Dispatches From The Mainstream: 1/16/2013

Ludacris feat. Usher & David Guetta – Rest of My Life

Is someone trying to turn Ludacris into Pitbull? Because “Rest of My Life” is basically a remake of “Give Me Everything”—complete with the rallying cry of partying as a life-affirming act—with Usher standing in for Ne-Yo and the original breadwinner for D.T.P. in the place of Mr. Worldwide.

I’m not even complaining, really. Ludacris has enough personality in his voice alone to still be fun in the measly eight-line verses that Pitbull has restricted himself to, and a team-up with Usher is always welcome if just to hear Ludacris call him “Ursher.” A David Guetta-produced “here’s to life”-anthem just seems like an odd fit for a guy who once released an album called Chicken-n-Beer and whose two best songs are about getting into fights for no reason. Then again, one of Luda’s biggest hits was the uncharacteristically dramatic “Runaway Love,” so I guess most people are just looking for a different version of Ludacris than I am.

Whether this song is a case of executive meddling—entirely possible, as Luda’s recent singles have not been charting well—or just an artist exploring his secret love of European dance music, it’s not that bad. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the friction between Luda’s low-brow “Women, Weed and Alcohol”-based persona and D. Guetta’s unabashed pursuit of epic highs . The music video is especially bizarre, since Luda’s videos have historically been a little less “slow motion, emerging from the smoke” and a little more “giant cartoon hands” and “Austin Powers homage”. It’s a fun kind of bizarre, but I hope that Luda’s next single has a little more Luda.

Olly Murs feat. Flo-Rida – Troublemaker

Olly Murs is fine. He made a nice little career for himself in the UK before breaking through in America with “Heart Skips A Beat.” His only crime so far has been inadvertently tricking me into listening to Chiddy Bang. But I don’t want to talk about Olly Murs, I want to talk about Flo-Rida.

I don’t know if Flo-Rida has ever enjoyed rapping. The best things about his songs have always been the beat and the chorus. The chorus usually features a guest artist, but the weird thing is, Flo-Rida sings along with the chorus. He’s been doing it since “Low,” and while that sort of thing isn’t unusual for a singer, it’s kind of weird for a rapper. It’s there, though, if you listen closely: somewhere in the mix of every Flo-Rida chorus is the man himself, drenched in auto-tune and wailing along with whatever pop star/sample he’s built his song around.

Even in what we’ll charitably call Flo-Rida’s “lyrics,” the actual words have always taken a backseat to the rhythm he delivers them in. “Club Can’t Handle Me” is a fantastic song, but Flo’s verses are only good in the way they enhance the beat underneath. Then there are catastrophes like “I Cry,” which veers between condescending and disrespectful. Oh, really, Flo? The mass shooting in Norway made your whole day go sour? That’s rough, buddy. Not to mention the bridge: “When I need a healing, I just look up to the ceiling/I see the sun coming down, I know it’s all better now.” Flo is (probably) trying to tell us that his faith helps him through hard times, but it’s like he doesn’t know quite how to put the words together to form a coherent thought.

And now, in Troublemaker, Flo-Rida abandons rapping entirely. He’s just singing. It’s not as out-of-place as it would be if he featured on a rap song, but it’s still strange that he doesn’t even pretend to do the thing he was hired to do. Thing is, it’s not actually a bad bridge, even if it falls apart on close inspection: Flo, that’s not what Wyclef Jean was talking about when he said he would be gone ‘till November. It turned out better than it would have if he had tried to rap.

At this point, Flo needs to fully commit. He should go full-on 808s And Heartbreak (or, let’s be honest, full-on Rebirth) and just do an album full of straight singing. The vocals may be processed into oblivion, but at least it’ll be catchy… though the lyrics probably won’t make sense.

OneDirection – Little Things

In the morally deficient world of the “pickup artist” there’s this thing called “negging,” which basically means insulting a girl in order to lower her defenses, leaving her vulnerable to your lame, gross advances. The way I understand it, an effective neg has to be part of a longer, less overtly creepy conversation. After all, just walking up to a woman and insulting her isn’t going to get you anywhere; you have to at least say something nice so that she’ll have a reason to keep paying attention to you. Anyway, that’s what I think is happening in the new OneDirection song.

I’ve complained before about the darker side of OneDirection, and I understand that I’m being a little sensitive, but here’s the thing with boy bands: their songs are made to appeal to teenage girls. It’s different from a genre like hip-hop, which is highly problematic and often attracts a young audience, but at least isn’t built from the top-down to appeal to 12-year-olds. When you listen to the lyrics of an OneDirection song, you need to hear them the way a young girl would hear them.

And yeah, I get it: most girls are going to listen to this song and take it the way it was meant to be taken, as a proclamation of devotion in which the smaller, flawed things about a person are part of what make them special. I’m not against that in theory, but some of the things that the song singles out—“You still have to squeeze into your jeans”—seem less like little quirks and more like things that a guy points out to make his target feel self-conscious. Not letting your girlfriend know that she talks in her sleep isn’t cute, it’s actually kind of creepy. The worst part is the bridge. “You’ll never love yourself half as much as I love you”, like the chorus of “What Make You Beautiful”, is only sweet on the surface.  It suggests that if the girl ever gained any self-worth, the guy would split. It’s about 5% adorable and 95% manipulative. In fact, that pretty much sums up the entire band.

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