The Month in Popular Music (June 2008)

Hop on Pop!

Spring is slowly but surely changing into summer, which means that it’s time to leave the doldrums of indie-alternative rock for decidedly more mainstream pastures and check out what’s soaring up the pop charts these days.

Maroon 5 feat. Rihanna – “If I Never See Your Face Again”

WARNING: Record Label Intervention Alert!

Maroon 5’s follow-up singles to last year’s killer “Makes Me Wonder” have been less than stellar and performed accordingly, so it’s time for the oldest trick in the playbook: revamp a new super-radio-friendly single and release a “deluxe” version of the album. Often bands will write a new track for such an event, but in this case, the label decided that they would just add flavour-of-the-year Rihanna to It Won’t Be Soon Before Long’s opening track, “If I Never See Your Face Again.”

Listening to the result, one really wishes they would have come up with something new. On the plus side, as vocalists, Adam Levine and Rihanna work together stunningly – their voices mesh perfectly into some kind of androgynous wondermonster. It’s too bad that the song, as a single, is pretty boring. The versus, bridge and chorus all kind of sound the same, blurring the whole experience and rendering this kind of a misfire.

Coldplay – “Viva La Vida” and “Violet Hill”

I’m going to have more to say about Coldplay’s new record Viva la Vida later this week, but the band’s promotional efforts for the album demonstrate just how much the marketing model has shifted in the past decade. “Violet Hill” is the record’s first proper single – it’s the one with the music video, the one originally sent out to radio, etc. And yet, it’s “Viva La Vida” that’s getting a good deal of the attention – not only did the band perform the song at the MTV Movie Awards, but it’s currently sitting at number two on the iTunes download chart, with “Violet Hill” all the way down at number ten.

The reason: it’s the song on the iPod commercial. I’m not sure whether the band planned to end up shifting their attention to another song or if this is all spontaneous, but it once again goes to show that being selected for an iPod commercial might just be the last “sure thing” left in the music industry.

Oh and since I find the proper video for “Violet Hill” kind of boring, I’m instead linking to the far superior alternate version directed by Mat Whitecross.

New Kids on the Block – “Summertime”

There’s something tragically admirable about how little “Summertime” cares about finding the zeitgeist. If *I* were an early 1990s boy band thinking about making a comeback, I’d probably succumb to the temptation to try and tap into modern pop trends: work with a hip hop, get some hot guest vocals on the album, etc. What’s funny about “Summertime” is just how antiquated it sounds. You’ve got to give the New Kids credit for going for staying true to what they were. This is a classic boy band ballad: cookie-cutter, formulaic, easily-digestible.

Of course, that also means that the song sucks. And suck it does: hard (but, thankfully, not long – it’s refreshingly short). At least the video is entertaining, although in all the wrong ways. Try and guess the age differences between the “kids” and the models cast as love interests! Enjoy how the two ugliest New Kids get shafted in terms of screen time! And laugh at the video-closing dance sequence and the “walking on water” dance moves with production values that betray how much money the Kids have actually been given to play with, it seems.

Katy Perry – “I Kissed a Girl”

Song of the summer, easy. Hell, screw that: this is probably the pop song of the year.

What an unstoppable behemoth this is going to be. It’s the latest composition from superhuman pop songwriters Dr. Luke and Max Martin, and their greatest work together since turning Kelly Clarkson into a superstar with “Since U Been Gone” and “Behind These Hazel Eyes.” Everything is firing on all cylinders here, a killer electro riff, an unforgettable vocal melody and, the icing on the cake, a lyric that is every bit as naughty as it wants to be.

Normally I’d also have something intelligent to say about how this song continues the somewhat unfortunately practice glorifying casual lesbianism as a male fetish…but thankfully last week I read about a new documentary from a researcher at the University of Toronto that explores how women are more turned on by the naked female body than by that of the naked male (didn’t think we needed a scientist to tell us that women are sexy and men are ugly, but there you go). So in light of this, I’m going to let this song slide and just revel in its glorious manufactured hedonism.

This thing has anthem written all over it: gay anthem, straight anthem, dance anthem, summer anthem. Learn to love it or else.


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