Top Of The Pops: Issue date 6/30/07
Last month I decided to return to one of my childhood loves–Top 40 radio–after an extended period of estrangement, and write about what I heard. Even if sales charts aren't as good at telling us which songs people really like these days, there's still no better time capsule than a weekly Billboard chart. By missing the radio for so long I feel like I've been missing an important piece of the present. So, I'm looking to do some re-discoverin.' But since I still don't like listening to the actual radio, I downloaded the Top 10 from (the already out-of-date) June 30, 2007 Hot 100 chart and graded them, A.V. Club style.
1. Rihanna, "Umbrella"
Shocking critical hypocrisy No. 1: If Jeff Tweedy wrote a song where he used an umbrella as a metaphor for the love and support of a good friend or lover, he would be crucified by music critics for lyrical laziness--if not outright stupidity--especially if he somehow turned umbrella into a four-syllable word in the song's mindlessly catchy chorus. However, if the same song is performed by a pop star like Rihanna, music critics (always wary of being called elitist by their hipster-hating hipster readers) will look the other way and write some gibberish about all-consuming blankness being an aesthetic asset. (As Pitchfork did in its review of Rihanna's new album.) I can't decide if this is more unfair to Tweedy or Rihanna. Because I respect Rihanna and her as-of-now repressed razor-sharp smarts, I must take the high road and conclude that "Umbrella" sucks. Grade: C.
2. Shop Boyz, "Party Like A Rockstar"
When I was hopelessly addicted to Rock Star: Supernova last summer, I made a list of rock 'n' roll items that have been drained of their coolness by shows like Rock Star: Supernova: tattoos, the "devil horns" rocker hand sign, Mohawks, leather pants, Dave Navarro, body piercings, heavy drinking, partying, band names like "Supernova". Shop Boyz, an Atlanta-based rap group backed by rock instrumentation (dubbed "hood rock"), pick up the Rock Star: Supernova torch with this horribly monotonous, by-the-numbers celebration of an outmoded image of rock excess. Party like a rockstar? You mean like Daughtry, or that cowardly lion motherfucker from Nickelback? Where do I sign up? Grade: D.
3. Fergie, "Big Girls Don't Cry"
I was hoping I could write one of these Top 10 columns without encountering yet another Fergie hit single, but no such luck. The acoustic guitar lick at the opening tells you it's going to be a more reflective Fergie this time around. Indeed, Fergie tells us plaintively in the chorus that "myself and I have some straightening out to do." Unfortunately, this solipsistic ménage a trois (assuming Fergie counts "Fergie" as separate from myself and I) proves to be far less compelling that her slow-motion spelling of "glamorous" in her previous hit, "Glamorous." My theory on Fergie's solo career is that she's trying to prove that "My Humps" wasn't such a bad song after all, relatively speaking. And it's working. Grade: D+.
4. T-Pain, "Buy U A Drank"
Shocking critical hypocrisy No. 2: A music critic will argue in one paragraph that the same lyrical standard should be applied to all artists, whether it's a respected indie rocker or a airheaded pop singer, and then turn around a few paragraphs later and vouch for the greatness of a song called "Buy U A Drank." Sad, but true: As I stated in my first Billboard column last month, "Buy U A Drank" is just a simple, surprisingly sweet ballad about buying a girl a darn drank. It also includes the most stupid-brilliant use of a vocoder in a pop song since Cher's "Believe." And, against all odds, I like it more every time I hear it. Grade: B+ (up from B).
5. Plain White T's, "Hey There Delilah"
Plain White T's is one of those faceless emo bands people over the age of 15 hate because people under the age of 15 love it. But, based on the music and not its awful band name, Plain White T's isn't bad at all. Proving once again that Green Day is The Beatles for young'uns, "Hey There Delilah" is an acoustic guitar 'n' strings ballad that rewrites "Good Riddance" but is actually a smidge less cloying, even if Plain White T's will end up scoring middle school dances instead of high school graduations. Grade: B.
6. Maroon 5, "Makes Me Wonder"
It's only a matter of time before Maroon 5's latest smash is appearing in trailers for crappy Matthew McConaughey romantic comedies, but I still like it. Adam Levine wants to be a blacker Justin Timberlake, but "Makes Me Wonder" reminds me more of a funkier Steely Dan. (Knocked Up notwithstanding, getting compared to Steely Dan should never be considered a dis.) Donald Fagen would be proud of how Levine packs so much bile into an innocuously loungey pop song. Grade: B+ (down from A-).
7. Avril Lavigne, "Girlfriend"
If Avril is the motherfucking princess, Toni Basil is still the motherfucking queen, and Lavigne's "Mickey" re-write "Girlfriend" has proven less durable than its wedding reception source material. And getting compared unfavorably to Toni Basil should always be considered a dis. Grade: B- (down from B).
8. Justin Timberlake, "Summer Love"As the sole A.V. Club writer to recognize the brilliance of FutureSex/LoveSounds in our best music of 2006 issue, I should be all over this joint. But the plodding "Summer Love" is the song I always skip on that record. I would much rather J.T. release the will.i.am track "Damn Girl" as a single--which I realize is the second implicit defense of "My Humps" in this column, but still. "Summer Love" is just such an obvious choice from a record that's otherwise thrillingly unpredictable. We get it--"Summer Love," in the summer, blah blah blah. Grade: B-.
9. Amy Winehouse, "Rehab"
Here's another song I don't really like from an album I love. "Rehab" is essentially a novelty number where Winehouse attempts to deflect criticism by mocking her worst traits before anybody else can–though in this regard "Rehab" is a complete failure. But since this song is a hit, I still have hope that "Love Is A Losing Game" will hit the radio and become the defining heartbreak ballad of our time. Grade: B-.
10. Lil Mama, "Lip Gloss"
Surely the Neptunes have already spoken to their lawyers about this obvious rip-off. At least it's a well-made rip-off, and since most people will assume the Neptunes did this anyway, no harm no foul. I also like that fact that Lil Mama has titled her forthcoming debut album Voice Of The Young People–everybody from Bob Dylan to Kurt Cobain to Thom Yorke have rejected that tag, but not Lil Mama. Grade: B+.