Pop

A No. 1 Review: “Rockabye” by Clean Bandit feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie (plus a lot of other things Sean Paul featured in last year)

I haven’t updated this blog in a while: in between moving house, starting a PhD, working a job, dealing with Brexit and staring dumbfoundedly at Donald “Racist Paedo-Rapist” Trump, the blog has ended up taking a backseat. I’ve been determined to finish my No. 1 reviews though so here we are, a whole bunch of posts giving quick reviews of every 2016 UK No. 1 that I missed while they were in the charts:

So… Sean Paul is back. Indeed, 2016 was awash with Sean Paul. You couldn’t move for Sean Paul. Signal 1 played nothing but him for five months straight, intermixed with the occasional Can’t Stop the FeelingYet Mr. Paul didn’t release a single song of his own that year; he just appeared on everyone else’s tracks. The thing is: no-one really seemed to want him to be there. For example…

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“Cheap Thrills” – Sia feat. Sean Paul

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Cheap Thrills is a mindless party jam about how great it is to go the club and dance. This type of song doesn’t really get made anymore, critiques of club music being much more common. That said, this is a song written by Sia, someone who is an incredibly slippery character. More than that, it seems to say something quite fundamental about her character: namely that she’s becoming increasingly bored with having to make pop music.

A lot of this comes from the album that Cheap Thrills is a part of. Cheap Thrills is from This is Acting, an album comprised entirely of songs that she wrote for other people and had rejected. As Todd in the Shadows points out, the reason why most singers would write a song and give it to someone else is that the song isn’t actually very good, otherwise the first singer would have sung it themselves. So the album is made out of songs that Sia didn’t think were good enough, all of which were then rejected by the people she fobbed them to, resulting in Sia going “Fuck it” and releasing the songs anyway. Built into every single level of this album is the idea that everything in it is, on some level, crap. It’s an album of songs that no-one much likes. As such, the idea of it also being one of Sia’s more mainstream and poppy albums comes with the implication that most mainstream, poppy albums are full of crap. The fact that this album has been successful forms part of it’s critique: we live in such a flagging music industry that you can literally release an album of rejected off-cuts and still have it be one of the best received albums of the year. Now that Sia’s a mainstream success, she doesn’t need to care anymore, and This is Acting basically exists to point this out.

In this context, the title Cheap Thrills can only be read as a critique of the song itself. This song is not good or pristine or well crafted, it’s cheap. It wants nothing more than to be a thrill: something ephemeral, quick paced, gone before you know it. In short, the song’s a mess that’ll be here one minute and gone the next: that’s literally how it defines itself.

As such, the inclusion of Sean Paul comes off as something Sia did for the sake of it: “Let’s get some has-been rapper from a decade ago to do some guest verses because why not; everyone else does it and it’s not like I’m going to put any effort into this”. Sean Paul’s presence is thus little more than a cynical parody of songs that pull stupid shit like getting someone as irrelevant as Sean Paul in to do a guest verse. His very appearance is a critique of itself.

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“Hair” – Little Mix feat. Sean Paul

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The Little Mix song Hair goes even further in this regard. In it, Little Mix equate breaking up from a relationship with getting a haircut: “Okay, gonna bleach him out, peroxide on him / Here on the floor like a memory of him / Now I feel brand new.” The thing about this lyrical conceit is that, underneath it’s bubblegum exterior, it’s almost impenetrably dark. Little Mix’s relationship with this man was so bad that, now he’s gone, they have to completely change their appearance in order to feel themselves again. This man got under their skin, got in their head, completely destroyed their personalities and wrecked them from the inside out. Little Mix’s last boyfriend wasn’t just a prick, he was psychologically abusive.

The forced cutting of hair is a traditional punishment aimed at women too, performed by men to make them less feminine and thus shame them into living however the men wished. Plus, what type of people have to completely change their appearance in order to get rid of other undesirables: those in witness protection and people who are running from violent people for their lives. I could even quote fitting sections of The Rape of the Lock here if The Rape of the Lock wasn’t sexist bullshit pretending to be satire. My point is that enforced hair cutting and male violence against women (in particular, rape) have been frequently equated to each other. As such, the boyfriend in Hair is an abusive criminal and the song itself is about the recovery methods of a rape survivor.

But what role does Sean Paul play in this? Well, he plays the rapist. More than that, he plays him completely unrepentantly:

“Inseparable at the beginning when we started,
Good chemistry between me and you girl we got it,
I spit you game and just to tame you was my target
That was my aim just to be playing with your body
Thought that forever we could continue this party
And now you telling me that your love is departed
Right I’m just saying you gon’ miss your sugar-daddy.
How you gon’ get me out ya hair girl when I bought it?”

So Sean Paul is a prick. But listen to that language: “I spit you game and just to tame you was my target.” Doesn’t that remind you of the Blurred Lines lyric “Tried to domesticate you / But you’re an animal”? He’s also got the “game”; he wants to “be playing with your body”: he talks just like any club singer of the past decade, using their turns of phrase and their type of language. Hell, he even refers to his prolonged abuse of Hair’s narrator as a “party”. Sean Paul is fully representative of 00’s era club music in this song. If you felt that many of the songs from this era and genre were overly rapey, here’s a song that purposely presents a 00’s club singer as an actual rapist.

Of course, because this is a Little Mix song, what is the correct way of fighting against your male abuser? Well, go out and have a make-over. Or, put another way, go out and be as confidently girly as possible. Sexism is imposing a certain set of values onto the genders so as to keep the balance of power firmly in one gender’s court: just refuse to believe that your gender naturally diminishes you as a person and carry on regardless. There’s nothing more powerful and disruptive as doing whatever you want even after being told not too. Get your hair done and stick two fingers up to Sean Paul: it’s the Little Mix way.

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“Rockabye” by Clean Bandit feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie

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There is potential salvation for Sean Paul though, that being Rockabye which he did for Clean Bandit alongside Anne-Marie. Rockabye is about the trails and tribulations of single motherhood, talking to a baby about her hardworking single mother in order to confirm to it that ‘somebody’s got you’ and that it never needs to feel sad. As such, the obvious question to ask is what’s Sean Paul doing here? Where does the aggressive club dancer fit into this small-scale story of motherhood and intimate spaces?

Surprisingly, he fits into a support role. Mr. Paul appears to introduce the song ‘for all the single moms out there / going through frustration’ before immediately taking back-up vocal duties behind Anne-Marie, allowing her to tell the tale of a struggling single-mother while providing little utterances to emphasize various parts of her story. In certain verses, it almost sounds like he’s listening to Anne-Marie speak, his noises being little filler sounds to show that he’s still listening:

“Facing the hard life, without no fear (Yeah) […]
‘Cause any obstacle come you’re well prepared (Oh no) […]
And you give the youth love beyond compare (Yeah)
You find his school fee and the bus fare (Yeah)

This gives Mr. Paul an interestingly liminal position within the song itself. The only other man mentioned in the song is the single mother’s daughter’s father, a man who is defined by his absence from the mother’s life and from the song in general. Similarly, Mr. Paul’s appearance in this song is defined by it’s lack: by the way that it falls into the background and doesn’t impose itself upon the main narrative thread; by the way that it’s easily missed and not strictly neccessary. Built into this is the song’s opinion on absent male figures: their disappearance is sad and deeply felt, but ultimately they’re not needed and women can go on regardless. More than this, the situation is presented as one where the opinions of men do not matter at all: men can help but they can do so by listening, emphasizing and supporting women, not by imposing their ideologies onto them.

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In conclusion, Mr. Paul is a surprisingly liminal character in the pop world as a whole at the moment: a marginal figure infecting mainstream hits, a club musician haunting a post-club world. Built into his persona are both warnings from the past and potential ways into the future. In short, he is a symptom of a music scene which has rejected its past forms but still doesn’t have a new one. For better and for worse, Sean Paul was the artist of 2016.

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Rapid Reviews 07/06/16

So after spending a long time setting the blog’s aesthetic standards in stone and despairing at the ruination of British society, let’s relax for a bit and release some residual steam on a few easy targets. We can return to things like nuanced analysis (?) next post. Let’s go!



Tears” – Clean Bandit feat. Louisa Johnson

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The problem with Clean Bandit is that they’re only as good as their collaborators allow them to be. Pair them with people like Sean Bass and Alex Newell and they shine: the singers have the technical capabilities to match the music, and thus free Clean Bandit to really go for it with their musical compositions. Pair them Jess Glynne though and they completely fall apart: Glynne is not capable of matching what they’re doing and so their songs end up disappointingly disjointed.

That problem rears it’s ugly head here: Clean Bandit and Louisa Johnson just don’t work well together. Clean Bandit are known for their classically influenced, precise and multi-layered instrumentals: there’s a lot going on in Clean Bandit’s music and it’s always very tightly controlled. Meanwhile Louisa Johnson is an X-Factor winner and so comes from the school of singing whereby she injects as many syllables into each line as possible, resulting in an overly fussy mess. When you’ve got two people in the same song whose sounds are this busy though, one is going to be naturally drowned out by the other. Unfortunately Louisa Johnson is allowed to take control, filling the song with empty vocal gymnastics while leaving Clean Bandit with very little space to do anything interesting musically. The result, again, is something which is disappointingly disjointed and uneven. Even worse than that, with no space for anything interesting musically, the song just sounds bland. It’s the least interesting Clean Bandit song by a long chalk.

Clean Bandit are just too easily dominated by their guest artists, which is a shame because I’m still to hear a guest artist who isn’t entirely outclassed by them. I just want them to produce an entirely instrumental album, though I suppose that won’t happen while they’re still trying to get in the charts.



Faded” – Alan Walker feat. Iselin Solheim

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This could’ve been interesting, maybe: the lyrics at least have some ideas in them, and they’re not bad ones at that. Sure, “sun and water metaphors being used to describe a relationship” has been the default mode of a lot of pop music recently, but this song twists them by having the boyfriend be the narrator’s “shadow” who is linked to the ocean and blocks her from the sun, subverting the traditional way that these metaphors work. Unfortunately, it’s still not that interesting. Even if it inverts the metaphors, it’s still using the same images as a lot of bog-standard pop at the moment. And, again, the music is just bland: sparce and empty.

I have tried to listen to this song in the same way I listen to Are You With Me – as an atmospheric track that’s meant to sound like pop but fundamentally isn’t – but the subtexts of the lyrics just aren’t there to support this mode of listening. Fundamentally, the song is meant to work as a cathartic release and it details a standard love narrative: it’s 100% pop music on auto pilot, draped in imagery that’s an inversion of the usual so as to look vaguely interesting. It’s like Deadpool or The Fault in Our Stars: narratives which are trying to look like radical deconstructions of their genre but which are ultimately just standard examples of their genre with louder witty asides. There might be something in it, somewhere, but actually finding it feels pointless.



I Know What You Did Last Summer” – Shawn Mendes feat. Camila Cabello

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Shawn Mendes’ girlfriend cheated on him once, they stayed together, but now she’s acting shady again and he’s demanding to know where she’s been, which means the relationship isn’t working and the two should break up. Relationships are about trust; two people can stay together after one cheats on the other but only if trust is regained. Mendes doesn’t trust his partner, is now getting overly aggressive towards her and, as such, they should break up. He’s a whiny demanding arse, she’s self-involved, they don’t seem to have any actual reasons to stay together, yet neither actually reach the obvious conclusion at hand. Instead, we two unlikable people shouting at each other in circles to cover the fact that neither have actually arrived at the most obvious conclusion yet: they should break up.



Love, Hope and Misery” – Jake Bugg

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Jake Bugg is an indie rocker who so obviously wants to be the Libertines, it’s ridiculous. In that form though, he’s at least bearable: wannabe rock stars are omnipresent in the indie rock scene, they just come with the territory. But now the bad boy’s going to show his softer side, and my god is it terrible.

Jake Bugg’s vocal styles for this song combines the nasal tone of Passenger with the vapid whinginess of Shawn Mendes, resulting in a performance which feels like being stabbed in the ear with an ice pick. The orchestral music sounds like it’s been ripped from a low budget 1970’s easy listening record, and the lyrics tick off every Post-Club cliche it’s possible to check off, minus the “actually be good” box. It’s unlistenable. A genuinely terrible song.



Work From Home” – Fifth Harmony feat. Ty Dolla $ign

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For the longest time, I was convinced that this song was Rihanna’s Work. Then I actually watched the music video for Work and found that I was actually listening to something completely different. Also, I was listening to something infinitely better.

Work From Home is nigh-on indefensible. A woman is sending sexts to her partner while he’s at work while complaining about how his work stops him from being able to constantly have sex with her; still she resigns herself to it because he does have to work and, after all, he is “the boss at home”. Meanwhile the husband (as played by Ty Dolla $ign, the man with the worst rap name I’ve ever seen) spends his time talking about how much his wife better be constantly making herself look sexy for him and “putting overtime on [her] body”.

See what’s happening here? The man’s duty is to go off and work, making the money and providing a life for his family back at home. In return, the woman’s duty is to stay at home, comply to her husband’s wishes and make herself sexually available whenever he might want it.

How the fuck is something this sexist acceptable in this day and age? I mean, wow. Fucking wow. Do I even have to go on? When we live in a world with Little Mix, why could we ever need Fifth Harmony? Fuck this song; fuck it.



Just Like Fire” – P!nk

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Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass was a surprisingly decent film, seeming to understand Tim Burton’s version of Wonderland much better than Tim Burton ever did and retroactively fixing a lot of the problems I had with the first movie. (Yeah, I think Deadpool and The Fault in our Stars are overrated and like the second Alice in Wonderland film. Suck it.) There’s one thing that’s horrendously jarring though: that being when the film awkwardly slams into the end credits and it’s tie-in song Just Like Fire starts playing. That song just does not fit what went before it.

Part of this is just a matter of context. Alice in Wonderland is set in the Victorian era and in a surreal self-contained fantasy land: though passing comment on the modern world, it’s fundamentally disconnected from it. As such, to end the film with a top 40 hit from a famous post-2000 singer is like ending The Book Thief with Skillrex track: the song just fundamentally doesn’t belong in the film it’s in.

The song barely fits with the film thematically either. Both are fundamentally feminist texts which feature female characters refusing to be defined by their opponents – whether that’s Alice refusing to sign a man’s business contract which would make her an intern or P!nk fighting against whoever she’s fighting against – but other than that, they’re polar opposites. This can be most obviously seen in how they deal with the theme of madness. In the film, Alice is fundamentally not insane; it’s just that the world treats her as such because it looks at a woman going above her station and inherently sees something wrong with it. Meanwhile P!nk is busy claiming that she’s unbeatable because she’s resolutely insane and no-one can touch her. The two messages are completely separated; they’re saying two different things.

And where did the fire metaphor come from? There’s only one fire in the entirety of the original film: that being the fire which killed the Mad Hatter’s family. So is that what P!nk is: a dangerous fire so out of control that she keeps causing distress and death to her friends and family? That doesn’t work at all. I could go on.

The result is a tie-in song to a movie that the writer has obviously not watched. In a post-Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack world, this is just not acceptable. The fire metaphor is cliche, the music and lyrics are P!nk on auto-pilot, and the song is completely disconnected from it’s source material. No-one cared at any point: once again, it’s blatantly a paycheck mascarading as a song. It’s Faded but stuck at the end of a movie.



Stitches” – Shawn Mendes

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Just to reiterate (again), this is everything that’s wrong with pop music. Genuinely awful.

A No. 1 Review – “Stitches” by Shawn Mendes

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After a solid month of Bieber chart domination, we finally have a brand new UK No 1 and the first new No. 1 of 2016. Shame it’s bloody awful.

What’s it about? Well, Shawn Mendes’ girlfriend has broken up with him and he’s not dealing with it well. You see, life is difficult and Mendes’ girlfriend was the rock that let him deal with it. But, in his words, “now I’m without your kisses / I’ll be needing stitches”. He’s now dreading the upcoming period where he gets over her and is somewhat pessimistic about the future.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem too bad. Once again, we have a male protagonist who’s insecure, lonely and wanting to communicate that fact, something which has become a welcome trend lately. It’s also nice to have a man who isn’t going to try to keep the relationship going despite his partner’s wishes; his girlfriend has put her foot down and he’s respecting her autonomy, whether it hurts him or not. These are all good things.

But there are five massive problems that make me detest this thing:

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Problem 1: No-one producing the song cared about it at any point.

This will become more obvious the further we go.

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Problem 2: “Kisses” and “stitches” don’t even rhyme.

This doesn’t seem that bad at first but it’s the song’s main hook and they couldn’t even be arsed to get that right. Even if rest of the lyrics were skintight (which they’re not), that line would be enough for me to consider this a failure almost immediately. They just didn’t care.

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Problem 3: The story’s communicated to us entirely in cliches (all of which have already been used to much greater effect in other songs).

Your words cut deeper than a knife.” “I need someone to breathe me back to life.” “Got a feeling that I’m going under.” “You watch me bleed until I don’t breathe.” “Like a moth drawn to a flame.” “Your bitter cold heart.” “I’m left seeing red on my own.

This can barely be considered Mendes’ song: there’s no originality or depth on display at all. Of course, this shows just how deeply Shawn Mendes truly actually feels about his relationship: i.e. he barely feels anything about it at all. Why even write this song if you can’t be bothered to use more than the most basic sentiments? It wasn’t written for emotional release, it was the basis for a paycheck. They just didn’t care.

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Problem 4: The cliches are combined in ways that don’t even make sense.

“You watch me bleed until I can’t breathe.” What do bleeding and breathing have to do with each other? If you bleed enough, your organs will stop functioning and that means you’ll be unable to breathe – yes – but that’s an awful lot of dominoes that the line’s skipped just so it doesn’t have to say “You watch me bleed until I die.” But what’s wrong with the line “You watch me bleed until I die”? It’s not like every other line is a cryptic conundrum waiting to be solved; it’s not like every other line isn’t depressingly banal and self-explanatory. And if you’re going to pick one line to not do the obvious in, why pick a random line halfway through a verse and why would you still not actually manage to write it well? Even when they’re trying to raise the bar, they’re trying to do it as lazily as possible. They just didn’t care.

“Just like a moth drawn to a flame / […] Your bitter heart cold to the touch.” So is she “a flame” or “cold to the touch”? First she’s hot, then she’s cold; she’s yes, then she’s no; she’s up, then she’s down; she’s an inconsistently sketched blank space who I have to assume was inspired by no-one and doesn’t actually exist at all. They just didn’t care. And while we’re on this lyric:

“Just like a moth drawn to a flame / Oh, you lured me in.” So the first line is describing the situation from Mendes’ perspective, while the second describes it from the girlfriend’s. Yet these two lines are linked together and structured so that it sounds like it’s talking exclusively about the girlfriend: she lured him in the same way that a moth is drawn to a flame, something which doesn’t make any bloody sense at all.  All they needed to do was add something in the first line which directly tied it to Mendes: “I was a moth drawn to a flame / Oh, you lured me in”. Bam: lyric fixed. I changed two words. They just didn’t care.

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Problem 5: The main character is an unlikable arse.

Part of this is the song’s lyrics, part of it is the song’s sound. Shawn Mendes’ nasal voice just makes him sound whiny, particularly given the neediness of the lyrics. I just can’t feel sympathy for him. He’s the one who’s pinned all of his personal defects on his partner; he’s the one who used her as a battering ram against the fact that existence is hard. While certainly the blame of the relationship’s failure doesn’t entirely rest on him, he also can’t be said to be entirely without blame: he wanted more than she was willing to give and neither were willing to compromise, making things fall apart. That’s pretty much every relationship breakup in a nutshell. But does the song show anywhere near that amount of balance? Of course not. “You watch me bleed ‘til I can’t breathe […] You lured me in [and have a] bitter heat cold to the touch”. He’s just externalising his grief now: “How dare you be so attractive that I unsustainably pinned my entire personality onto you! How dare you show up all my insecurities and leave me when they become too much! This is all your fault! The relationship was entirely about my needs! None of this is my fault! Me! Me! Me! Me!” Shut up, you twat. At least when Adele writes this type of song, she has the humility to admit that some of the blame has to be carried by her. When Taylor Swift writes this type of song, she has a sense of wit. This is just the vapid whinging of a hack without an ounce of self-awareness. It is hateable. They just didn’t care.

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So it’s a song about an unlikable arse which doesn’t even have the dignity to put effort into his vindictive sneering. This song has many of the tropes of the Post-Club Age of Pop but these tropes have been used without care or attention. Stupid hacks who want to get rich on the barest of effort aren’t going to suddenly flee the pop world; as such, for every genuinely artistic song we get which is written with purpose and skill, we’re also going to get 50 songs which try to sound like it but fail. This is one of the 50: a song that gets most of the best trends currently creeping into pop but proceeds to suck at fulfilling any of them.

They just didn’t care, and that’s the worst crime of all.

Pop Song Review: “Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)” by The Weeknd

I’ve already reviewed one of the songs from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack; better go for the other one currently in the charts. Here’s a little recap of the story so far: I do not like Fifty Shades of Grey because it romanticises a relationship which is abusive, and because Christian Grey himself is a manipulative, sadistic, near-rapist arsehole. I do like Love Me Like You Do though because it at least seems aware of it’s source material’s more problematic elements and does try to negate them.

I’m not sure that same can be said about Earned It.

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Before I start critiquing the lyrics though, let’s point out the good bit of the song: the music. With it’s strings and classical underpinnings, it actually sounds very lavish, understated and refined. The music is played with a lot of strength though; it’s very confidentially played with each individual note sounding like it’s been purposely placed where it is for maximum effect. In short, it sounds like I assume Christian Gray is supposed to: rich and classy with an undertone of power. It’s very Fifty Shades of Grey.

And I suppose the lyrics are too, though that is not a compliment. I’m assuming the phrase “Girl you earned it” was written to tie into the BDSM sentiment of “Yeah, you’re a bad girl, I’m going to make you earn your pleasure”, etc, etc; the girl in question having “earned” the narrator’s loving and sexiness by “work[ing] it” and being so “perfect” that the narrator has no choice but to be in love with them.

This’s all fair and good but let’s apply this to the narrative of Fifty Shades, shall we? At the start of the the first book, Anatasia Steel is stalked and threatened by Christopher Gray multiple times, being told at one point that Gray will not take no for an answer from her and will just straight up kidnap her if she refuses to go out with him enough times. Christian Gray saw Anatasia, perceiving her as “work[ing] it” and being “perfect”, and thus decided that he was going to have her. In order to get her, he resorted to intimidation and psychological bullying. The books gets away with it (vaguely) because Anatasia is actually quite into Christopher Gray and thus does say “Yes” to him eventually, but just imagine if Christian Gray saw someone who didn’t want to say “Yes” to him at all and refused to go out with him. See how quickly that story would become the tale of a violent, sociopathic rapist preying on a poor woman who doesn’t deserve it.

Considering how close to rapey Fifty Shades of Grey thus gets at the best of times, some of the word choices in “Earned It”‘s chorus become almost staggering stupid. In particular, the line “Girl, you deserve it”: Girl, you look sexy and I have decided to love you and thus I am now allowed to do whatever I want to you because you’re hot. More than that, you deserve all of what you get, purely because you are attractive. Put another way: She was asking for it officer; if she didn’t want anything to happen, she wouldn’t have wore that dress.

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Now maybe this is a tad unfair and over-exaggerated a reading. Taken away from the Fifty Shades context, this song is about two people who have been burnt by love, yet are still attracted to each other. “I’m so used to being used / So I love when you call unexpected […] On that lonely night / You said it wouldn’t be love / But we felt the rush / It made us believe it there was only us.” The narrator loves his girlfriend and had seen her be hurt before and knows what that hurt is like, so he swears to protect her and makes sure she never feels that hurt again. It’s a solid enough sentiment to me.

When put back into context though, the words that this sentiment are delivered through become really unfortunate and crude. They fight against and in many ways negate what the song’s actually about; they’re not well chosen at all. Frankly, if you’re writing a song that’s about Fifty Shades of Grey, you don’t put the line “You deserve it” in the chorus. That’s genuinely enough to destroy the song for me alone.

It also doesn’t help that I just don’t like The Weeknd’s voice on this track: in the verses, he’s tries too hard to sound like Ne-Yo and ends up becoming whiny. He does sound better once he goes into falsetto but he’s never as smooth and refined as the rest of the track is (or, for that matter, as smooth and refined as Christian Gray supposedly is): his singing just doesn’t work.

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Conclusion: Much like Love Me Like You DoEarned It is a solid love song ruined by being associated with Fifty Shades. Love Me Like You Do had enough good elements to counteract the Fifty Shade influence though; Earned It doesn’t. It’s a not very good song for a not very good film of a not very good book. The best thing I can say about it: it at least fits its source materials.

Pop Song Review: “Lips are Moving” by Meghan Trainor

The problem with running a blog where I review every UK No. 1 is that the UK No. 1 doesn’t actually change that often. As such, I suppose I better talk about some other songs. Let’s pick the song in the Top 5 that I have the most to say about: this week’s No. 4 – Meghan Trainor’s Lips Are Moving.

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Before we start though, I feel like I should talk about Maghan Trainor’s other hit: All About That Bass. I do not like it. It’s the lines “Tell those skinny bitches where it’s at” and “I can shake it, shake it, like I’m supposed to do” which put me off: they belie the fact that the message of this song is not “You are beautiful no matter who you are” but is instead “Women are supposed to look nice for men; fat women look better to men than skinny women; ergo fat women are better”. Once I had figured out that that was the song’s message, it became almost intolerable to me. It’s poppy, I-don’t-give-a-shit sugar coated attitude stopped being the sounds of a female figurehead who doesn’t care for the opinions of others and instead became the sound of a deeply smug person who believes herself better than those she sees as inferior. All All About That Bass ultimately does is feed into the cultural view that women should be objectified by men and should feel good about it when they are, the only difference between the song’s message and that of the mainstream media’s being that All About That Bass wants fat people to be objectified instead of skinny people. In reality, no-one should be objectified by anyone. I just politically disagree with it.

The reason I mention All About That Bass at all though is because I’m not convinced Lips Are Moving isn’t actually exactly the same song. A cheerful “nothing phases me” attitude facilitated through a poppy retro doo-wop sound: check. Empowering female orientated message: check. Female backing singers who repeat one word over and over again from the chorus: check. Constant references to how she has “the bass”: check. What are the actual differences here?

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I suppose the main difference is in the subject matter: All About That Bass was a pop anthem about being happy in your body (technically) while Lips Are Moving takes the smaller route of being about Meghan dumping her man because he’s been cheating on her and lying about it. The problem is that this immediately hurts Lips Are Moving because the narrative of “woman dumps her cheating ex” is overdone and boring by now. Katy Perry has done songs on that subject, Christina Perry has done songs on that subject, as had Cheryl Cole, Beyonce, etc; I can barely think of a female singer who hasn’t. Furthermore, All About That Bass was a statement: despite it’s flaws, it was a woman taking on the cultural zeitgeists of her time and fighting against them. To then follow that genre-breaking song up with something that any other female artist in her genre could sing just seems to me to be a shame. It seems to me like it’s playing things safe.

Indeed, that’s the problem I have with the whole song. The similar instrumentation, the clumsy way that the “Bass” references are inserted into the lyrics, the fact that the video uses the same pastel colours and mise-en-scene style that All About That Bass did – I feel like the entirety of this song is designed to make me think of Meghan Trainor’s last one. Which implies to me that the record company either a) didn’t think that this would become a hit on it’s own, or b) don’t think Meghan Trainor is going to have another hit without linking it to her last one. It seems to me like they’re all playing it safe because they don’t trust the material to stand on it’s own. Of course, it doesn’t stand on it’s own, because it’s derivative and boring. But it’s derivative and boring because it’s playing it safe. It’s playing it safe because it doesn’t believe it can stand up on it’s own. It’s caught in a vicious cycle; it’s not it’s own song anymore. Releasing this song after All About That Bass just seems to me to have been a big mistake.

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The real shame of all this is that, in many ways, Lips Are Moving is a much better song than All About That Bass. The music is a lot faster which makes it more immediate; add that to some pretty good insults in the lyrics (“You’re full of something but it ain’t love”) alongside Trainor’s trademark confident delivery and you have a song that manages to pull a surprisingly good punch. I don’t hear the underserved smugness of All About That Bass here, I instead hear completely deserved righteousness. When taken on it’s own as a single musical entity, it works.

It is just a shame that the song’s genuinely good aspects are unable to escape the shadow cast by Trainor’s last hit. Hopefully her album Title and her future singles will have a bit more of their own personality to them (by the way, naming anything “Title” is never as clever as you think it is); otherwise Meghan Trainor will just become the woman who sang All About That Bass and a few minor hits that sound just like it. One Hit Wonderdom is a genuine possibility based on this track; it’ll be interesting to see if we even remember it come the end of the year.

So goodbye-bye-bye, bye-bye-bye.

A No. 1 Review: ‘Rather Be’ by Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne

This year, I’ve challenged myself to write a review of every song that manages to get to No. 1 in the UK charts. Here’s the latest one:

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Trying to run a blog about UK No. 1 singles has proved to be harder than I thought, if only because every review so far has presented itself as an complete challenge that somehow needs surpassing. Pitbull’s Timber was me starting the blog and therefore having to figure out exactly what type of reviewer I was going to be and from what perspective I would write my work. Happy then appeared and proved to be a challenge because it was in fact a song I actually liked, striking somewhat against the overly sardonic tone I had used for Timber. And now we have Rather Be, the UK’s latest No. 1, which has provided my most greatest challenge yet:

I hate this song. I should love it. And now I need to justify my hatred for this song without rendering my other reviews as hypocritical and rather obsolete. Oh the ever present joys.

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OK, so why should I like this song? The intro is fascinating and the mixing of classical violins with a purposely toned-down club beat is a really interesting idea. This is then backed-up by a topic that isn’t about sex or dancing but is instead about love, and about actual healthy life-affirming love at that. “We’re a thousand miles from comfort, we have travelled land and sea / But as long as you are with me, there’s no place I’d rather be.” That’s a great sentiment which elevates love without glorifying it, admitting that love isn’t perfect, that the most important effects of love are emotional rather than physical, and making you feel as if the singer is genuinely talking about a relationship rather than singing a standard love song because love songs sell. There’s an importance to the song’s subject – they aren’t just someone you met at a club earlier that night – and therefore there’s an importance to song itself. There’s actual emotion here and something to become actively invested in.

If Putbull’s Timber represents club music at it’s most base, vulgar and meaningless, Rather Be thus represents club music that’s heart-felt, intricate and meaningful. It takes all my problems with club music and remodulates the genre so as to fix those flaws: it’s a song with a strong beat that you can dance to, yet it’s also a song with meaning and interest that you can listen to. In short, it’s the type of club music that I’ve been asking for for years. So the next question: if this song is so great, why do I hate it so much?

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Answer: because it’s shit. Utter idiotic crap. The vocals at first sound distinctive but soon turn out to just not be very good. As nice a sentiment as the chorus is, the words are so messily crammed into the tune that it renders the song’s center piece chorus as “If you give me a chance, I would take it / A shot in the dark but I will make it / Knowwiturlsdfhsdfdfgndfiarr you can’t shame me / When I am with you there’s no place I’d rather be”, something which rather flies in the face of a song that, up until that point, has mostly relied on using a purposely low-key sound to deliver a simple emotional statement as directly as possible. This is compounded by the fact we get literally no information about the song’s love interest at all. The one thing we’re told about him is that, when compared to the narrator, he’s “different and the same”. Which tells us nothing. Indeed, the lines directly after that one seems to be talking directly about how formless a character he is: “[I/We] gave you a different name \ Switch up the batteries”. I don’t even know that means on a literal level but it just gives the impression of a character who’s outward characteristics are completely interchangeable and therefore rather pointless. And the “switch up the batteries” line just gives me the impression of a man who’s dead. As far as I can tell, this song is sung to an Energiser Bunny. Why couldn’t it be: it’s not like we’re ever told anything that denies that.

And because the entire song is based on just how much the narrator loves this man, who I must stress is no-one in particular, we never get to see who the narrator is either. All we get is that she’s extremely dedicated to this one person for no particular reason, and all I can extrapolate from that is the narrator therefore just seems to be extremely, excruciatingly needy. I’m sorry, did I say that “Rather Be represents club music at it’s most heart-felt, intricate and meaningful” two paragraphs ago? No, I was wrong. This song is still meaningless. In fact, I think this song has less meaning for me than Timber is, and half of Timber‘s lyrics are Pitbull endlessly repeating the word “Timber”.

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Timber at least knows that it’s mindless shit. It never tries to be anything but mindless shit. You walk into it expecting mindless shit, you leave having heard mindless shit. In this way, at least Timber can be described as honest. That song is what it wants to be. Rather Be meanwhile is downright deceitful. It uses classical violins and a down-key beat to give eratz class to a song that is as shallow and vapid as any other club song of the past decade. It’s my exact definition of pretentious: a piece of work that apes the tropes of greater works without the talent or intelligence to back it up. It’s like covering a vacuum in glitter; it’s a complete and utter waste of your time.

Despite that, I’m glad the song is a success. More than that, I hope it proves influential. It represents a move in the buying public towards more intelligent sounding songs and towards more interesting music drawn from a wider range of influences. We’re sick of one-night stands and are finally showing signs of looking for an true relationship. Now that this song has proven that “smarter” work can sell, hopefully it’ll convince people with actual intelligence and skill to throw their hands into the ring and therefore hopefully we’ll get some pop music actually worth looking for depth in. Rather Be is the first step towards a new era of hugely superior pop; I just hope that will eventually be remembered as an awkward first step as opposed than the all-encompassing piece that actually set the trend.

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