This is a new feature here on Inside Pulse Music where I, your old pal Ryan T. Murphy, will break down a different pop chart from Billboard.com or other sources and give you some insight as to what is topping the charts in music today. This installment, we check in with Billboard’s Top 10 Pop Songs for this week.
1. Flo Rida “Whistle”: Take an ad-ready pop sample, turn it into a bluntly obvious blowjob joke, and sit back and collect. That’s pretty much Flo Rida’s strategy with this one, and it’s paying off like it did in the past. Flo Rida has never been a man for subtlety but he barely gets points for concealing a metaphor here: if the song was called “Give Me Head” it’d be no less clear of its intention. All this is fine, the only real ding against it is Flo singing the hook himself despite not having any kind of voice for that kind of thing. Throwing this one to his old buddy Ke$ha for the hook would have at least ratcheted up the anarchic fun he’s aiming for. Instead you just have to listen to a tuneless hack grunting at you about his whistle.
2. Demi Lovato “Give Your Heart a Break”: Since I’m not in the Disney channel’s target market, Demi Lovato has nothing unique to her personality for me. This one sounds like an oleo of Taylor Swift in her dance pop mode and a Lady Gaga filler track. I like the lyrical twist of a kiss-off song that uses “kill ‘em with kindness” as its mission statement. Considering the degree to which female breakup ballads have gotten harsh and unforgiving lately, this one is an interesting take.
3. P!nk “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)”: See what I mean about these breakup ballads? This one is basically saying “I had a bad day, so now we’re gonna break up”. Pink (or P!nk, excuse me) finally coalesced all the frenetic parts of her image into a clear goal with her last few hits. Now she’s gone through the rabbit hole of self-awareness and she’s become a bad parody of herself. This one is almost unforgivably shrill, and it doesn’t have the conviction of her earlier heart-on-her-sleeve hits. Maybe she can try doing political stuff again?
4. Ellie Goulding “Lights”: Bassnectar has a really good remix of this one. It seems like Ellie Goulding has found the sweet spot between Adele’s neo-blue-eyed-soul and Robyn’s Euro dance and chartable pop. The tinkling beat and the arena-size hook play together very well, and real chops flash through in the verses. The vocals don’t sound overly gimmicked, at any rate, although that still wouldn’t be an impediment to this one. I’m interested to see what else Ellie Goulding has in her arsenal.
5. Neon Trees “Everybody Talks”: The line between alt rock and Top 40 pop hasn’t been as thin as it is now in many years, what with Foster the People, Gotye, and fun. breaching the upper reaches of the music scene. The difference is, those artists are emblematic of alt/indie’s shift away from classical definitions of “rock” and more in the direction of electro-influenced laptop pop. Neon Trees generally are a part of that shift, yet they’ve climbed the charts with a straightforward rocker like this one. The power of a hook knows no bounds, and the sound of guitar and drum will always have a place in our culture when used right. Five or ten years ago this one would have been written off as more skinny-tied hipster garage revivalism, but as the parameters of what “rock” means in 2012 are in flux (a column for another time), this is really the ideal time for Neon Trees to slip in a little pop-rock subterfuge.
6. Katy Perry “Wide Awake”: Katy’s flirtation with stutter-step Eurodisco and her attempts at rivaling Pink’s bitter post breakup image makeover (with a patina of Cyndi Lauper “Time After Time” lonely-echo) just don’t cut it with me, because she is a human cartoon character and she divorced a human cartoon character. I like the hook on this one though.
7. David Guetta featuring Sia “Titanium”: This one always comes off as out of place in dance mixes. The wrenching self-empowerment anthem overshadows Guetta’s house-cum-electroclash beat. The two major elements in this one work just fine individually but they fight each other all the way, like a good meal and a good wine that don’t marry well. Guetta’s stabs at pop ubiquity are going to be half baked if he doesn’t push his own style to the forefront more convincingly, and a wave of dirty sex crazed grunts (in the nicest possible way) are going to shore up all the extra room EDM might have for someone of his European style & persuasion. Sia should do an acoustic version of her vocal part, if she hasn’t already.
8. Maroon 5 “One More Night”: I like that this has a slinky ska-influenced beat with a little haunt to it, in the vein of the best Specials songs. I don’t like that it has a charisma-devoid hook and feels like it’s building to something that never actually comes. This is one of the truest cases of a band floating a single up the charts based on their track record, because this one is not memorable by any means.
9. Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen “Good Time”: Adam Young has fallen into the same trap that Gabe Saporta did with Cobra Starship: he made his mark bringing his emo roots into a pop medium, and then made the mistake of trying to go whole hog into butt simple radio pop, going off track when they release a single with a hook so utterly moronic and charmless that no one can really feel comfortable being their fan. This one is only kept alive because Carly Rae Jepsen is on it and she’s riding the “Call Me Maybe” wave. Owl City as a concept is pretty well finished, because no one is going to swallow this fey, twee airheadedness if it doesn’t sound like the Postal Service.
10. Justin Bieber featuring Big Sean “As Long As You Love Me”: Bieber goes electro! I thought this would be a cover of the Backstreet Boys song but that’s probably too old of a reference for the Bieb. I don’t have any opinions about Bieber, since it seems like I hear him about him more often from people who hate him than anyone who actually admits to liking him and neither camp has been able to sway me. All I know is this one wouldn’t sound out of place if it said “Timberlake” instead of “Bieber” in the title, and it would get double the respect. So I guess I err in favor.
Thanks for reading, and remember to support your local music scene.