Reviewing the Hits: 2010's Billboard #1s


19 Ene 2011, 6:02

2010 - The Homogenization of Pop

In 2010, massive conglomerates of superstar producers conspired to stranglehold the music business with their signature sounds. The Max Martin/Dr. Luke/Benny Blanco songwriting troika (Dr. Luke is the main producer these days) fuse power pop guitar chords with house beats and thick synthesizers. Stargate, a European production team, specialize in minimalist, repetitive techno, with melodic interludes and room for the singer to improvise. French House DJ, David Guetta, produced 2009's massive "I Gotta Feeling" and helped drive the modern pop scene towards the pulsating four/four beats that define radio pop and steered the Black Eyed Peas in their current direction (for better or worse). Lastly, Bruno Mars' creative team, the Smeezingtons, specialize in breezy, summery breed of R&B that pays homage to Motown and 50s doo-wop. The point I'm trying to make: all of these people make music that sounds basically the same! If you listen to 2010's number one hits, four of them were written by Dr. Luke, another four by Stargate, two of them by the Smeezingtons and one by Max Martin without Dr. Luke and company. "Raise Your Glass" sounds like "Teenage Dream," which sounds like "California Gurls," which sounds like "Tik Tok," which sounds like "Like a G6," and so on. Hopefully, 2011 will mark a return to individuality in the modern pop landscape, but it seems unlikely, as the first month of the year featured alternating number ones by Bruno Mars and Katy Perry's Stargate production "Firework." Now on to the hits:

"TiK ToK" - Ke$ha - (1/2-2/27/2010; 9 Weeks)
Everything about this song makes me want to hate it with the entirety of my being: Ke$ha's horrible, trashy drunk-girl rhymes, with auto-tune highlighting random phrases; that stupid line about wanting to party with guys who look like Mick Jagger (who looks like this nowadays), and Ke$ha herself, with her random piercings and shorts that barely reach her thighs. Yet, I can't help but kinda like this song. The song is clearly designed to be an anthem for vapid sorority girls and drug addled club chicks, and on that front it works fine. There are enough quotable lines ("brush my teeth with a bottle of jack," "the party don't start til I walk in") and inspired musical flourishes (especially that "oh oh" in the chorus) for me to understand its appeal and not dismiss it outright.

"Imma Be" - Black Eyed Peas - (3/6-3/13; 2 Weeks)
Back in my 2009 list, I tore into the Black Eyed Peas, accusing them of intentionally appealing to the lowest common denominator of music fans (namely preteens) and not seeking any type of artistic fulfillment with their music (the same can be said about Ke$ha, I guess). "Imma Be" isn't too different, but it's significantly better than either of their 2009 behemoths. In "Imma Be," the Peas experiment with their usual sound, incorporating more futuristic electronic bleeps and shifting the rhythm around for each verse. "Imma Be" isn't great, but I'll give it some extra points for the Roger Troutman/Daft Punk outro

"Break Your Heart" - Taio Cruz ft. Ludacris - (3/20; 1 Week)
Every time I look at a song title and I see the words "featuring Ludacris," I get excited. Luda is probably the most entertaining guest rapper around and he has the ability to elevate even the most mundane track to greatness with his elastic flow and emphatic punchlines. Unfortunately, Ludacris is on autopilot here, ceding the floor to Taio Cruz after two brief verses. "Break Your Heart" is a standard, inoffensive club track and Cruz is devoid of personality and is not a good enough singer to be very compelling outside of the club. A visit to the good Dr. Luke helped him out for his next, probably even more popular track ("Dynamite"), but "Break Your Heart" leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

"Rude Boy" - Rihanna - (3/27-4/24; 5 Weeks)
The first great number one of 2010. Rihanna had a huge year in 2010, with three number one singles and one huge number one guest appearance. "Rude Boy" is probably the best. For her last LP, Rated R, Rihanna retreated inward, delving into her personal demons and highlighted her emotional vulnerability. With 2010's Loud, Rihanna emerged from her shell stronger than ever; all three of her number ones in 2010 are about how awesome she is, how lucky her man is to have her and how he better be amazing in bed. "Rude Boy," a Stargate production, nominally returns Rihanna to her Caribbean roots, with a few dancehall references in the lyrics and a steel-drum-esque synth bouncing during the chorus. However, there are few real dancehall influences on the track, and the song draws its strength from Rihanna's skill at hypnotically playing with and repeating words and phrases. In "Rude Boy," Rihanna is the one with the power, and she knows how to flaunt it.

"Nothin' On You" - B.o.B ft. Bruno Mars - (5/1-5/8; 2 Weeks)
Though he was a mixtape darling for a few years before 2010, B.o.B's major label debut drew more critical vitriol than any other rap release in 2010 (besides maybe Recovery). While I was disappointed by The Adventures of Bobby Ray, I don't think it really deserved the beating it took. "Nothin' on You," an effortlessly breezy summer jam, is one of the better tracks on the album. Bruno Mars said that he was inspired by the doo-wop classic "I Only Have Eyes For You," by the Flamingos, when he wrote the chorus and the throwback element is obvious. Mars has a talent of merging 50s and 60s melodies and sentiments with modern beats and B.o.B, one of our most musically gifted MCs, embraces the melodic piano line, rapping double-time about love and loss.

"OMG" - Usher ft. - (5/15; 5/29-6/12; 4 Weeks)
If I were to make a list of modern singers who sound great without auto-tune, Usher would probably top the list. Remember "Yeah!"? That was awesome! Unfortunately, Usher embraces the robot on the produced "OMG," a song that completely wastes Usher's prodigious talents as a singer and performer. The crowd noise gimmick goes from annoying to infuriating throughout the song and the uninspired, arrhythmic raps during the verses further doom this track to sub-mediocrity.

"Not Afraid" - Eminem - (5/22; 1 Week)
2010 marked the triumphant return of Eminem to the forefront of the popular music scene. For music fans of my generation, Eminem is a universally beloved icon, a man who rapped about what we would only snicker about amongst ourselves. Recovery marked Eminem's official step into adulthood - the playfulness, hilarity and (most importantly) willingness to say anything and offend anybody was nowhere to be found. I guess "Not Afraid," a stale, clunky attempt at an inspirational ballad, is a necessary step for Eminem, announcing to the world that he overcame his problems and is back to making music full time. I wish that "Not Afraid" was more enjoyable; the flow is there, but the wordplay isn't (that "it's a wrap" line is pretty egregious") and Em is still rapping over the same blend of uninspired beats as his Encore days. Now that he got Recovery off his chest, he can go back to the Eminem we all love.

"California Gurls" - Katy Perry ft. Snoop Dogg - (6/19-7/24; 6 Weeks)
A summer anthem for a generation of kids who've never heard of the Beach Boys, Perry has stated that "California Gurls" is supposed to be a response to "Empire State of Mind." While Jay-Z's low-key verses and Alica Keys' big chorus in "Empire" illustrate the contrast between the intimate details and grand scope of living in New York, there is no such subtlety in "California Gurls." Though the song is ostensibly about California, the music video seems to be set in Candyland, with ice cream plants and cotton candy clouds. Katy Perry, exploits her own sexuality for record sales as blatantly as anyone outside of the Pussycat Dolls. It's not that I object to using sex to sell your product, but starting the second verse with "SEX...on the beach," is a little clumsy and obvious. I appreciate that Perry has a sense of humor, and I'm amazed by Snoop Dogg's ability to remain gangsta while wearing ice cream overalls, but I'm afraid it's a big "meh" for this one.

"Love The Way You Lie" - Eminem ft. Rihanna - (7/31-9/11; 7 Weeks)
Remember in my "Rude Boy" review how I was talking about how Rihanna's Loud singles present a woman who faced her demons and became stronger? How she's the one with the power and how she'll never bend to her man's will? Well, here's Rihanna, music's most famous victim of domestic violence since Tina Turner, singing a chorus for Eminem, a man who frequently raps about murdering his wife, about how she loves her boyfriend even though he is abusive. Look, I know the song was hugely popular and that Rihanna's appearance probably means that she's fully recovered from her personal trauma, but I can't help but feel uncomfortable when Em raps about throwing his girlfriend out the window ("that's why they call it window pane" -- clunk!) and Rihanna sings about how much she loves it.

"Teenage Dream" - Katy Perry - (9/18-9/25; 2 Weeks)
This is probably the only Katy Perry song where she doesn't wink at the camera. A straightforward love song, again produced by Dr. Luke, Perry sings about how she loves her man so much that she feels like a teenager. Honestly, I know the song is just as manufactured and superficial as anything else that Katy Perry has done, but it works for me. "Teenage Dream" has an honest sweetness to it that distinguishes it from her usual vapid and playful sexuality.

"Just the Way You Are" - Bruno Mars - (10/2-10/23; 4 Weeks)
Let me start by saying that I definitely prefer this to the Billy Joel song. "Just the Way You Are" uses an airy four-chord progression with piano and synthesized whistling during the chorus to create probably the nicest thing that anyone has ever said or done for a girl. Mars' schtick is to play the perfect boyfriend, which nicely suits his talent for writing sweet piano ballads. In this one, the sweetness becomes a bit overwhelming--I can practically feel my teeth ache when listening to this song.

"Like A G6" - Far East Movement ft. The Cateracs and Dev - (10/30-11/6, 11/27; 3 Weeks)
The epitome of a brainless club song, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The words are hilariously stupid, but the bassline is creamy. I love that little chant of "808" right before the "actin' like they drunk part." There are some songs that are impossible to intelligently write or think about and this is one of them. Just put your hands up.

"We R Who We R" - Ke$ha - (11/13; 1 Week)
The winner of the way better than it looks on paper award for 2010. Dr. Luke's beat is even busier than usual, with torrents of synth during the chorus and inspired vocal modulations during the bridge. Ke$ha's free associative flow during the intro reminds me a bit of Life Without Buildings, which is a compliment. This is the best Ke$ha song because Dr. Luke uses her voice as a sounding board for his techno dreams, rather than relying on her imbecilic rhymes, to launch a solid club track.

"What's My Name" - Rihanna ft. Drake - (11/20; 1 week)
On the one hand, "What's My Name" sports Drake's worst verse ever. On the other hand, Rihanna's chorus is her catchiest since "Disturbia." I'm a sucker for hooks, so the other hand wins BIG. Oh, and the square root of 69 is 8.30662386, in case anyone was wondering.

"Only Girl (In the World)" - Rihanna - (12/4; 1 week)
"Only Girl" boasts Rihanna's strongest vocal performance to date over a Eurodance beat (provided by Stargate). "Only Girl" expands upon Rihanna's newfound strength--she's the only girl who can make you feel like a man, so you better treat her like she's the only girl in the world. This track reminds me a little bit of the techno version of Bryan Adams' "Heaven," but Rihanna's strong vocals elevate the song above Eurotrash.

"Raise Your Glass" - Pink - (12/11; 1 Week)
"Why so serious?" has been Pink's mantra for a long time. She's never been afraid to poke fun at herself or others. Unfortunately, "Raise Your Glass" might as well be "Generic 2010 Pop Song," as it features all the elements. Teen pop, guitar rock and French house pureed into one indistinguishable mush, quiet verses and a LOUD chorus and lyrical clunkers like "don't get fancy, let's get dancey" and "if your too school for cool." Though I may not like all of Pink's songs, none of them are as boring as "Raise Your Glass."

"Firework" - Katy Perry - (12/18, 12/25 (in 2010); 2 Weeks (in 2010))
People keep on writing songs for Katy Perry that she simply does not have the pipes for. I keep thinking about what Mariah Carey or Alicia Keys would do with a song like this. I also keep thinking about the "Firework" video, in which fireworks explode out of Katy Perry's boobs. Ladies and gentlemen, the biggest pop star in the world!

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