut, not everyone needs to know my business."  Is it a little prudish?  Sure.  But when you type "Erin Andrews" into Google the very first autocomplete result is "peephole video", so I can hardly blame her.  

Bad Song: Crank That by Soulja Boy Tell 'Em
I'm going to teach you some things today that you may not have wanted to know.  Because this song contains some terminology that...well, isn't in the mainstream.  So let's take a trip to Urban Dictionary!

If you were curious as to what "Superman that ho"  means, I suggest you click on that link.  I may swear and I may talk about sex on this blog but I refuse to outright post that shit here.  I also looked up "Bathin' apes" and found out that it's just a type of shoe, so at least that's not something disgusting.

This song would not have made it onto this list if it weren't for the fact that literally 2/3rds of the lyrics are either "Superman that ho!" or "Supersoak that ho!"  At a certain point you just start hearing those lines get repeated in your nightmares and you wake up covered in cold sweat.  Or maybe that's just me. But seriously?  It's just so fucking gross.  

That's all I really have to say about that.  I would like to give a shout-out to my friend Bob, who points out that this song has an "awesomely minimalist beat".  That's true.  With other words over it, this beat is awesome, which I know because there was a song that came out THE SAME YEAR that sampled this beat and was actually pretty decent.  

Good Song: Just Fine by Mary J. Blige
This song is just straight-up positive.  It's got a peppy beat and everything about it just just "everything is great and I'm amazing and I don't care what you think because life is amazing!"  And I can get behind that.  Even when things suck, if you feel this way you'll be okay.  

I especially like the line "I like what I see when I'm lookin' at me when I'm walkin' past the mirror."  Good!  More people should!  More people should genuinely just relax into who they are and actually ignore the haters instead of just talking about it all the time.  This song is solely about one person: the one singing it.  It's not "My life is fine in comparison to yours!" or "look at how much better than you I am!"  It's just about her.  And I think that's really cool.

Bad Song: Mrs. Officer by Lil Wayne and Bobby Valentino
So this is a song about literally fucking the police.  My first question is about the title: "Mrs. Officer"?  Is the cop you're having sex with married?  Why not "Ms. Officer" or even "Miss officer"?  Anyway, I digress.

There are not a lot of female police officers, as it's still considered a pretty masculine job and that's a big issue.  So why we gotta objectify female police officers?  This song assumes that all female police officers just pull guys over so they can find men to sleep with.  Not to mention that being a police officer puts a woman in a pretty dominant position, and here Lil Wayne can't deal with that so he has to talk about cuffing this woman and dominating her sexually.  It's kind of a novelty song, but seriously, I just don't get why it couldn't have been a different profession.  

Not to mention this:

And I beat it like a cop
Rodney King baby, yeah, beat it like a cop

Rodney King jokes are not funny.  Police brutality is no fucking joke.  And beating women is really not funny.  Maybe it's especially because of Lil Wayne's smug delivery of these lines, but it's really really not okay at all.

Good Song: Piece Of Me by Britney Spears
I do not by any means think that Britney Spears is a good role model.  She's got problems, and she always has.  But a huge contributor to those problems is her treatment in the media--she came of age in the spotlight and that could screw up anyone.  I give her credit for confronting that in this song, pointing out how insane the media is towards her.  This song was inevitable--she was making a comeback when it came out after a few years of crazy and not addressing it would have been a strange move.  But she did it the best way possible by pointing out the double standards and sensationalism that had brought her to this point.  

I especially like that she points out that tabloids always labeling her as too fat or too thin is unfair.  I like that she puts a human face on celebrities that have to deal with the hassle of paparazzi.  I like that she takes how oversexualized the media and her PR people made her and turned it on its head.  But I especially like this.

Guess I can't see the harm in working and being a mama
and with a kid on my arm I'm still an exceptional earner

Working moms get a lot of shit, and I like that she just called out people who act like that's the case in this song.  Now, do I endorse most of the things Britney Spears has done?  No.  Do I think she could maybe have taken some more responsibility in this song?  Sure.  But there are a lot of parts of this song that can be extrapolated to fit the experiences of a lot of women, and that's a step in the right direction, especially for Ms. Spears.

I'm gonna wrap this up here.  This was a pretty mundane year as far as music and controversy went, and continuing on would just be redundant.  

Some General Thoughts on the Billboard Top 100 of 2008
  • There were 38 songs in the Top 100 that were either by female artists or male/female collaborations.  There were 4 songs in the Top 10 that were by female artists.  This is a new low so far in my adventures through the Top 100s of every year.
  • I graduated high school in 2008.  My graduation/prom song was Good Life by Kanye West and T-Pain, and it came in at number 79.
  • There were lots of love and break-up songs this year that involved injury metaphors. "Bleeding Love", "Suffocate", "No Air"...I think this is kind of a weird trend.  Fortunately it was contained within this year of pop music.
  • I realize now that there are so few rock songs on the Top 100 for good reason.  Rock music--or pop rock, at any rate--means something completely different now than it did in the '90s.  Bands like Nirvana, Blind Melon and Sublime would be considered indie by today's standards.  They have been replaced by dull rock bands like Nickelback, 3 Doors Down and Linkin Park.  I can't wait to get back into the '90s and into some better rock music.  Perhaps I will be proven wrong.
  • God help me, I love Taylor Swift.  I just can't help it.  Go listen to "Our Song" and tell me you can resist that.  I will tell you that you have a heart of stone.

I've done some peeking ahead into 2007 and it's much more interesting, so I hope that's something to look forward to.

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