call me maybe

It’s the End of the Year as We Know It: THE MUSIC OF 2012

[Now with a handy Spotify playlist] If you have spent any time drinking with me in the latter half of this year, I’ve probably bemoaned that 2012 and I haven’t clicked musically. And not for lack of trying – apart from clawing at friend’s sleeves and demanding recommendations, the workday mix of Spotify, This is My Jam, and finally discovering BBC 6Music should’ve given me plenty of chances to dig up stuff I’d dig.There’s been plenty I liked, but not much I fell in love with. With some notable exceptions, of course. Notable exceptions Looking back at the year, two pop singles stand out – Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe, and Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. They’re sleek colossi of purest pop. Songs for dancing, for pretending you’re in a pop video to. They are, of course, filled with some of the most perfect Moments of 2012. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together is absolutely overstuffed with them – extra yeahs, switched intonations, the spoken asides. “Like, ever.” The way Taylor inserts a series of full stops in “Said. You. Needed. Space” and immediately follows it up with a fourth wall-breaking “what?”. The last bit is a raised eyebrow to her audience – can you believe this guy? – and though the song’s “you” is the (ex-ex-ex)boyfriend, you get the impression she’s talking to her mates here. The eye-rolling sneer of “some indie record that’s much cooler than mine”, and the layered-over laugh that follows.  It’s all put together to ensure you never get bored of its simple repeating chorus, that constant machine-gun punchline. The song itself comes off as slightly insecure, trying to convince the listener, which is just perfectly right given what it’s about. There are moments when another Taylor breaks in, impatient to hammer the point home. The song is constantly rushing forward, desperate to get to the second listen, the third, so much so that it forgets that the rest of the time it’s trying to convince you this is live, individual and performed just to you, because that’ll get you on side, right? True to her country music past (which, just FYI, I am actually very fond of) Taylor’s voice breaks and cracks, with occasional moments of show-offery. At the song’s end, the music drops out a second early, so Taylor’s voice can plant its flag one last time – a live outro if ever I heard one. By comparison, Call Me Maybe is much more controlled. It’s confident it knows how to push the right buttons, and it does. For its Moments, it mostly goes to stuff built into the structure of the song – the slow build of its opening, into the glitter-confetti explosion of the first chorus. The mid-song verse tumble of words, rushing past with no time for breath or line breaks, especially next to the sharp punctuation of each line of the chorus – that violiny stab, which is a Moment in itself. Turning up the drumbeat for the final couple of choruses. Every single time the volume peaks. And if we’re talking about outros, listen to the way the song’s close just melts out of existence, a trick last played on Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me a River. It knows it’s a pop record, and wants to remind you of that fact, but it’s also a big ‘Game Over’ screen. PLAY AGAIN? That’s pure confidence (of course you will), and just like the slight self-doubt of We Are Never…‘s delivery, it fits the subject. Jepsen makes it clear she knows all the other boys want her, so why wouldn’t this one?  It’s interesting because the pop archetype it’s tapping into – the fancying from afar song, so often the unrequited love song – is often the preserve of the boy looking nervously at his shoes.  Here, the consummation isn’t a foregone conclusion, but the power is undeniably in Jepsen’s hands. She’s a force of sexy nature. Honestly, it could be creepy with the gender roles reversed. Instead it’s an excellent bit of female gaze (see also: the video’s ripped abs moment). While most chart-bothering songs seek for new ways to tell a girl her tits look nice, her ass is perter than average, Jepsen delights in little thrilling details – those ripped jeans, skin was showing – which feel more like the marks of real human sexuality. And healthy sexuality too: there’s no shame here, no debasement. Ultimately, I think it’s telling that there’s no question mark at the end of the song’s title. There’s only question to ask, of both the listener and seducee: WHERE D’YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING, BABY? Dancing like a mutha I used to dislike dancing, at least in public, and not without reason: my body is clumsy, all elbows, and has little sense of rhythm. But as I get older, and have less and less opportunities to dance, it’s just another embarrassment I’ve learned to slough off. The most formative musical experiences I’ve had this year have all involved dancing – Grimes’ Oblivion pulling me into a warehouse in Ljubljana and setting off a night of furious dancing and repeatedly losing my friends. Atta Girl in Birmingham back in March, scribbled requests on my hands and being held aloft to Heaven is a Place on Earth. Various points throughout Sam Lewis’ wedding. But most of all, despite it being a comics event (and the best one in the UK), Thought Bubble in Leeds. At the mid-con party, I was the first one on the dancefloor, along with Dance-Comrade Tim Maytom, and we stuck there until it had filled, and they’d played Call Me Maybe twice, and it was triumphant. But being quiet means DJs can take the opportunity to play songs you’d never heard before, or only in the confines of your bedroom, and getting to test them on a live dancefloor. Especially, I’m thinking of Lies by Chvrches – which, it turns out, kicks and stomps in all […]

Two Songs Which Came Out in 2012

We’re way past the halfway mark of 2012 now, and I’d struggle to put together a list of my Top 10 Tracks For The Year (let alone Albums). I’ve been struggling to find new stuff that I really love. Now, I’m not saying these are my two favourite songs of 2012, exactly … but I might be. Kitty Pryde – Okay Cupid                                                                                          Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe Two approximately teenage girls (Pryde is a bit coy about her exact age, Jepsen’s actually in her mid-20s, but image is what matters, right?) taking on classic girl-loves-boy pop, from two very different angles. (And, as if it needed to be any more explicit, Pryde’s haha i’m sorry EP, opens with a song sampling/covering/taking the piss out of Jepsen’s masterpiece.) One of them is pure summery POP!, the joy of the first time and the stolen look; the other scuzzy-edged hip hop, the joy of teenage obsession and the stolen piece of clothing. Call Me Maybe glossy and locomotive, Okay Cupid is woozy and atmospheric, pushed along by blurry Weekndesque beats, the sound of something just kicking innnn. Where Okay Cupid goes in for a wealth of detail (cigarette breath, drunk dials at 3:30am, Frank Ocean) Call Me Maybe is all broad strokes (trading phone numbers, ripped jeans, just knowing). It’s the kind of pop song that could be about anyone, its signifiers borrowed more from what we’re told love is like than what it tends to actually be like. That’s no bad thing, of course, because a) hormones and b) Call Me Maybe is being delivered to directly to the subject of affection. It’s a girl laying it all on the line but trying to play it cool, a bit (after all, Jepsen is quick to remind her beau that plenty of other boys are trying to chase her), and you’re the “You”, and you can’t really imagine saying no to that maybe. Okay Cupid is delivered at someone, kind of. Certainly, it uses the “You”, but it’s a scrapbook, Facebook-album version of you that’s being talked to. The song is pretty clearly positioned in the bedroom, that sanctuary of living with your parents, from the “get out of my roooommm! blerghhhhh!” epigraph – and it’s hard to imagine Kitty’s anything but alone there. Which is how you know she means it all. It’s still a performance, though. Pryde plays the teenage girl role for all it’s worth, fetishistically working the divide between innocence and experience. She dips in and out of making silly noises in a way not seen since the sainted Cher Lloyd, her delivery equal parts bored drawl and playground giggle. Pryde’s voice is sweet but there’s something in it that’s kind of crusty, like nicotine-stained fingers – or like someone worked back from Ke$ha’s projected image and made music that actually fits it, and that I actually like. …There’s lots to grab onto in Okay Cupid. That’s part of its pleasure. The joys  of Call Me Maybe are harder to describe – especially trying to find something to say that’s not entirely redundant given that you’ll, stone-cold guarantee, already be familiar with it. Kitty Pryde may be named for my favourite X-Man, but it’s Jepsen who feels like the superhero. Some of what she says suggests she’s vulnerable, but the music surrounding her just makes her sound invincible.It’s teen-mag glossy. It’s a pop force of nature. It just sort of is. And the second it’s over, it’s already a bit hazy, just one long unending chorus in my memory. Which feels fully appropriate, given what it’s about. What it’s about, what songs are about, being: the crush as fantasy. In one case in the knight-in-shining-armour sense, in the other the hands-down-your-pants sense. Although, actually, honestly, the latter could be true of either song. The only reason you know Carly doesn’t have her hand stuck firmly down the front of her jeans is that it’s hard to imagine anyone managing to sing Call Me Maybe without at least a few cheesy arms-in-the-air dance moves. Really, like any mirror image, they’re not that far away from each other. It’s not as simple as one squeaky clean Hollywood romance and one ironically distant and kind of dirty. After all, it might be Jepsen giving off Disney Princess vibes, but it’s Pryde that explicitly mentions being one. It might be Pryde that talks about sex, but it’s Jepsen that’s getting laid. When Jepsen invokes selling her soul, the song’s so sincere you can’t help but believe she really means it.There’s a sneer in Pryde’s voice, especially put next to the earnestness of Jepsen, but there’s genuine romantic sentiment in there too, mixed up with all the sexual longing and grandstanding. It’s essentially the same story of a one-way relationship – not unrequited, quite, but not exactly mutual either. It’s roughly the same (universal, Pop-Platonic) ideas, through a different filter. They’re almost the same song, or at least two sides of some multi-dimensional hypersong, giving each other light and shade, feeding into one another to complete the circle of how (I imagine) it feels to be a teenage girl in lust. And that’s the story of how I made my own favourite album of the summer, just by gluing the two songs to the back of each other. (And yes, I’m aware that Call Me Maybe kind of came out in 2011. But only in Canada, which really doesn’t count.)