Justin Bieber

A No. 1 Review(s) – “I’m the One”; “Despactio (Remix)”; “Wild Thoughts”; “Feels”; & “New Rules”

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These are a lot of songs that I’m covering at once. For the full list, the UK No. 1s covered here are:

  • “I’m the One” by DJ Khaled feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper and Lil Wayne
  • “Despacito (Remix)” by Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber
  • “Wild Thoughts” by DJ Khaled feat. Rihanna and Bryson Tiller
  • “Feels” by Calvin Harris feat. Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry and Big Sean
  • “New Rules” by Dua Lipa

In my defence, I haven’t lumped these together because I’m way behind schedule and one big post is easier to write than five medium posts (well, not entirely because of that); I’ve lumped them together because these songs all share a lot of elements, approaches and techniques. Certainly the fact that Despacito constantly switched with most of these songs for the No. 1 slot on a regular basis shows the extent to which these types of tracks were somewhat interchangeable – people would usually be listening to them all at the same time but would sometimes listen to Despacito more and sometimes listen to I’m the One. In short, when taken as a whole, these songs seem to have a certain shared aesthetic that a lot of separate artists arrived at just in time for it to be taken up en-masse by a mainstream audience who were really into it. So what is that aesthetic and what is that audience? Let’s go through each similarity in turn and answer these questions at the end, yeah?

Back to da Club

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Probably the major thing which links these songs together is their genre: they’re all dance music tracks. With their techno bleeps and bloops and tendency to be made by superstar producers with superstar guest artists, they’re also very obviously club hits. This makes sense: summer is the time of longer days and pleasant weather, making it the time of year where most people are going to be outside, meeting friends, drinking drinks and dancing about. There’s a reason DJ Khalid releases his work in the summer and Sam Smith releases his work in the winter.

Of course, club music has been forced to grow up over the past few years. Music used to predominately be about going to the club, drinking drinks and fucking women because you were rich and sexy, blah blah blah. The main issue with the genre is that it was ultimately tautological: the reasons why these types of artist were rich and sexy in their songs was because their lyrics said they were, rendering the tracks horribly hollow. This made it a very good genre for baseless power fantasies but it also made it very polarising – the tautilogical nature of club music made it very difficult to interact with, meaning that you had to either completely succumb to it or reject it entirely. This mode of listening became more and more unsustainable as time when on though. The 2000s (which was really the time of club music) were a relatively stable period in Britain, allowing for a time where somewhat shallow songs about how great everything is were basically alright. But then the Financial Crash happened, followed by a decade of increasingly hostile austerity, followed by multiple fissures revealed in Western society, leading to a time where people mindlessly celebrating drinking just felt out of touch with reality. The result has been a return to more sensitive, acoustic material like that of Charlie Puth or Ed Sheeran, or a move to more intellectual and grounded techno dance music like Clean Bandit or (to a lesser extent) The Chainsmokers.

Of course, people still like to dance and the place that people dance most is in the club. As such, it’s not really accurate to say that club music isn’t made anymore, it’s just that the specifics of how club music works has changed. For example, the vast majority of Club Music wasn’t just music listened to in a club, it was also music set in a club about being in a club. Even something like Pitbull’s Give Me Everything, which was nominally a love song (at least according to the chorus), was about someone in a club asking someone else to dance with them in a club because it’d complete the club experience. Club Music was all about the immediate moment and setting that it was listened in. The result, combined with the club as a primary setting, was that the club became a very utopian place where you lost yourself in the moment. It was a refuge from the real world: real life concerns didn’t come into play there.

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This doesn’t really happen anymore. Wild Thoughts doesn’t feature people dancing at a club, it features two people meeting up, getting wasted and fucking. Feels is a song about someone who has a crush on someone else and is willing to show commitment because that seems to be what they want. Despactio is… well, that’s 100% a club song about people in a club leering at women in a club, but we’ll get to the lyrics of that one in time.

What seems to have changed is how insecure the world has become. Between ISIS, Brexit, North Korea, the rise of the Alt-Right, Russian hacks and a thousand other things, we’ve reached a point in our history where we genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few decades. On a more domestic level, between a crumbling house market, a floundering economy, zero hour contracts, increased competition from overseas and a thousand other things, it’s become almost impossibly hard to find a sense of security in the modern world. Jobs are no longer lifelong things, homes are no longer affordable, our economy would die tomorrow and the internet’s going to steal our identities and give them to Russian Nazis. What the fuck are we meant to do?

This means that the major fantasy of the 2010s is not losing yourself in the moment but finding a form of stability. Feels which is about finding a girl and wanting to build something permanent with her. On the flipside, Wild Thoughts presents it’s disco dancing, heavy drinking, sex-obsessed narrator as a desperate alcoholic who is entirely out of control of her life. Even I’m the One (possibly the closest to a club song we’re going to cover here) isn’t about men going into the club and attracting women through fame and money, it’s about men who are so rich and famous that they all can pretty much guarantee that they’ll be able to find at least one person to whom they’re “the one” – i.e. the person they’ll love for all eternity. We don’t want to be rich to afford hollow markers of wealth anymore, we want to rich so that we know we can pay the bills this month and know that our partners won’t leave us.

Another thing rendered unsustainable nowadays is Club Music’s horrid sexism. As with most art forms in Western Society, Club Music had a tendency to be filled with men, and because Club Music was defined as a series of shallow power-trips surrounding sex and booze, it had a tendency to mention women purely to have them be featureless sex objects that the singers could definitely bang. We appear to have reached something of a tipping point in regards to sexual assault nowadays though with a lot of high profile cases of sexual assault allegations finally being taken seriously by the world at large. As mindless, trophy-obsessed hedonism has fell out of favour, so have sexist idiots groping people to prove how manly they are. And so you get Feels where Pharrell tries to attract a girl by promising to be more sensitive and respectful to her over a longer term than any of her other shallower suitors would be. Or we get New Rules where Dua Lipa tells her female audience to stop sleeping with shallow assholes that they know aren’t good enough for them.

(I’m the One is fucking horrid in this regard. You can’t win them all.)

So this is where we’re at: more sustainable songs providing a fantasy of reliability in an unsustainable world. They’re at least better than what they replaced.

And while we’re on about clubs:

Superstar DJs & Justin Bieber

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Out of the five songs here, three of them are headlined by superstar DJs: DJ Khalid heads the first two while Calvin Harris heads the third.

DJs as pop stars with their own hits have been a common part of the pop scene for a long, long time. The club scene is dominated by DJs anyway, so the more that the club scene became a central part of pop music in general, the more the idea of a superstar DJ became a natural extension of what had gone before. But as most of the genre was escapist and electronic based, the superstar DJ became a figure who was a bit aloof and full of themselves. A lot of Superstar DJs spent their songs acting like they were the super-rich demigods that club music revolved around, while their actual jobs mostly consisted of pressing play on their computers and getting other people to sing their songs for them. There was of course more to their jobs than that, but the idea of their fame and success coming effotlessly out of little work was part of the overall fantasy: club music was about enjoying the music while it was there, not the process of building it up from scratch.

Things have changed though. This can be seen in Calvin Harris, one of the prime figures of the club music genre who appeared in both videos for the song Feels playing the song on a series of instruments. Instead of playing a few piano chords and jumping around, he now actually appears in his videos to prove that he’s now actually writing and playing his music. In short, he’s foregrounding his role as a musician now. Calvin Harris isn’t the guy who throws together some big names and adds some electro-beats to the background; he works on his songs, writes them himself, plays them himself, collaborates with his friends to get a finished product, and then releases it. In short, we’ve moved on from the idea that club music is just bleeps and bloops made by superstars to provide power fantasies within a club setting; our music has to stand on it’s own as music now, to the point where the people who manufacture our summer dance hits have to prove they have greater intentions.

In contrast, we have DJ Khalid, a fascinating character in that no-one quite knows what he does or why he’s here. He’s a fat, tired-looking beardy guy who, as far as anyone can tell, is basically a middleman who introduces pop musicians, gets them to make songs for him and then releases them under his own name, usually after adding him shouting “DJ KHALID!” to the start. Even when he does appear in his tracks, he’s nearly always a backing singer who shouts random phrases in support of the main singer. The result is a figure who’s obviously central to his work but who doesn’t actually seem to do anything in it; he’s a media personality sans the personality.

Which is an interesting way for club music to go. In the old days, club music was very much owned by the DJ who made it with the guest singers being exactly that: guests in someone else’s music. When Sia appeared in Titanium, her performance was very much Sia appearing in a David Guetta song. But Wild Thoughts feels much more like a Rihanna and Bryan Tiller song with DJ Khalid just being the loud guy who got them together.

That said though, there’s never quite the feeling that the guest stars truly own the work either. Take Justin Beiber who appears in two out of the five songs. The last time we talked exclusively about him, we were discussing how his work had made a sudden bump up in quality. He hasn’t made any bumps since then though and has pretty much been costing on Sorry, Love Yourself and What Do You Mean? for over a year now. Despite appearing in two tracks that hit No. 1 this summer, he’s not actually the main person behind any of them: in Despatico (Remix), he’s quite obviously a guest singer who’s been grafted onto the song at a later date to increase English/American interest, and in I’m the One, he’s one of multiple ones, taking the central position as the guy who sings the chorus but still sharing the spotlight with seemingly anyone else who happened to walk past the music studio. The result is, much like DJ Khalid, a person who’s a central presence in their songs but also somewhat removed from them. He’s irreducible from his work, yet can’t be said to truly own it.

It used to be that the biggest pop stars were the largest individuals making the most dynamic statements: think David Bowie, Prince, Madonna or Lady Gaga. But here we have an entire summer full of hits from some of the biggest names in pop and rap, and they’re all pretty much playing second and third fiddle to Superstar DJs who are themselves becoming increasingly liminal to their own work. There is a sense that the summer No. 1s were dominated by authourless songs: five songs, none of which (outside of Dua Lipa) can truly be said to belong to any one auteur vision.

Which is a movement away from producers and stars and towards the texts themselves.  Pop stars nowadays are basically names which can be used for marketing purposes, drawing us towards songs that we then judge based on their own textures and feelings. So what was the texture and feeling was so popular this year?

The Exotic

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In a nutshell, it seems that exotic and foreign textures were in vogue in 2017. Wild Thoughts features Spanish guitar and Caribbean beats, while Despacito (Remix) is an actual foreign-language song with Justin Beiber added to it. Even when the music itself is a bit more traditionally Western, the videos of all these songs are focused on foreign locales: both videos for Feels are set on stages made to look like beaches, while the video for New Rules is set in a hotel room and by a pool.

Again, part of this is just that they were released in the summer and so are at least partly designed to be either listened to while on holiday or to relate to people in the holiday mood.

There is the temptation to contextualise this in relation to Brexit: the idea that as soon as Britain voted to stay out of the European Union, we suddenly started buying European-influenced tracks as a sign of buyer’s remorse. Hell, I contextualised Pillow Talk as a response to Brexit, and that was released several months before the vote. But I can’t come up with a reading like that here without feeling like I’m stretching.

Firstly, foreign language hits are not actually that rare. Je T’aime… Mon Non Plus by Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, Rock Me Amadeus by Falco, The Ketchup Song by Las Ketchup, Gangnam Style by Psy – pretty much all time periods (Labour or Conservative, in the EU or out) have European hits associated with them. And the ones that do get popular are rarely in-depth interactions with the countries-of-origin as much as they’re exotic flavored confirmations of that country’s main stereotype: everything in France is sexy, everything in Japan is silly, etc.

So you’ll get Wild Thoughts which uses foreign guitars and beats to… liven up what is otherwise another unhappy song about drinking and sex. The New Rules video is set in a hotel, because… of the video’s release date rather than anything to do with the song. Even Despactio (Remix), the actual foreign language hit of the year, doesn’t really have anything to do with it’s country of origin for the average British listener. Do most people in Britain actually know what the lyrics are on about in this song? Presumably not. And I don’t think it’s too much of a coincidence that the only foreign language hit in the UK for a while features additional vocals by one of the most popular English-speaking singers going at the moment. And given how Justin Bieber went to the Anne Frank museum and signed the visitors book by hoping that she’d have been a Bieleber, I doubt he truly cares that much about the history and geography. Any interactions with foreign countries managed through these songs are going to be very surface level.

I recently attended a seminar by film scholar Neil Archer in which he talked about the British Holiday Movie, a subsection of British Comedy films in which recognisable characters (usually from a popular sitcom of the time) go to a foreign location and cause havoc. He argued that most of these movies were just the standard jokes and plots of the British sitcom transferred to a foreign location which reduce that location to a series of icons at best and a backdrop at worst. Which belies a fundamental truth about British Holiday Movies: they are in no way about the places they’re set in but are instead about defining a particular version of Britishness against a more foreign background, picking and choosing what bits of foreign culture they want based on their own needs. And this is basically what I’m seeing here: now that the club’s gone out of vogue as a place to dance and escape, we’ve decided to go to more foreign locations to do that instead. It just so happens that we’ve also recently decided to cut ourselves off from certain foreign locations. Because we’re not interested in those locations, not really; we just visit every now and then when the office’s got dull.

Conclusion

This all leaves us with a bit of a sticky wicket, conclusion-wise. There is the feeling, 3000 words on, that these songs really don’t mean much. They were exotic party songs released at during the summer where everyone was at exotic parties, featuring enough big names to be guarantee popularity while never having to rely on any one artist’s personality to any great extent. We’ve moved on from Club Music but are still to really move onto anything in particular. There’s no big artistic movements, no real smash hits, no monstrously huge personalities: just a couple of relatively interchangeable tunes with their eyes aimed more at the calendar than anything else. Don’t get me wrong, they all sound good and I’d more happily listen to everything here than pretty much anything 2016 shat out. Dua Lipa in a particular is a singer I’ve grown to really quite like over this year; expect her to appear frequently in my Best Of lists. Pop music still does feel a bit aimless though; it’s getting better but not quite going anywhere.

Well, except for one women. Pop music does have one massive personality left making giant, controversial statements of intent in 2017. And I better get to her pretty Swiftly.

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The Best UK No. 1’s of 2016 (posted April 2017)

Right, let’s finally finish 2016! Only four months late! Then move onto Ed Sheeran! Oh God, pop music is torture!



Special Mentions

‘Paradise’ – Charli XCX

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A staggeringly gonzo bricolage of 90’s rave tropes, all turned inside out and formed into a club smash that’s romantic, exciting, alien and more. I didn’t enjoy a single song in 2016 as much as I enjoyed this.
[Listen]

‘Suitcase Jimmy’ – Evans the Death

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Evans the Death continue to be my favourite British band going at the moment. Their latest album – Vanilla – was recorded on a barge using guest musicians they found on Facebook, continuing to both diversify of their sound and increase the anger in their work. A particular highlight of the album is Suitcase Jimmy: a stonking barrage of trumpets and shouting which would be the defining sound of British Indie if only I had my way.
[Listen]

‘Madeleine Crumbles’ – Major Parkinson

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A beautiful nightmare; all sweeping violins, ethereal choruses and gritty verses. It’s parent album can’t come soon enough.
[Listen]

‘Higher’ – Carly Rae Jepsen

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I didn’t start listening to Carly Ray Jepsen’s Emotion album until early 2016, meaning that it missed out on being included in my Best of 2015 list. I’ve always been slightly ashamed of this: the album’s great. Luckily, Jepsen’s 2016 appendum – Emotion Side B – is just as good as it’s big sister, even if it doesn’t quite hit the same heights. ‘Higher’ probably comes closest to those highs, hence why it’s on the list, though shout-outs have to go to the songs ‘First Time’, ‘The One’, ‘Body Language’, ‘Cry’, ‘Store’… hell, all of them. Everything gets a shout out. Carly Rae Jepsen’s the best.
[Listen]

‘Same’ – Clarence Clarity

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Clarence Clarity specialises in throwing discordant noises, random computer sounds and distorted voices together into labyrinthine messes that somehow work as solid, cathartic pop songs. Same is technically the B-side to his single Vapid Feels Are Vapid but I prefer it, so on the list it goes.
[Listen]

‘Stained’ – HMLTD

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A baroque piece of 80’s throwback goth electro, married to an actively tasteless aesthetic which combines The Damned and Bauhaus into something distinctively new. Its music video also wins the prize for most disgusting of 2016, so you know the band’s doing something right.
[Listen]

‘Ain’t It Funny?’ – Danny Brown

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Maybe funny’s not the right term: boisterous, demented, trumpet-filled and swinging are better. The most enjoyable rap track of 2016 for me.
[Listen]

‘Me And Your Mama’ – Childish Gambino

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An immense two-part soul throwback featuring intense vocals, biblical gospel backing, meaty instrumentation, and the most delightfully childish name of the year. An astonishingly fun track with some real impact behind it.
[Listen]

‘One Call Away’ – Charlie Puth

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What can I say, this song just gets me. Is it trite, cheesy and overly earnest? Yes, it is. I love it.
[Listen] [Original Review]



And now the list itself:

#5 – ‘Love Yourself’ by Justin Bieber

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This is my least favourite song of Bieber’s ‘Actually Quite Good Phase’, coming well under both What Do You Mean? and Sorry in my estimations. Unfortunately, due to the absolute dirth of No. 1’s in 2016, the number five slot either had to go to this or Cold Water by Major Lazer, Justin Bieber and MØ. I can’t remember what Cold Water sounds like, despite the fact that I last listened to it five minutes ago. Love Yourself it is.

#4 – ‘Shout Out to my Ex’ by Little Mix

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Easily the least interesting song Little Mix has ever released. As previously explained, it’s little more than “an repeat of Love Me Like You, which in turn was a repeat of Black Magic, only without the magic bits”. Love Me Like You and Black Magic are both fantastic hits though; being a direct retread of them still means that you’re a pretty good pop song, particularly given how joyless everything else was that year. Little Mix on autopilot is still better than almost everything else in the pop scene; that’s how good a band they are.

#3 – ‘I Took a Pill in Ibiza (Seeb Remix)’ by Mike Posner

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It grew on me. Though I’m still convinced that the remix instrumental completely misses the point of the song, I can’t deny that it sounds wonderfully atmospheric, resulting in the minimalist pop hit of early 2016 that was the easiest to lose yourself in. This became the song that I most enjoyed listening to in the first half of the year; at least, it was light years ahead of it’s nearest contemporaries Stitches and 7 Years.

#2 – ‘Rockabye’ by Clean Bandit feat. Anne-Marie and Sean Paul

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Possibly Clean Bandit’s best song, combining their trademark pristine instrumentation with a solid tale of single motherhood and female strength. Even Sean Paul is used to the best of his abilities, being slotted into the background so as to provide pretty vital backing vocals. A fully fleshed out and realised track: at last, Clean Bandit have a song that feels worthy of them.

#1 – ‘Closer’ by The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey

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Yeah, it’s a failed mess, but it’s exactly the type of failed mess we need right now. The Chainsmokers are not good artists but, for just one track, they managed to accidentally hit gold, producing the track that most encompassed what 2016 was – for better and for worse.


Right then Ed Sheeran, I’m coming for you!

A No. 1 Review – “Cold Water” by Major Lazer feat. MØ and Justin Bieber

Part One
(in which I don’t talk about the song)

I haven’t updated this blog in a while. In between moving house, starting a PhD, working a part-time job, trying to understand Brexit and staring dumbfoundedly at Donald “Racist Paedo-Rapist” Trump, the blog has ended up taking a backseat. It didn’t help just how godawfully uninspiring pop music was during mid-2016. Every new pop song released that year became some anonymous man whinging pathetically about loneliness against a murky soundtrack of nothing. These types of song were welcome when they were a bubbling subgenre combating the more sociopathically masculine songs prevalent during the Club era of pop, but as a dominant mode of pop, they’ve just become overbearingly dull.

They’ve also become overbearingly fowl. Pretty much every new song by a male artist recently has been the same, and they’ve all been horribly offensive. To pick just three examples:

Calum Scott – Dancing on my Own 

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A painfully trite vocal delivery accompanied by standard non-existent acoustic accompaniment, designed to sound like the emotional story of a poor boy who’s been unfairly rejected to cover up the fact that the song’s lyrics are actually about a stalker who is tailing the object of his affection while she and her boyfriend go on dates. The narrator has secretly followed his target and her partner to a nightclub and is singing the entire song from the corner of the dancefloor, moaning about how she won’t look at him. Frankly he’s lucky she hasn’t seen him, otherwise he’s liable to have a restraint order slapped on him. And maybe, just maybe, he’d be less lonely if he didn’t spend all his time hiding in nightclubs, pitying himself. The result is a song that requires you to deeply sympathise with a potential criminal as he does the stupidest thing he could possibly do in his situation, trying to morph a self-defeating stalker into some form of tragic hero. Fuck it.

Shawn Mendes – Treat You Better

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Shawn Mendes (again!) is whining about how he would treat his love better than her current partner, because he’s a man and thus knows what’s good for her better than she does. Because that’s what’s best for a woman: to have her opinions controlled by a man who decides what she does/doesn’t like for her. Presumably her current boyfriend is giving her too much autonomy while she should be in Mendes’ bedroom, preparing herself for future sex. Fuck him.

Michael Buble – Nobody But Me

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“Baby, I get a little bit jealous / But how the hell can I help it / When I’m thinking on you? / Maybe, I might get a little reckless / But you gotta expect that / What else can a boy do?”

I don’t know, Michael Buble: how about you not be a reckless, jealous asshole; can we expect a man to do that? Michael Buble’s love-interest is so beautiful that Buble can’t help but become a controlling, paranoid arse in her presence. Because a man being a unlikable, quasi-abusive prick isn’t the man’s fault, it’s actually the fault of women because they’re just too damn sexual. And of course, Michael Buble’s intensely sexist nature is treated as something which is light-hearted and funny. He’s so nice, isn’t he, that Michael Buble; so full of banter; so cute; so charming. While he dances around, freely admitting that he knows he’s a terrible person and doesn’t feel like changing that; he’s so nice, isn’t he?.

“I know, know, know that no one would ever blame me”

Actually, yes I will. I blame you, Michael Buble, for being a jealous, reckless, emotionally manipulative, lying piece of shit. It is entirely your fault. Try to be better, or fuck yourself.

I could go on. The Post-Club era of pop has become the go-to genre for assholes to gain empathy and credibility by portraying their pathetic sociopathic personality defects as tragic flaws enacted upon them by women. What used to be a relatively feminist form has now become home to ugly Men’s-Rights bullshit. And this is the default mode of one of the most dominant forms of mass entertainment. It can go die.

There is another type of Post-Club song which is at least tolerable though: the “I want to support my love” type. There are an awful lot of men who don’t want to control their lovers but instead just wish to be there for them, including Charlie PuthZayn (to a lesser extent), and now Cold Water’s Major Lazor, Justin Beiber and MØ. Yes, underlying these songs is the same type of egotism which defines the “I AM EVERYTHING A WOMAN COULD WANT, WHY AM I SO LONEY, ME ME ME WAH!!!!!” type of Post-Club song, coming with the implication that the woman’s life would be unbearable if the man wasn’t there and thus basically writing her own resilience and sense-worth out of the picture entirely. At the very least though, they have the consciousness to feature a man trying to make the world better as opposed to the Michael Bubles of the world who are actively making it worse and have simply decided not to care.

Part Two
(in which I actually talk about the song)

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The problem is that the “Support My Love” songs are still just really bland with there being almost nothing to actually differentiate them. Take this song – Cold Water – which is a minimalistically composed track using a water metaphor to describe the narrator’s emotional turmoil – LIKE. EVERY. SINGLE. OTHER. SONG.

This is particularly painful given the people involved. MØ is an actual credible artist with a individual style and everything. Major Lazer is the fantastic guy behind the idiosyncratic Pon De Floor and the frankly batshit Bubble Butt. And while Beiber is definitely the weak link of the trio, his more recent work shows him finally adding a bit of substance to his work. These people joining together should be able to produce something with a bit of flavour to it. Alas not.

The main problem with this song is just how pre-functionary most of it is. Let’s take the water metaphor, which I’m not sure even counts as a metaphor. Justin Beiber’s and MØ are boyfriend and girlfriend, MØ being so depressed that she feels like she is “drowning” in “cold water” while Beiber is willing to “jump right over into [the] cold, cold water for” her if it’d help. At no point do either use any puns, wordplay, imagery or allusions to sell this scene and it’s emotion to the audience; they just state their emotions and intentions through a vaguely nautical lexis and pretend that there’s somehow a literary quality in this. “You feel you’re sinking.” “I will jump right over into cold, cold water for you.” “I will still be patient with you.” “I won’t let you go.” These are just short, sharp, unemotive statements. They sound like a schoolchild who was given a bad report and is writing how they’ll take steps to be better. There’s a clinicalness to it all; a sense of stoicness which undercuts the fact that it’s supposed to be about complicated emotional states.

Of course, pop music lyrics are infamously declarative. One of my favourite songs ever is So Lonely by the Police and most of that song is just the words “I feel so lonely” repeated over and over again. There are certain types of emotion that this declarative style works for and certain types that it doesn’t though. So Lonely is an angry, desperate song: the repetition of the words “I feel so lonely” is thus an anguished cry made after all else has failed, particularly when squeezed through Sting’s idiosyncratic voice. 90’s rave music was incredibly self descriptive too, one of it’s most famous lyrics being “EVERYBODY DANCE NOW!“, but it was a genre of songs designed entirely to get people dancing: the directness of their lyrics thus serves to keep the audience focussed on the dance and ensures that their central lyrics remain as commands.

In short, these declarative lyrics are good for release. Sting has pent-up emotions which have built-up until he has no option but just spurt them out at quickly as he can, while rave music wants people to stop moping and start dancing (and by God will it make them). The problem is that Cold Water isn’t about release, it’s about managing things, working through issue and remaining methodical. It needs to feel thought-through; there needs to be some substance to it. Yet there isn’t. Directness was the wrong path to take; we needed something more subtle.

Part 3
(in which I conclude)

That said, above all else, the main issue is that both the “I AM GREAT” songs and “I WILL HELP YOU BE GREAT” songs are just not being written that well and they are not being written by people who seem to audibly care. “I WILL HELP YOU BE GREAT” songs are the better type as at least they remain dull as opposed to actively punchable. This does not mean these songs are good though; it merely means that they are not as bad as they could be. Ultimately the reason why I took a break from writing this blog was the frequent sense that I was trying harder than the song writers. This is one of the songs that stopped me writing.

(Cue people in the comments: “And you should have continued not writing!”)

A No. 1 Review – “One Dance” by Drake feat. WizKid & Kyla

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I don’t get Drake. He’s never seemed that dynamic to me, nor has he ever seemed particularly weighed down by personality. My sisters seem to fancy him, though I don’t know why. I just don’t get him.

A lot of the time, he sounds monotone and uncaring to me. The Motto and Headlines are particularly bad examples of this, with Headlines’ chorus in particular sounding like he’s just mumbling his way through it because he’s got better things to do. Elsewhere you have Started from the Bottom which misses out the majority of it’s plot and feels incomplete as a result, plus songs like Hold On, We’re Going Home which are just unpleasant on a sexual politics level.* I think I’m still to even hear a song of his that sounds finished to me. Why do people like him? I don’t know.

It should thus be no surprise that I like this song infinitely more when Drake isn’t rapping over it. It starts with some really interesting instrumentation, coupled with an ethereal performance by Sample-of-the-Week Kyla – then all this gets thrown away for a single drum beat stuck over Drake tiredly mumbling about something.

This wouldn’t be too bad if the dour tone was somehow justified. The song is basically about how much Drake loves someone and how much strength their relationship (and booze) gives him during his hard, tiring life. This is not an uncommon topic at the least but other attempts at the message have at least tried to sound happy or empowered, working via the idea that a song about something positive should sound positive. Instead, One Dance seems to be actively aping Cheerleader by OMI: both have Afro-Caribbean inspired music; both are implied to be set in clubs; both are about how much strength the narrators derive from their loves; both sound fucking miserable; and neither of them have music which matches their lyrics. Drake’s song is at least more justifiably tired that OMI’s is – a subtext in a lot of Drake’s songs is how tiring existence is, meaning that even the most positive things in his works need to ultimately be read as lesser evils trying to make existence better and failing – but there is just a massive disconnect in regards to what I’m hearing and what I’m supposed to be feeling.

Maybe it is this disconnect which both songs are actually about. I’ve talked quite a few times about Deconstructionist Post-Club Songs: songs designed to deconstruct club music and reveal how hollow and fragile the form is. These songs appear to be the opposite though: in both, love is the hollow lie and the music is the only thing that’s real. We’re frequently told that romance is necessary for a happy, fulfilling life; yet these songs feature characters who are so beaten by life that not even their best romances can manage to lighten them up; as much, romance is deconstructed and shown to be as hollow a lie as club music is. So what is left for us? Where do we go from here?

Alas, if this type of music has a flaw, it’s that it never answers those questions; hence why reconstructionist music is more popular in the charts, people generally preferring flawed answers to complete mysteries. And, though I’m a great supporter of deconstructionist music, this problem does plague this song: ultimately, it just sounds a bit miserable without having much of a point. What are people actually getting out of this song, especially considering how many other tracks at the moment are just like it? I don’t get it.

Am I missing something? I must be. If you know what, please let me know in the comments; I’m genuinely all ears on this one. Otherwise, I’m just stuck in the dark (apparently much like Drake’s work itself).

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* The one exception is Hotline Bling, which I really like. Drake sings it terribly, the music is little more than musak, the lyrics are problematic – yet combine all of these features together and they somehow end up feeding into each other, producing an almost Biz Markie level of wrongness which feels oh so right. The result is a nicely off-putting track that is highly interesting to listen to; I love it.

TheWrittenTevs’ Top 5 Best No. 1’s of 2015

It’s time. My Top 5 UK No 1’s of 2015. I’ve run out of ways of introducing these lists. Let’s get to business.

No. 5 – “Sorry” by Justin Bieber

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2015 has been the year where Bieber rose from being universally derided to surprisingly likable. Completely accidentally, his rise has been pretty accurately captured in microcosm on this blog: burnt out on this summer’s tasteless dirge of completely incompetent trash, I savaged Bieber in my first review of his work before giving it more of a chance and finding that actually his current work’s alright. For the first time in his career, it seems like Bieber is an actual living thing; it’s amazing how much being basically human will make people like you.

It does also help that Sorry has a pretty nice beat and an above-par set of lyrics. I even grew to like the line “Because I’m missing more than your body” which originally sounded like a standard singer-trying-to-be-emotional-but-unable-to-get-past-sex sentiment when in reality the sentiment’s closer to singer-wants-to-be-able-to-get-past-sex-but-can’t.

Wait a minute – Bieber’s dissatisfied with making songs about hollow sex and wants to make more fulfilling material about genuine emotions? Holy crap,  he’s a Reconstructionist. That’s how much the pop world is changing under our feet right now. Damn.

Full Review

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No. 4 – “Not Letting Go” by Tinie Tempah feat. Jess Glynne

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Surprise!

I can’t stand Jess Glynne. If Bieber is representative of the best trends of 2015, Glynne represents the worst. Her lyrics are disconnected from any sense of real emotion, they barely manage to fit together, there is absolutely no variation between any of them, and she just doesn’t seem to care about anything she produces. Unsurprisingly then, Glynne is easily the worst element of this song: she comes in spewing a bunch of her own cliches, doesn’t care that they’re entirely disconnected from the verses, and largely serves to drag everything down.

Goddamn if I don’t love the verses though. Tinie Tempah raps about a girl he likes and he sounds like he means it: that is fucking rare at the moment. More than that, the person he describes has a personality: she likes records, she enjoys singing, she’s carefree and fun. She’s alive. We actually had a love song in 2015 which was about someone.

People keep telling me that I’m needlessly harsh on pop music. I’m not though; I just want it to be written with a bit of competence. If you’re writing a love song about someone, I want to know about them and what makes you love them. An ass does not a relationship make; an ass does not a girlfriend make. Tinie Tempah’s verses were the only ones in the charts this year which sounded like they were actually written about someone, and for that they got the No. 4 spot.

Full Review

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No. 3 – “What Do You Mean” by Justin Bieber

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I’m as surprised as you are that Justin’s appeared twice on this list. When I started writing my essay on this song, claiming that it was a well crafted exploration of loneliness in the postmodern age, I was being a bit facetious: I thought I was taking the piss. Once I finished the essay though, I was actually convinced I was right. More than that, I actually grew to like the song the more I wrote about it. That essay is now my favourite post this year. It just goes to show, you can convince yourself to like something through concerted effort. Thanks Bieber, I’ve learnt so much from you this year.

Full Review

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No. 2 – “Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding

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I have spent a lot of time on this blog complaining about how most pop music is just vapid men oogling women because they’ve got attention spans even shorter than their overcompensated dicks. I’m still a straight man though and I have to admit: this song is sexy. Ellie Goulding’s delivery is sexy. The production is sexy. The lyrics are sexy. Pretty much every song on the charts nowadays is about sex, but this is the only song released this year which I’d consider sexy.

And the amazing thing is that this song is pretty much fanfic based on Fifty Shades of Grey, a deeply unpleasant book which tries to romanticise a man who is clearly a sociopath and borderline rapist. This song is aware of the problems with it’s source material though and is able to negate them while still staying true to the book. That is an astoundingly hard thing to manage. Every word has to have the exact right connotation to avoid sending the entire piece directly to Problemville: the control has to be immense. Yet Ellie Goulding pulls it off. The fact that she’s actually able to make the lyrics sexy too is just the icing on the cake. Out of all the No. 1s this year, Love Me Like You Do is the easily best written by far. It’s not quite my favourite though.

Full Review

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And finally, my favourite No. 1 of 2015:

No. 1 – “Black Magic” by Little Mix

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It’s a feminist magick trick designed to change “wanting sex” from being a predominately male thing to something that both genders can do (without shame and all!). That should be genuinely enough to justify it’s place on the list. How many songs can be summarised as a “feminist magick trick”? If the answer was more than one, we’d live in a much better world than we do now.

I’m not even really sure what to say about this: I just really like it. Much like I Really Like You, it’s joy is infectious; it just makes me happy to be alive. I love Little Mix’s Love Me Like You too, and their album Get Weird is pretty damn good. I just love that there’s a group aimed at teenage girls who are telling them that they can be as strange as they wish, as long as they’re happy. I love that they’re telling them that they can be weird and individual, yet still can have friends, love and sex; that they can still be accepted as functional members of society even if they decide to do their own thing. In a world featuring You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful and Nick Jonas’ Jealous, we have a band who are telling teenage girls to be proud of themselves and to live full, enriched lives which are defined entirely on their own terms. Little Mix are important. They’re a shining beacon in a world of shit. I love them.

I just hope that more people take their lead. At the very least, I definitely want more Little Mix in the charts as we head our way into the vagueness that is 2016.

Full Review

What Does Anything Mean? – Postmodernism, Modern Life and Meaningless in Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?”

In my review of Justin Bieber’s What Do You Mean?I promised that I’d write a positive interpretation of the song portraying it as a piece of art grappling with the problems of everyday existence. Here it is:

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One of the major tenants of postmodernism is that forms such as the written word or the crafted image can’t be used to represent reality because it’s impossible to create an artwork in a way that is truly objective. The simple fact is that we do not live within paintings or in the form of words: as such, any attempt to render life into one of these forms has to change that life from experience into language, thus making it an inherently removed representation of that thing. True realism in art is thus impossible and the closest you can get is a simulation of realism created by techniques people have decided to read as realist.

As such, a series of questions are raised: If words are unsuitable forms through which to convey truth, then what’s the point of poetry and literature? If what we want to say is always changed by the way we say it, then what is the point of speech? How do you communicate in times like these and, if our daily relationships are based primarily on the ability to communicate, how do we maintain relationships in this postmodern age? Is the increasing sense of loneliness and meaningless in our world being facilitated by the very languages we use to navigate it?

It is these questions which Justin Bieber’s What Do You Mean? seeks to investigate. In the song, Bieber has a girlfriend who constantly talks to him but never seems to say anything; as such he’s left with a lot of meaningless babble which he is then left to ponder: What does she mean?

That question is actually deeper than it seems though, interrogating Bieber’s girlfriend on an existential level as well as a lexical one. Within the context of postmodernism, the question “What Do You Mean?” is incredibly literal, being an abstracted form of the question “Who are you?” Because his girlfriend is so defined by her speech and because her speech is so meaningless and hazy, her very being has thus become hazy to Bieber’s eyes and he’s lost sight of who she is and who she’s meant to be. The lack of communication also means that Bieber no longer knows exactly where he stands with her – he can’t tell exactly what their relationship is anymore and thus he can’t tell exactly what she means to him.

The fact that this question is repeated incessantly is an important feature too, repetition being important to postmodernism because it’s through repetition that which the world has become meaningless. Jean Baudrillard’s hyperreality theory is the main argument for this: throughout history, we have created a set of symbols designed to represent things – metaphors, words, icons, etc – and we accept them as having some fundamental meaning; alas the more we’ve focused on the symbols, the more we’ve let the original items slip from our grasp and now we live in a world of symbols pretending to represent things that don’t exist anymore. The symbols are now entirely removed from the real world and, because we live our lives according to these symbols, we’ve become removed from reality too.

The constant repetition of the question “What do you mean?” thus represents Justin Bieber’s entrapment in the same paradox which has estrained him from his lover; the more he asks the question, the less meaningful the question becomes, and so he becomes like his girlfriend, desperately trying to articulate something though he can’t truly grasp what.

This theme is backed-up by the structure of the piece which never truly shows any sign of progression or ever truly goes anywhere. The same minimalist beat repeated over and over again for 3 minutes straight, the repetitious nature of the song’s highly limited number of lyrics: the entire song is just one dull tone, never moving up, never moving down, but more importantly never moving anywhere at all and thus showing no signs of ever coming to an end. How can we escape this world when it is defined by the icons which remove us from it? To live in our reality is to live separated from reality, and the only way we have of communicating this fact is through language which denatures our worries before they’re articulated. We’re trapped, all of us, in a world of our own design. There’s no way out anymore. We should pity Bieber and the hazy defined girlfriend he knows nothing of, but we should pity them because they’re us. What meaningless lives we live.

A No. 1 Review – “What Do You Mean?” by Justin Bieber

This year, I’ve challenged myself to write a review of every song that manages to get to No. 1 in the UK charts. Yes, I do realise that I’m running very behind schedule. Here’s the latest one:

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What the hell British public?! First you put me through the tedium of Meghan Tranor and Charlie Puth combined: then you put me through the same Jess Glynne song that’s she’s been singing all year: then you show me the failed promise of Fight Song; then you make me listen to a Justin Bieber song?! Seriously?! This is the worst period of No. 1s I’ve ever had to cover on this blog. This is the utter nadir of the year. I mean, Jesus.

Believe it or not, I try my best not to be a caustic critic. I want to tell you that Little Mix’s Black Magic is a feminist magick trick and that Lost Frequencies’ Are You With Me is a sterling example of Derridean deconstruction. It’s just hard to say things like this so many songs nowadays are just so obviously worked on by people who don’t care. The current pop scene is broken. It’s just not working.

And thus we have Justin Bieber: the poster child for exactly how broken the pop industry is and the negative effects that this failure has on people. This guy’s an arsehole: an unrepentant, egotistical douche who believes he can do anything without any repercussions. The problem is that he’s not wrong. More to the point, it’s almost impossible for him to be anything but. From his youngest years, he’s been groomed to be a pop star; he was then gifted fame at an early age and proceeded to have his teenage years torn away from him while simultaneously being surrounded by an endless series of Yes Men paid to treat him like the second messiah. Of course he’s lost his grip on reality with a life like that. Of course he goes through life, doing whatever he wants.

That’s been my main problem with pop music since the start of the blog: most of it lacks any connection to the real world. The works of Jess Glynne and self-professed self-empowerment icons talk so vaguely of things in the real world that their works become useless within it; the slew of recent retro throwbacks just avoid the topic entirely; and club music is currently being torn down by those who write it purely because no-one relates to it anymore. Modern pop music, for the most part, just doesn’t care about people’s day-to-day existence and you have to literally fluke your way into producing anything that is.

In this way, we can begin to understand exactly why Justin Bieber is so hated: not just because he’s a sociopathic arsehole but he’s exactly the type of sociopathic arsehole who today’s modern pop scene would create and allow to thrive. Justin Bieber perfectly represents everything that is terrible about modern pop: when we look at him, we are literally looking at the Neitzchean abyss which lies at the bottom of our music industry. And the thing about an abyss is that the more you look at it, the more it looks like you. We created Justin Bieber. We paid for the world in which he lives. We’re rewarded him by buying his works. We’re the people who made him happen. We look at Bieber and we hate him, but really we hate ourselves. We hate what pop music has become. We hate what we’ve become.

I argued that One Direction’s hatedom is overblown in relation to how terrible they actually are. Justin Bieber is one of the worst things in pop music, occupying the bottom spot alongside Chris Brown, Lil Wayne and every other bullheaded monster that modern pop has created. I’m loath to even have to talk about him, nevermind his new No. 1

Oh yeah; his new No. 1. It sucks. Of course it does. But no: I don’t want to be a caustic critic. I don’t want to produce 700 word rants about why everything is horrible and why nothing has meaning anymore. I want to write a positive interpretation of What Do You Mean? by Justin Bieber, arguing that it’s an understated work which deals directly with material existence. I want to pretend that it’s art, just so I can.

So that’s what I’ve done. It’s just not part of this post.