Feel-bad hits of the sum­mer

Cliché-rid­den, creepy ear­worms have us lung­ing for the ra­dio dial

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Ran­dall Roberts

BAR­RING a sur­prise Bey­oncé re­lease, the hottest pop songs of sum­mer 2014 have been de­cided. This year’s main­stream suc­cesses in­clude the odd racial gym­nas­tics of Iggy Aza­lea’s Fancy, the ir­re­sistible bom­bast of DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s Turn Down for What and the sub­limely catchy pearl from Ari­ana Grande, Prob­lem. Along with one-word win­ners in­clud­ing Happy, Wig­gle and Sum­mer, each has en­tered sea­sonal ubiq­uity, en­sur­ing an af­ter­life on sum­mer 2014 playlists and class reunions for gen­er­a­tions to come. But all hasn’t been sun­shine and per­fect waves. Lesser, darker works have aimed to find pur­chase in our psy­ches, look­ing to pig­gy­back on the nev­erend­ing quest for a mem­o­rable va­ca­tion sound­track. A few of them, like Cana­dian pop group Magic!’s in­suf­fer­able Rude, have suc­ceeded on the charts de­spite them­selves. These gra­tu­itous ear­worms have done so by ap­peal­ing to the basest sum­mer de­sires with tired clichés, un­ad­ven­tur­ous mu­si­cal tropes and/or some cloy­ing con­ceit. Eclips­ing all has been the sea­son’s most high-pro­file fail­ure: Robin Thicke’s stalker-sug­ges­tive al­bum Paula. In a sea­son of boun­ti­ful medi­ocrity, Thicke’s ef­fort has been met with a level of dis­dain nor­mally re­served for a fresh Chris Brown in­dict­ment. Still, to pile on Paula, while a fun way to spend an af­ter­noon (es­pe­cially at this point if you’re his es­tranged wife, Paula Pat­ton), di­min­ishes a host of equally in­con­se­quen­tial, or mem­o­rably failed, would-be sum­mer hits. Be­low, the worst songs of the sum­mer: Chris Young, Who I Am With You. Ev­ery sum­mer needs a camp­fire make­out song, but this year’s big of­fer­ings have mostly fiz­zled. Near the top of the heap is John Leg­end’s All of Me, which has all the earnest, glis­ten­ing tropes of a Thomas Kinkade paint­ing. But for sheer clichés-per-mea­sure chuck­les, none can equal coun­try crooner Young’s flac­cid Who I Am With You. Fea­tur­ing a tran­quil, Har­lequin-ro­man­tic piano melody and just enough twang to kick up a small stink, the song sees Young, who earned his fame through the re­al­ity show Nashville Star, de­scrib­ing him­self as “a rolling stone” “fly­ing blind” in its first two lines — un­til he met you. “Who I am with you is who I re­ally want to be,” he sings, a man drown­ing in the mun­dan­ity of a flat lyric — be­fore adding with equal bland­ness. “You’re so good for me.” Po­etic stuff.

Tiesto, Wasted. “I like us bet­ter when we’re wasted” might be a great open­ing line for a coun­try song, one that could go on to ex­plore the de­struc­tive ef­fects of in­tox­i­cants on a re­la­tion­ship. As the cel­e­bra­tory cho­rus of Wasted, a thump-heavy Dutch Euro­trance track by Tiesto, though, the line is de­liv­ered with the ut­most sin­cer­ity. Chan­nel­ing EDM bliss is one thing, but as the cen­tral mes­sage of a song di­rectly aimed at the ears of teens and 20-some­things starved for life ad­vice, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily the one to fat­ten the wal­let with. Un­less, ap­par­ently, you’re Tiesto.

Magic!, Rude. Three sim­ple words are re­quired to un­der­line the fail­ure of Magic! and Rude: Cana­dian reg­gae fu­sion. Aside from a few mea­sures of Rush’s The Spirit of Ra­dio, when has such a recipe ever suc­ceeded? Mu­si­cally tepid and cloy­ing, Rude strives for a brand of trop­i­cal pop akin to Paul Si­mon’s Mother and Child Re­union or the cross­over vibe of Sublime but lands at third-rate Men at Work.

Lyri­cally, the song is a long rant­threat from a boyfriend to his girl’s dis­mis­sive fa­ther, but it suf­fers by of­fer­ing too lit­tle con­text and from only the nar­ra­tor’s per­spec­tive. Af­ter all, a few months ago, no one had a clue who this guy was, or, for ex­am­ple, whether the fa­ther might have valid con­cerns about his daugh­ter mar­ry­ing the singer for a Cana­dian reg­gae fu­sion band. Who can blame him? “Can I have your daugh­ter for the rest of my life?,” asks vo­cal­ist-pro­ducer Nasri Atweh. Wisely, the fa­ther says no, per­haps fear­ing decades of casino and state fair gigs in his would-be son-in-law’s fu­ture.

Aloe Blacc, The Man. This year’s Eye of the Tiger first gained trac­tion not via ra­dio but on one of the many Beats Mu­sic TV ads it scored. The fist-pump­ing work­out song has since be­come main­stay on sports high­light reels the world over, the plat­form where fad­ing songs go to die, where Blacc’s mes­sage of over­com­ing ad­ver­sity has made it the Tubthump­ing of 2014 (apolo­gies to Chum­bawamba). Yes, Blacc can be an in­spir­ing singer, but like much of his work, The Man feels more like a jin­gle than a jam — built for easy di­ges­tion. To add in­sult, The Man riffs on a great El­ton John bal­lad, Your Song, taint­ing not only the sum­mer but also a bet­ter com­po­si­tion. Don’t be sur­prised if the next time you hear John’s hit, The Man pops into your head when it hasn’t earned the right.

Jake Owen, Beachin’. Ev­ery sum­mer needs a glassy-eyed party song, but few man­age to deliver in such an ag­gres­sively sim­plis­tic way as Owen’s bro-coun­try cow­pat Beachin’. The lyri­cal doozies that pop­u­late this ode to drink­ing and ob­jec­ti­fy­ing de­scribe the worst party ever. Dou­ble-en­ten­dres in­volv­ing beer koozies? Yes. “A reg­gae band full of dread heads”? They’re prob­a­bly jam­ming Rude. Bot­tom­less mar­gar­i­tas? Of course. Bonus points: like many male coun­try songs this year, Beachin’ stars a face­less, name­less blond no­table only for her tan lines and her sub­servient come-on: “Honey, I sure want you.” At least some­body does.

Florida Ge­or­gia Line, This Is How We Roll. Want to hang with some fun guys on a Fri­day night? Look no fur­ther than Florida Ge­or­gia Line, whose This Is How We Roll fea­tures drunken, stoned, pis­tol-shoot­ing dudes cruis­ing with pretty girls sit­ting (where else?) on the pas­sen­ger side and of­fer­ing kisses that are “au­to­matic like a free throw.” (Noth­ing like a ball-in­hole sports metaphor to turn a lady’s head.) The group’s night out starts in a jacked-up truck, where “the mix in our drinks is a lit­tle stronger than you think.” Then they drive around in cir­cles and “light it up with our hands up — this is how we roll.” Steer clear of my block — but maybe Tiesto’s up for some fun.

Pit­bull, Tim­ber. Care­ful, tree stumps, Pit­bull’s on the prowl in this song that’s been sim­mer­ing since Christ­mas. In his Tim­ber, which fea­tures Ke­sha, women are trees that tend to fall when the singer is around, even if the ul­ti­mate aim in our hero’s mind isn’t to leave an im­pres­sion. Rather, it’s to “make a night you won’t re­mem­ber,” im­ply­ing one of two things: Ei­ther the two will for­get the evening when it’s over, in which case maybe they should have just stayed home, or they’re aim­ing to get her so wasted they black out. Ei­ther way, it won’t be a night at the theatre. By com­par­i­son, Pit­bull makes Owen and Florida Ge­or­gia Line seem like so­phis­ti­cates. At least they want to look across the pickup cab at their dates; Pit­bull prefers an­other an­gle: “Face down, booty up — tim­ber!”

En­joy these ter­ri­ble songs if you must, but have the de­cency to wear head­phones.

Chris Young’s Who I Am With You is a sum­mer stinker.

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