Thursday, December 3, 2009

Listening to the radio

In a row, just now, on 92 PRO FM:

1. David Guetta & Akon, "Sexy BitchChick"
2. Taylor Swift, "Fifteen"
3. Kesha, "Tik Tok"
4. Lady Gaga, "Bad Romance"

It's like mainstream radio is going out of its way to be an ugly, meaningless mess these days. I've already discussed "Sexy Chick" here, but the other three songs I think win out in the awfulness fight.

Taylor Swift, who started her ill-fated VMA acceptance speech with the sentence "I sing country music," continues never to do so with a song that would have sounded stale on Lilith Fair's second stage in 1998. It seems to be a sort of response to the kind of bizarrely unhealthy teen sexual/romantic model proposed by works like Twilight, though it cleverly manages to do it without rebutting the sex negativity of these narratives, so really it's useless both as music and as propaganda. (Incidentally, I have no objection to the dissolution of genre lines; if a white lady wants to perform with T-Pain on the CMT awards, and the country music people are into this, I say go for it; just do it well--or, come on, at least try--and acknowledge that what you're doing is dissolving the genre line. Don't keep calling it country, because that is a word that means something, or at least should. When I say I like country, I want people to know that I don't mean Taylor Swift. Again, I'm all for deconstructing and taking apart language and norms and whatever shit you want, but we still have to live day to day.)

Kesha is remarkable primarily because the only thing that distinguishes her from Fergie is the fact that she is an order of magnitude more annoying. A new breakthrough from the same lab, presumably. If you're into masochism, I highly recommend listening at least through 2:40ish, when the backing track drops out and she bravely attempts to sing one line unaccompanied--I'm not even sure how to describe the difficulty she has. Rivals the line "Haven't you heard/How we rock each other's world" in Avril Lavigne's "Sk8er Boi" (at around 2:40*) as the all-time worst vocal moment in pop music history. What a god damned mess.

Lady Gaga...I feel like I would need to write a book-length essay, with all the hours of research that implies, to fully explain what bothers me about Lady Gaga. But since I don't actually care nearly enough about her to do anything that labor and time intensive, suffice to say that I find her to be the epitome of the empty gesture. I mean, take a look at that video; it's trying so hard, but it says nothing; Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head" video**, eight years ago, conveyed far more with similar elements, effortlessly, and without pretending to pretentious ambitions it doesn't even try to fulfill. It's too bad, because I want to like the fact that the public is responding so strongly to a meta-pop star, a pop star deconstruction; even the fact that a huge hit song has a bridge in French should be pleasing to me. Coming from her, nothing is pleasing to me.

The common thread in these songs is a kind of deep, root-level ugliness. Now, I like a lot of what could be called ugly music. Hecker's Acid in the Style of David Tudor is probably my number one album of the year. La Monte Young, The Stooges, DNA, Captain Beefheart, Throbbing Gristle: these are all artists I thought of offhand that I love, much of whose music could defensibly be described as ugly. But in all these cases, and infinitely many more that I could name, including some on pop radio (an argument could be made for Britney Spears' "3," which I am completely head over heels for these days), the ugliness exists for a reason. It achieves a kind of beauty, and part of this beauty is that it expresses something, even if that something is a Stooges-style nihilism. The ugliness of these four pop songs is different; it feels almost accidental--though that word is wrong for several reasons, chief among them its implication that I find the artist's intentions more important than I actually do, not to mention that it doesn't begin to convey the aggression with which this ugliness imposes itself on the listener. It's an ugliness that would make me angry if it had any affect at all, but in its utter lack of affect instead leaves me sort of vaguely depressed. It's awful, and it makes me sad.

Oh, and now Citizen's Bank has an ad on pretending to be charitable because they "know bad economic times are making things difficult for everyone." Yeah, and it's your fucking fault, Royal Bank of Scotland. How much are your executives being compensated these days?

*And I don't think it's a coincidence that these two moments are at almost exactly the same point in the songs.
**Sorry for the pixelation and poor sound compression; you'd think Parlophone could do better but apparently not. You'd also think Firefox would know the word "pixelation" but, again, apparently not.

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