And so it’s X Factor season once more. And by some grand, certainly-not-orchestrated coincidence, the children of X Factor are back. TWO WEEKS AGO #1 Olly Murs – Please Don’t Let Me Go To this day, I haven’t heard this song on the radio or seen it on any music channels. I would, of course, skip straight past it. But, still, I haven’t been given the chance. Which raises the question how exactly it became #1. The actual content of the song is probably the answer: Take That piano/straining-vocals opening. Easy cheery singalong bit. The usual wet earnest pop-boy sentiment.Familiar music; Lyrics you’re sure you’ve heard before; that bit, isn’t that..? – and then your brain gives up from sheer boredom. I’m being unfair. A bit. I’d pre-decided my opinion on this, pretty much. X Factor is the one thing that can harm my modern-day poptimistic outlook on music, especially when it means . I was actually pro-Rage last Christmas. It brings out the angry teen in me. Being fair: the opening, at least on this video, is actually a bit interesting. It’s all degraded, old record texture; unfortunately, then the song proper kicks in and it’s bland, it’s non-threatening, it’s … I’m sorry, being fair is hard. Another disinterested sigh of a #1, readers. ONE WEEK AGO #1 Alexandra Burke – Start Without You This is much more silly. Which is possibly X-Factor-output’s highest calling. I’ve noticed some strong reactions to this from various pop-inclined friends and relatives. Ugh, turn it off, can’t stand it. But I quite like it. It probably helps that I first saw this on breakfast-time TV (see? This one actually gets played), with Alexandra Burke in her underwear and similarly ridiculously-dressed muscled sailor men. I was groggy, it was strange, I went back to bed. Seaside souvenir shop tacky chorus. Multiple Boom!s. “I’m like a beast”. Garbled cyber-goblin voices. Again, I admit the role bias plays. A lot of the stuff in here, if it had caught me a different way, would be listed with the usual pop-crimes: not least its continuation of the recent theme of pointless dancefloor setting. It is a bit rubbish (see: the rap) but its heart seems to be in the right place. (And it actually has one, which is hardly guaranteed with X-Factor stuff). I reckon it deserved a #1, just about. File alongside Green Light. I won’t listen to it again, no guarantee I won’t turn the radio over, even. But it tickles something in me. And as I put the finishing touches to this, ‘today’ clicks around. A new Top Forty, a new #1. Will it be good? Will I write about it in the actual week it comes out? Find out in the next installment of … NUMBER ONE.
I deliver this missive from Murcia, Espana. I should be holidaying but I love you guys too much and I’ve missed two hott new Number Ones already. Here are some words on them. #1. Roll Deep – Green LightJust wholesomely rubbish enough to work, I think. The central metaphor strained to breaking point (“Stop/Take a Look, left and right/Is it clear for me to go?”), a video which is just the various differing-values-of-ridiculous members (my favourite? Either the guy with the shades and top-knot, or the guy who looks like a chubby Jon Tickle) in front of block colours, genuine road signs, and the occasional shot of an actual traffic light. I’m hardly desperate for the opportunity to dance to this, but I probably wouldn’t change stations if it came on the radio. It is, if I’m being completely honest, the kind of song I guiltily catch myself enjoying in the shower before realising I’ve been singing along for the last two minutes without noticing. #1. Taio Cruz – Dynamite Meanwhile, something about this is more insidious and lazy. I briefly considered just cut-and-pasting an old review for one of the other generic-R&B Number Ones, but I’m wearing that particular rant a bit thin, I think (in conversation moreso: the words generic and R&B having been sighed so frequently recently that I’m starting to get a little self-conscious about it). So I’ll try instead to point out what makes this particular selection so offensive to my tastes in an easy-to-read point-by-point style: -Repeating ‘throw my hands up/ayo’ in a way that caters to the lowest-common dancefloor denominator and has absolutely nothing to do with the song. -The phrase “I’m wearing all my favourite brands”. Humanity as it currently exists has been proved obsolete; please welcome Homo Nikeus, the very pinnacle of capitalism’s long evolution process. -Being yet another song about what precisely the protagonist plans to do in the club. -Using autotuned vocals in a way that adds precisely nothing to the qualities of the music except sounding a bit weird. Except, oh, guess what: it sounds completely unsurprising given that approximately twenty-three thousand* songs have used this particular. -Actually, scratch that first criticism. The song isn’t actually about anything, is it? It doesn’t even have the usual novelty hook, or twist on the formula and instead chooses to be a series of small semi-coherent collections of words on the general theme of being in the club. More terrible dynamite/explosive analogies next time, please. -Somehow managing to make its presentation of girls in the video more leery and touching-yourself-behind-a-reflective-screen than the current par for music videos. -Ending on a completely unearned self-congratulating applause when, in fact, the sound of someone miming putting a gun to their head would be much more apt. Two mediocre-to-poor Number Ones, anyway. Roll on this week’s hot pick, selected entirely at random by the atrophying twitch-reflexes of the discerning music-buying public. *Values accurate to the nearest twenty-three-thousand.
Today being Thursday, I realise this is ridiculously delayed, for a combination of good personal reasons and a less professional but nonetheless all-pervading dread of this week’s song. But if this has any chance of being the semi-regular feature I want it to be, I have to finish it before next week’s. Which hopefully won’t be delayed. Flo Rida – The Club Can’t Handle Me (feat. David Guetta) A week or so ago, young Miles came to me – I am, after all, a doctor of Pitchforkism, just as I am a doctor of love – with a problem. This song, Club Can’t Handle Me by Flo Rida and David Guetta, two artists whose previous music he had no love for him, it worked for him. So I listened to it, and found I was not suffering from the same affliction. It’s not as obnoxious as I remembered, as I reluctantly gave up my LCD Soundsystem and typed in those words into Spotify’s search bar, huffing like the petulant indie-child I am. It is, dare I say it, actually a little fun, and I can see why it would make sense for someone, but that person is not me. Except for the bit at the beginning, where Flo (presumably this is how we are to refer to this ridiculously monickered gentleman) shouts out to his track companion “I see you D. Guetta, let’s get ’em”. This bit is solid gold.
I am doing this, for the first time, before knowing the result. The chart unfolds before us. Ooh, exciting, eh? So, in the meantime, let’s catch up on the missed weeks of hott Number One Hits. Looking at what I’ve missed, I see I’m going to hate myself for doing this… FOUR WEEKS AGOKaty Perry – California Gurls Again. One time too many, by my reckoning. Was it even still sunny? THREE WEEKS AGOThe Club is Alive – JLSWhat exactly keeps the pop-Frankenstein that is JLS alive baffles me. What sustenance feeds this monster? The hearts of young gullible girls, and mid-twenties girls who should know better, snatched late at night? When it lifts – argh – it lifts its shirt, to show what lies beneath, is the correct response not to be repulsed? The Club is Alive is a perfect example of this shambling undead mess. Look how it masquerades as one of us, so desperate to convince us it is ‘Alive’ at it assembles itself from a set of below-adequate parts. A weird The Sound of Music sample, as shown to be pop-poison by Gwen Stefani not all that long ago. Bargain-bin electro-effects, cheap tinny synths and melting voices. The refrain “you can be the DJ, I can be the dancefloor/you can get up on me” which apart from its failings to make any sense as an analogy, doesn’t even sound snappy. 1, 2, 3, bleeding 4… You question which element, exactly, came first and was considered good enough to have a song built around it. This is not just poorly reanimated pop, it is the Tesco Value Frankenstein, a sellotaped-together selection of dull, unattractive parts that do not add up to a whole.(The chart countdown reveals that it won’t be this All Time Low song that makes #1. Phew.)TWO WEEKS AGOAirplanes – B.o.B. (feat. Hayley Williams)So, if M.I.A. is Maya, this guy is Bob? That’s just not good enough for pop music. Fittingly, neither is this. Which is where I could finish. It’s certainly not as deserving of my ire as JLS, being a moderately good song. Bringing in mediocre female rock vocals in actually hurts the song, which when Bob’s flow gets going – apart from the annoying tendency to drop at the end of a line – has a certain urgency to it. But the chorus sounds like generic R&B trying to do Evanescence and, that being the bit we’ve all heard over and over for the last month, makes this song’s ubiquity … a bit hurtful, really. Did we not learn the first time, people? (And it’s not Eminem which … I’m actually a bit gutted about. I haven’t had chance to take any of the new Eminem stuff apart yet, and I am hungry to do so. Know this, Mr Mathers: I continue to be Very Disappointed in you.) ONE WEEK AGOWe No Speak Americano – Yolanda Be Cool vs D-CupThis is more like it. Summer novelty hit which I can’t actually quite get my head round. It’s like – along with that Stereo Love song – an attempt to reclaim the viral europop people used to bring back in their heads and their mouths from holidays on the Mediterrenean and have to find on tape back at home, if only to inoculate themselves. Where that song takes a pure retro route, however, this one is that phenomenon described to a DJ of five years in the future, whose record collection only stretches as far back as this January. It bends, flexes, plays with the raw materials in its metallic paws. It is an effortless Number One. I am congratulating it more than I probably actually like it as a song, because it is a Pop Hit Designed Only For Chart Domination and it is only proper and right that this was achieved. And we return, just in time for the announcement of This Week’s Official UK Chart Number One. And it is… TODAYNeYo – Beautiful Monster The radio announcement that convinced me I had to return to this idea, right now, was that the three possibilities for a number one were NeYo, Flo Rida and Tinchy Stryder. The way they meld into a generic internet-R&B-superstar-name-generator mush. It’s the names, for one. I forgot to add the name on first posting, and I genuinely had to check which one it was. I can’t tell them apart even by their ridiculous monickers, and the music – of course – doesn’t help. The Worst Bit:The lyrics, in the opening particularly, are delivered slowly enough to be actively painful. The My-First-Metaphor, the obvious rhymes, are so easy to spot you’d have to be politely looking away not to notice.The Best Bit:There are ’90s videogame noises which build, chopping, under the song at various points. There’s one bit where it actually sounds like it’s building to strobing lasers and , but it doesn’t go anywhere more than a slightly louder repetition of the chorus. But for one moment, there’s a thrilling promise. …I’m almost upset I used up my Frankenstein’s monster analogy on JLS, but maybe it would have been too obvious, given the title. It really does sound like one of the parts that was found at the roadside and stitched together for that monstrosity, though. But here’s the thing: while it was never going to reach the Gaga One, the pop-deity its title oh-so-subtly invokes, Beautiful Monster doesn’t even have the balls to be as terrible as JLS’ beast.
#2: Katy PerryCalifornia Gurls The first time I heard this song:I was in the shower, where I expose myself in a safe clean environment to the unstable isotopes of new pop music. Someone’s doing a cheap Katy Perry rip-off, I thought. And that’s a pretty good Snoop Dogg impression. Oh. That is Snoop and Perry. The last time I heard this song:I wonder how much two weeks of sunshine contributed to this being #1. Miles is right, its stabs at eroticism are a bit rubbish. It succeeds away from that stuff, on the sheer celebratory ‘isn’t everything great’ front. Miles and Edgar Wright are wrong about the popsicle melting bit, though. That’s brilliant. The best bit is where Snoop says stuff and Katy replies, in uber-autotuned robot voice (“Katy, my lady” “Yeahhh” “You lookin’ here baby?” “Uh huh”). California is one of those common recurring pop motifs (see: California Love, California Dreamin’, Californication, uh …. California). I’d really like to go and see if it’s all that, actually. I hope this isn’t #1 again next week. It was perfect for this amount of time but it’s not a three-weeker. Also I’m running out of things to say.
#1: Katy PerryCalifornia Gurls Katy Perry, whatever you might think of her, is certainly an efficient pop star. She appears, here and there, just enough to keep her name famous. She chooses her collaboratiosn wisely – Timbaland, 3oh!3, now Snoop Dogg? This girl knows what she’s doing. And I retain a soft spot for the girl who sings things like “Daisy Dukes with bikinis on top.”* In a world where even Christina Aguilera is experimenting with edgier music, she’s the female Justin Timberlake, the money-making business-woman embodiment of pop. She looks like the girl from 90210 who looks like a cheap replica of Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. It’s almost exactly the flip side of Snoop Dogg’s guest vocals on the Gorillaz’s Plastic Beach. The California tourist board must having an absolute field day with its endorsements. The song’s name is spelt stupidly… But, hell, it just works. You’re likely to be looking at me down your nose right now, but there’s a sense that Perry knows exactly how far she can push things. That, if you’re attuned to the right pop sensibility, Perry will never betray you. In an alternative, better universe of the UK, something else is #1: Robyn, maybe. That’s the same UK where we’re not all in mourning about the football right now, one way or the other. But California Gurls is perfect in-shower music, the kind of song you’re just happy to come on while you rub shampoo into those follicles, or while you drive from A to B. It’s a lower level of pop, maybe, but it’s that pop perfected. Some people, no doubt, wish they could all be California Gurls. *An expression I understand, for no logical reason, to mean hot pants and a bikini top. If this is confirmed to be true, then something magic is happening within the work of Ms Perry. She might in fact be a witch.