Justin Bieber Is Not That Bad

Shockingly, the Billboard Top 10 Isn't a Total Shitshow

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Emily "Weirdo" Nokes

Last time I intentionally listened to commercial radio, Al Gore hadn't even invented the internet yet. Having me write about Billboard's current Top 10 singles chart is like sending a 13-year-old Glee fanatic to review an improvised-music fest. This is alien territory to me, y'all. Aaaanywaaaay, let's get down to the important business of analyzing America's most popular songs.

10. "What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction

One Direction consist of five boyish Londoners with fine bone structure and no facial hair. On "What Makes You Beautiful," they sincerely inform a nice young woman that her beauty derives from her not being aware of her beauty. It's a paradox—sort of! The line "The way that you flip your head gets me overwhelmed" is actually kind of fresh in this context, and the vibrant, uplifting music is middleweight punchy. The beats remind me of the Glitter Band's thick, clap-intensive slaps, and the melody has a Joe Jackson circa 1979 spunkiness. Shockingly, I can't hate.

9. "Starships" by Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj is like a rap-video thong model who, surprisingly, has musical talent to burn. Yeah, she looks dazzling in a fuchsia wig and, as Woody Allen once put it, "her figure describe(s) a set of parabolas that could cause cardiac arrest in a yak" (I know—I'm a dreadful pig), but Minaj's lyrics have been known to match her beauty and sartorial flamboyance. "Starships," however, sounds like a dumbing-down of her skills—she likens herself to a starship, for fuck's sake. Musically, this is Gaga-lite—restrained rave fodder that'll lose Nicki tons of hiphop cred. When a New York radio jock recently dissed "Starships" before the Hot 97 Summer Jam 2012 concert, the thin-skinned Minaj dropped out of the event. Let the record show: That DJ was spot-on.

8. "We Are Young" by fun. (featuring Janelle Monáe)

No great bands have ever ended their names with a period, including fun. (Should that sentence end in two periods? Fuck these guys for even making me think about it.) Adding insult to injury, fun. lowercase their name, conferring upon themselves a false sense of modesty, like the ignoble moe., who also maddeningly include a motherfucking period in their handle. Where were we? Ah, yes—"We Are Young" is both lumbering and fluffy, which I guess is some sort of achievement. The talented Janelle Monáe sullies her good name by adding backing vocals to this saccharine bolus of a tune. The chorus, which goes "Tonight we are young/So let's set the world on fire/We can burn brighter than the suuuuuuu-oh-ah-oh-uuun," would be laughed out of a middle-school English class. This is a song about druggy/boozy overindulgence that has all the menace of a choirboy.

7. "Boyfriend" by Justin Bieber

The riveting intro recalls Ying Yang Twins' "Wait (The Whisper Song)" (wait till you see Biebs's dick). The reverbed whistle, stark claps, staunch kick drum, and Justin Bieber's hushed boasts and promises make this a cool slice of pop R&B minimalism à la Prince's "If I Was Your Girlfriend." Hmm, coincidence? I think not. So, um, I—a 50-year-old straight man—like a Justin Bieber song. Help?

6. "Where Have You Been" by Rihanna

Rihanna is one of those single-named R&B divas who flicker by my consciousness in a blur of sparkly gowns, jewelry that costs more than my yearly salary, and coifs more complicated than trigonometry. (Cher, so much to answer for.) She flaunts her mezzo-soprano with Donald Trump–like brazenness on "Where Have You Been," a dramatic number about an elusive mate. It might be more tolerable without the strutting mainstream techno track that sounds like Justice with neutered Roland-303 squiggles or a Moby outtake from 1994, pallid echoes of rave synths and all. (Calvin Harris coproduces; that explains the cheesiness.) Maybe if I were a cougar from Tukwila, this would resonate more with me.

5. "Back in Time" by Pitbull

Man, I thought Pitbull was hard. Admittedly, I haven't been following his career closely, but in 2012, Armando Christian Pérez sounds like he's mellowed out from his hungry, crunky, mid-'00s days. "Back in Time" does what the title says, riding a sample of the guitar lick from Mickey & Sylvia's "Love Is Strange." The confluence of '50s rock with 21st-century rap, dubstep bass wobble, and slick house beats carries a frisson of novelty—and this song probably raises pulses when it appears in Men in Black III—but there's a corniness here that doesn't sit right. Don't hurt me, Mr. Pitbull, sir.

4. "Die in Your Arms" by Justin Bieber

Damn, you guys love you some Bieber. The Rodney Jerkins–produced "Die in Your Arms" features the beat from Melvin Bliss's "Synthetic Substitution," which powered almost as many '80s and '90s hiphop jams as "The Funky Drummer," so its badassitude is guaranteed. Over this unfuckwithable foundation, our beloved 18-year-old Canuck JB sings standard romantic-schmaltz sentiments with youthful Michael Jacksonian insouciance. I can't front, though: If I were a tween/teen girl, my panties would not be dry right now.

3. "Somebody That I Used to Know" by Gotye (featuring Kimbra)

This song will find you, no matter how adroitly you avoid pop culture. The Belgian-Australian Gotye—with crucial assistance from covocalist Kimbra—has crafted one of those classic whisper-to-a-scream songs that deliver catharsis you can experience in a dentist's office or a Trader Joe's without breaking a sweat or shedding a tear. The official video for "STIUTK" has racked up nearly 250 million views, which shows that a scary number of humans can relate to the song's he said/she said tale of dissolved love. But above all, it's the line about the woman sending friends to his pad to collect her records that really stings. Naked vulnerability sells, abundantly.

2. "Payphone" by Maroon 5 (with Wiz Khalifa)

A plague has descended on us—that of the Modern Rock™ white-boy vocalist straining to connote "soul." Maroon 5's Adam Levine is a prime culprit, one of many of this noxious species who make Sting sound like Otis Redding. Your second-favorite Pittsburgh MC, Wiz Khalifa, adds a negligible rap to a hollow, bland pop-rock soufflé that gave me indigestion on first hearing. Oblivion is too good for Maroon 5.

1. "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen

You could eat off the production of "Call Me Maybe"—it's that clean. Vocally, Carly Rae Jepsen exudes a beige cuteness in that generic manner common to LCD hit-making strategy—as does the trite dance-pop backdrop, which not even the shallowest tween deserves to endure. Syrupy, coy songs about the tingling anticipation of young love sung by attractive young people will always be with us, like acne. You just gotta hope the scars they leave aren't too traumatic. recommended


Comments (16) RSS

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uh, no. they're all pretty awful.
Posted by jns on June 20, 2012 at 9:29 AM · Report this
Josh Bis 2
Is this the digital songs chart? Interesting that JB's new jam did so much better on that one that on most of the others (looks like it's up to 17 on the Hot 100).
Posted by Josh Bis on June 20, 2012 at 9:39 AM · Report this
The Maroon 5 song is so egregious. Seriously, this song makes me wish for the days of Matchbox 20 and I hate Matchbox 20. And what's with the rap in the middle? It seems like he literally phoned it in. Like without hearing any of the song.
Posted by Chris Pollina on June 20, 2012 at 4:38 PM · Report this
Estey 4
This is absolutely sublime. "The beats remind me of the Glitter Band's thick, clap-intensive slaps, and the melody has a Joe Jackson circa 1979 spunkiness. Shockingly, I can't hate." + the full "Back In Time" assessment + "But above all, it's the line about the woman sending friends to his pad to collect her records that really stings. Naked vulnerability sells, abundantly." So much deeply informed critical goodness. More, more! (Unless it would inevitably torture you to death, Dave.)
Posted by Estey on June 21, 2012 at 8:34 AM · Report this
Is this a joke or is a Stranger music writer actually extolling the musical prowess of songs on the Billboard Top 10?
Posted by Beat Masterson on June 21, 2012 at 12:53 PM · Report this
I'm sorry, but I like Payphone. I also like that he's, um, trying to call her ON a payphone in 2012. And when I read Levine proclaim "Look, we're not f*%$ing Arcade Fire" I felt *okay* liking (not loving)his music. He knows his limitations. Unlike say, Rob Thomas, (who needs to be removed from this planet). Sue me.
Posted by FreeJena2 on June 21, 2012 at 1:10 PM · Report this
Awesome post! Thanks so much. And it is true. I have a 10 year old car radio station flipper. And while driving round town we love ALL these tracks ('Cept trax 7 & 4 as we both detest the Biebster). It's most encouraging. Also thanks for the balls to say fuck you to all the folks who might scoff at your feature. I believe we are turning a corner in Pop Music. So, again, big thanks for the groovy post. We totally concur ...
Posted by Lazarus on June 22, 2012 at 8:57 AM · Report this
This is an **awesome (and super-ballsy) feature, Dave. Thank you so much!! My 10-year-old and I cruise around running errands and they take control of the car radio station dial. We both adore (and sing word-perfect rather loudly!)each of these tracks listed (save numbers 7 and 4 -- we both detest the Biebster!) Gotye is utterly sublime! Just happy that all this great pop stuff is happening now as my little one hones a personal identity with this timely Zeitgeist. She really DOES know that "Starships were meant to fly ... Hands up and touch the sky!" Happy Pride Weekend 2012!
Posted by Lazarus on June 22, 2012 at 9:15 AM · Report this
All these songs and artists suck and you suck even more for liking them and believing they have anything of value to contribute. So FU.
Posted by thestrangerwriterssuck on June 22, 2012 at 12:58 PM · Report this
#5: No this isn't a joke. The Stranger writers are complete douches that love this type of disposable crap. These artists and their songs are just awful. The writers are possibly even more awful (except for Gotye).
Posted by thestrangerwriterssuck on June 22, 2012 at 1:03 PM · Report this
@9/10 Gotye's actually pretty overrated and underwhelming live. In general, the stranger music staff come off as pretentious with their focus on indie/niche music. I don't mind a fun look at pop music once in a while. Also, perspective from a middle-aged man on the current hits is nice. Presumably he once liked the pop tunes, and drawing lines back to borrowed pop cliches is fun.
Posted by SleepytimeMuseo on June 22, 2012 at 3:25 PM · Report this
Dan Segal is a sorry excuse for a music writer if he considers this drivel anything but a shit show. There was a time not long ago where musical artists wrote the lyrics they sing and recorded and performed the music that was played. The only exception I can think of in recent times (other than the boy band Maroon 5) is Adele who actually writes her own lyrics and is a fantastic talent.

Good music is a matter of personal opinion, but when it's test tube created by record companies, I have no respect for it. I would think a musical writer would tend to agree with that...
Posted by Drewksi on June 25, 2012 at 7:41 PM · Report this
"Adding insult to injury, fun. lowercase their name, conferring upon themselves a false sense of modesty..."


"Adding insult to injury, fun. lowercases its name, conferring upon itself a false sense of modesty..."
Posted by Tommy Smith on June 25, 2012 at 9:45 PM · Report this
heavyhebrew 14
What's next, Mickey Spillane, describing the various colloquialisms of how one takes a shit?

But that Maroon 5? Ya, spot on, fuck those guys. I would rather have a gravity singularity shoved up my pee hole than have to listen to that commercial soul selling.

Anyway, I look forward to your novelization of working st The Stranger. It will be this times Post Office.
Posted by heavyhebrew on June 25, 2012 at 9:47 PM · Report this
I haven't heard a single one of these songs. My radio listening to exclusively KEXP, KUOW and sports radio, though...
Posted by Nic in Greenlake on June 26, 2012 at 4:33 PM · Report this
what a waste. "shit show"? another word virus. who cares. (question mark excluded)
Posted by ham-a-bow on June 29, 2012 at 5:41 PM · Report this

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