Wednesday, September 19, 2012

All Songs Are Equal, But Some Songs Are More Equal Than Others

Starting a week after I wrote my pop hit limericks, the charts shifted dramatically. Most notably, "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye finally fell out of the top ten after several months of consistently felicitous placement and Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" hit number one. As for the latter, how is it as a song? Eh, it's okay. Taylor Swift is hardly maturing out of her blindered teenage girl persona, but I never had any serious expectation that she would, and this song is basically just "Stronger" by Kelly Clarkson but a little bit better.
However, I am inclined to be more charitable than usual toward it--anything that ousted Flo Rida's somewhat catchy but achingly stupid "Whistle" from the top slot was always going to start off in my good books. Far more interesting than the song itself is the fact that it debuted at #1. "Lights," "Some Nights," even "Call Me Maybe" had to claw their way up the charts to reach the top ten. Hell, even "Whistle" bided its time just outside of the top ten for weeks on end before finally breaking through.
This much, however, is obvious. Of course songs by more established artists will have less difficulty climbing the charts than those by relative nobodies. The fairness of this will inevitably vary from artist to artist, as some artists are well-established for a very good reason. But the flaws in the system manifest themselves in artists like Katy Perry, who suffered a drastic drop-off in quality and yet seemingly get a free top ten pass to this day.
And then there are aberrations like LMFAO, who have one decent hit in them ("Party Rock Anthem"), and consequently get a free pass for their next song, no matter how execrable ("Sexy and I Know It").
Is there a point to this? Not really. It isn't fair, true, but no one ever said it had to be. The charts, like the universe, are indifferent to notions of pleasure and happiness. They just do what they do.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hit Song Review: "Wide Awake" by Katy Perry

            Katy Perry is, and has always been, incredibly lucky to be where she is. If nothing else, her story depressingly proves that a musician need not be fettered by lack of singing talent in their quest for the hit parade. Ms. Perry doesn’t strike me as particularly bright, nor particularly well-endowed vocally.

            That said, I have enjoyed a surprising number of her songs. “Hot n’ Cold,” “Teenage Dream,” and “Waking Up In Vegas” are all songs that, while decidedly not perfect, manage to find a nice balance between catchiness and actual songwriting merit. It’s a pity that they have to be sung by such a gasping, grating vocalist (illustrated below).

            She is also a decent lyricist (or co-lyricist, as I suspect is most often the case). Her verse is by no means revelatory, but by the dismal standards of pop music it might as well be Wordsworth.

            But enough about good music, let’s talk about “Wide Awake.” Katy Perry has been heading toward this for some time, ever since “E.T.” That song seemed to indicate that she had exhausted her store of hummable melodies, but at least it was weird enough not to be boring. Not so for “Part of Me,” a painfully tedious song with insultingly simple lyrics and a profoundly unmemorable tune. It’s not a terrible song, it just barely exists.

            “Wide Awake” is basically that, but a tiny bit more heartfelt (at least lyrically). Why did I waste most of this article talking about other Katy Perry songs? Because there is nothing interesting to say about “Wide Awake.” It is like an undiscovered planet, identifiable only by what surrounds it, conspicuous only in its absence.