pop music

The Forty Ounce, Episode 15: Another Episode About Pitbull

 

If you’ve ever listened to The Forty Ounce, me and Daniel’s pop-music podcast, you know about our obsession with Pitbull, a.k.a. Mr. 305 a.k.a Mr. Worldwide. So, it should come as no surprise that we did a podcast celebrating the release of Pitbull’s new album. 

On this episode of the Forty Ounce, the science is in on Global Warming, and we’re not talking about climate change!

Pitbull’s newest album, Global Warming, has been released, and this podcast is the only place you can hear Jason and Daniel experience it for the first time. Having learned nothing from their experience with Rebelution, Jason and Daniel go through all sixteen tracks of the new album! Will they love it? Probably!

This episode is a little messy, because we listened to (nearly) each track for the first time before talking about it. Also, it’s an hour long. Hopefully we still managed to keep things interesting. Hey, at least we’ve got enthusiasm! That has to count for something, right?

50 Ways To Say Goodbye, or The Lyrical Inadequacies of Patrick Monahan

I have a love/hate relationship with the band Train, but when they released “50 Ways To Say Goodbye,” I had to take notice. I have a huge musical soft spot for catchy, up-beat songs about dark, depressing subjects and “50 Ways,” with its mariachi-style horns and lyrics about a chronic liar describing all the ways his partner died, is right up my alley. Also, I’m pretty sure the title is a Paul Simon reference, and hey, who doesn’t love a good Paul Simon reference?

I’m flattered that Train cares so much about having me as a listener, but I still have some reservations… and most of them have to do with the lyrics of front man Patrick Monahan. It all began with “Hey, Soul Sister,” the inescapable song that transformed Train from a one-single-an-album band that barely existed after “Drops of Jupiter” into a full-on pop radio fixture.

“Hey, Soul Sister” was a song that wore out its welcome fast, but I’m not immune to the allure of a strong melody—far from it, in fact—so I was onboard with it for a while. I tried to ignore the lyrics for a while, but in the end, I couldn’t deny how terrible they were. First of all, I guess “Mr. Mister” is an easy rhyme for “soul sister,” but I find it hard to believe anyone has ever “moved” to a Mr. Mister song. And the less said, the better about the embarrassing, “So gangster, I’m so thug” line from the bridge.

The less-successful-but-still-ever-present follow-up “If It’s Love” had a noticeably weaker melody, which put more pressure on the lyrics to not be terrible. For most of the song, they weren’t! The first verse in particular has a set of lines about the narrator’s fears about married life: after a lifetime of hearing stories and jokes about unhappy marriages, he’s understandably a little worried that his own might go sour. But he loves this woman, so he’s doing his best to put all that aside. It’s a sentiment that rarely gets expressed in our culture, much less in our pop music, and I for one found it refreshing!

One problem, though: two lines earlier, in the middle of the verse, Monahan spits out this couplet: “My feet have been on the floor, flat like an idle singer/Remember Winger? I digress.”

What is that? Why is that in the song? Is it supposed to be a joke? He says, “I digress,” as if this was a live conversation he was having instead of, you know, a song. I guess no one ever told Pat Monahan what a “second draft” was.

The rest of the lyrics to the song are equal parts charming and goofy, and the song as a whole would be an acceptable-to-good Top 40 song if it weren’t for that stupid digression Monahan makes for the sake of an unfunny reference to a band that, no, Pat, I don’t remember.

And then came “Drive-By.” Oh, “Drive By.” Again, great melody, and the verses are propulsive and catchy, but then you get to the chorus…. Look, I can almost ignore those two lines of “If It’s Love,” because it’s just two lines. But “Drive-By” has an incredibly dumb metaphor imbedded in the chorus, so I get to hear it three times during the song, and each time is like having a sewing needle plunged into my brain.

The culprit? “Just a shy guy/looking for a two-ply/Hefty bag to hold my love?” Huh? So, your love is garbage? That must be what he’s saying, I don’t know what else it could possibly mean…. but that can’t be what he wanted to say, because that wouldn’t make any sense. So, I’m stuck trying to figure out what sort of deranged mind would put that metaphor in a love song, and meanwhile, the song is rolling on through the second verse, and now we’re back at the chorus, and I’m so annoyed I have to change to station. Good job, Pat, you ruined another fine song with your lyrical diarrhea.

I’m sorry; I actually hate the phrase “verbal diarrhea” or any variation on it. It’s like “brain fart,” it’s super gross and you easily say something else. Let’s pretend I said something a little cleverer like, “Good job, Pat, you ruined another fine song with your unfiltered crap-spewing brain”. There, that’s good. But, I digress.

Wasn’t that kind of annoying? Well, you know what, Monahan? I learned it from watching you. I learned it from watching you!

“50 Ways to Say Goodbye” mostly avoids this trap by picking one lyrical idea and sticking to it: this guy can’t deal with his girlfriend leaving him, so he’s lying to all of his friends about what happened to her. It’s darkly comic, kind of farcical, and it works… right up until the end of the second verse.

Someday I’ll find a love like yours

She’ll think I’m Superman

Not super-minivan

How could you leave on Yom Kippur?

What happened here, Monahan? This is a huge step back. Those other lines are stupid, but at least I knew what they meant (at least I think I know what a hefty-bag full of love is meant to symbolize). This? I don’t even know what’s going on. The narrator’s girlfriend thought he was… super-minivan? So she thought he was uncool? Is that what the joke is? That minivans are lame? Ha… ha?

And that Yom Kippur thing… if the narrator is Jewish, then it kind of makes sense, but since there’s no mention of Jewishness in the rest of the song, it just comes off as a cheap joke, something intended to illicit a laugh just because it sounds silly and not because it’s actually funny. And you know what? I think that’s exactly what’s happening here.

In the many hours I spent dwelling upon this line, a possibility occurred to me, as I am sure it has occurred to you: maybe Pat Monahan is Jewish! Well, it turns out, he isn’t, which I discovered when a Google search lead me to my new favorite blog, “Jewish or Not?”

Never change, internet.

“So,” asks no one, “If you could leave Patrick Monahan with one piece of advice, what would it be?”

Patrick, you are, at least by the technical definition, a songwriter. Specifically, you are the songwriter for an adult-contemporary rock band. Your job is to craft a set of lyrics that go with music. Ideally, these lyrics should tell a story, or make a point, or capture an emotion… and you’ve almost got it! But all of the lyrics in a song need to fit inside of whatever theme you’re exploring. If you want to throw in a quick, humorous aside, it needs to be relevant.

Here’s the most frustrating part, Pat: I know you’re capable of doing this, because I’ve seen you do it. Remember the first verse of “Meet Virginia,” a character study about a quirky woman and the man who loves her? In the midst of a long description of the titular character, we have the line, “Smokes a pack a day/Wait, that’s me/But, anyway.”

That sort of thing is fine! In fact, it’s downright good, because it plays with our expectations and gives us a little insight into the song’s narrator. I don’t know how you got from that to “super-minivan,” but… well, there’s no “but,” really, you just need to stop doing it.

That’s What Makes You Beautiful(?)

(Note: I actually wrote this back in March, but it’s just been sitting awkwardly on the Forty Ounce webpage, and I thought it’d make more sense to have it over here. Plus, I still kind of like it. Enjoy!)

So, boy-bands are still a thing. Is that weird to anyone else?

In 2009, a band called V-Factory had a minor hit with the song “Love Struck.” When I heard that song on the radio, I remember thinking, “wow, these guys are about seven years too late.” I thought it was kind of ridiculous. A boy-band, in this day and age? Here? Now? I thought that time was long behind us, and when V-Factory quickly disappeared from the charts–and, I assume, existence–it only reinforced that notion.

But it looks like I was wrong, because now a whole new generation of boy-bands have appeared and if they’re not the cultural sensations that *NYSYNC and the Backstreet Boys were, well, at least people care about them. Sorry, V-Factory. This new wave of boy bands includes groups like The Wanted (who we discussed on the podcast), Big Time Rush (who exist simultaneously as a real band and a fake band on a Nickelodeon show) and OneDirection.

OneDirection has a song out right now, the incredibly catchy “What Makes You Beautiful”. I’d really like to get behind this song, because it’s got a lot of elements I find very appealing in pop music: it’s driven, it’s up-beat, and it has lyrics that are enjoyable in how goofy and kind of bad they are.

So c-come on

You got it wrong

To prove I’m right,

I put it in a song!

First of all: no, no you didn’t. I don’t know who exactly is singing this verse, but I’m fairly sure it’s not one of the swedish guys that actually wrote this song.

Second: does putting something in a song actually make it any more true? If the entire history of gangsta rap is any indication, I’d say the exact opposite is probably more accurate.

Still, those lyrics are kind of charming. But there is another set of lyrics in this song that really give me pause, and these lyrics are especially problematic because they form the basic idea/narrative of the entire song. They form the climax of the song’s chorus and even give the song its name. The lines in question?

You don’t know you’re beautiful,

That’s what makes you beautiful.

Uh… well, I guess the general sentiment of that is sweet. This girl that the narrator is talking to doesn’t realize just how beautiful she is, and he’s giving her a pep-talk. He’s basically telling her that she shouldn’t be so down on herself. He even says that she shouldn’t use make-up, because she doesn’t even need it! Because she’s already so beautiful just being herself! Awwww. What a nice, positive message.

Except it’s not. It’s actually creepy and weird, and makes me think that if the narrator and this girl got together, it would be a really unhealthy relationship. According to the narrator,  this girl is beautiful because she doesn’t know she’s beautiful. But that means that if this girl knew she were beautiful–if she had, you know, some confidence or self-esteem–she wouldn’t be beautiful.

See what I mean? The narrator is ostensibly paying this girl a nice compliment, but he’s also saying that if she ever takes this compliment to heart, he’ll lose interest in her. It’s like the Catch-22 of love songs. And it isn’t like I’m reading too much into the song, closely examining the structure of each sentence and the meaning of each word, looking for an alternative interpretation of what should be an innocent little tune. I’m just reading the lyrics of the song and proceeding logically from them. I honestly don’t think I’m making that big of a jump, either. Anyone who looks at that statement logically should see that what this dude’s saying has a dark subtext.

But… this isn’t a song for people who look at statements logically. This song, like most pop songs, is made for a certain audience, and we must keep this in mind. I am referring, of course, to the Teenage Girl Theory, which states that, in order to appreciate a piece of pop music, you need to look at it from the point of view of its intended audience: a teenage girl. And anyone who went to high school can tell you that the typical teenage girl is not exactly overflowing with self-confidence.

The truth is, this song is targeting an audience made up of awkward and often unhappy young women. And when they hear a song like this, they’re not going to spend time examining the subtext or evaluating the meaning or whatever other stupid thing they had to do in English class that day. They’re going to take it at face value, and considering how downright terrible it can feel to be a teenager, the fantasy of a (presumably dashing and handsome) man telling you how wonderful and special you are has a certain appeal. So, I can’t exactly blame them.

But really, that just makes me more concerned about this song. I don’t want to apply any nefarious or conspiratorial motives to the creators of this song; they probably just set out to make a catchy pop song, and they’ve done that. But do young women really need another piece of entertainment telling them to not value themselves? Especially a piece of entertainment that’s designed to appeal exclusively to them, with catchy, simple melodies being sung by adorable young men?

I don’t think we need to do away with the idea of boy-bands in general… but maybe the world would be better off if we let OneDirection go the way of V-Factory.

The Forty Ounce, Episode 12: The Eschatology of Pitbull (or) We Are Telepathic Now

After almost two months of inactivity, me and Daniel Dockery are back with a new episode of our pop-music podcast.

This time we’re talking about Usher, Cher Lloyd, the Killers, and of course, our favorite little chico/the greatest rapper in the world/Mr. 305/Mr. Worldwide/Possible Prophet/Self-Proclaimed Creator Of The World, Pitbull.

My favorite part of this episode is that Daniel and I both agreed to take something out, but instead I left it in and moved the second take to the end of the podcast. Sorry, Daniel!

Then What Happened: Aaron Carter

I wrote an article about Aaron Carter for Forces of Geek. I watched the entirety of “House of Carters” for research, so don’t tell me that I don’t suffer for my art.

Aaron was popular because he was the cute little brother of one of the Backstreet Boys. If you were a fan of BSB, you were probably closer to Aaron’s age than to Nick’s, so, in a weird way, Aaron was the more approachable of the two. He was just like you! He threw parties and got into trouble with his parents, he fantasized about being really good at sports, he had nation-wide tour with the A-Teens… you know, just normal tween stuff.

Note that I pointedly did not mention that I actually saw Aaron and the A-Teens on that tour. I like to include a personal anecdote in these articles whenever I can, but I do have my dignity.

(also, I did not put together the pictures/captions for this article, which I only point out because the caption beneath that picture of Paris Hilton is kind of weird. everything else is cool, though.)