Pop music meltdown

Daniel
Daniel MacEachern
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Local musicians weigh in on some of the top hit songs of the year

Katy Perry

Who’s more authentic, Katy Perry or Taylor Swift? With the end of the year approaching, the Telegram wanted to know what local musicians thought of some of the biggest radio hits of 2010 (with a couple of lesser-known Canadian songs thrown in).

To that end, on a soggy Saturday afternoon, we sat down in The Telegram office, cued up a playlist of 10 songs, and turned on the recorder for Rebecca Cohoe of The Subtitles, Lee Hanlon of the Gramercy Riffs and Jody Richardson of the Pathological Lovers.

The listening panel weren’t told which songs they’d be listening to, in order to avoid any preconceived responses. What follows are their spontaneous and honest responses — lightly filtered by The Telegram for space, legal and taste considerations; the panel’s speculation on the relationship between Taylor Swift and Jake Gyllenhaal will have to remain unheard.

For now.

“Someone Tell Me Please” by Gigi, a Vancouver music project that was formed to write songs that emulated the classic Phil Spector-produced pop of the ’60s.

Richardson: Someone likes Phil Spector.

Cohoe: Yeah.

Richardson: It’s very well produced.

Cohoe: It doesn’t have much balls, though, even for Spector, you know what I mean?

Richardson: Well, the production is really good, like the strings come in and everything, but in terms of where it goes, and the phrasing … most of those songs, though, seemed really simple but they were also really smart and there was some sort of core. The core hasn’t shown up yet.

Cohoe: This just sounds like imitation to me.

Richardson: Did you notice there were a couple of lines that the phrasing was a little jumbly too? It seems like this is a song that somebody played on an acoustic guitar and it was really nice and then the producer comes in: “Well, I know what to do with this! We’ll make it sound like ‘Be My Little Baby,’” you know?

Cohoe: This is the kind of music I often listen to, stuff like this.

Hanlon: I like this kind of stuff, yeah.

Cohoe: It’s just a liiiitle boring.

 

“Love The Way You Lie,” a No. 1 hit by rapper Eminem and singer Rihanna.

Cohoe: Oh, this is the worst. This is the Rihanna one with Eminem where she’s talking about getting hit in the face.

Hanlon: Oh, really?

Cohoe: Straight from the tabloids.

Richardson: I’m crazy for the latest Rihanna song, “The Only Girl in the World,” right? It’s like the best pop hit since (Britney Spears’) “Toxic.”

Hanlon: That was a good one!

Richardson: I was on this Rihanna kick and I watched this video a little while ago, and his stuff is amazing, I mean it’s ridiculous. Because you’re watching the video and you’re like, “OK, this is a pretty inocuous song,” and all of a sudden dude comes in and his lyrics are so particular …

Cohoe: But it’s so funny, because I know Eminem has talked in the past about the fact he’s playing a character, as everyone is in a song. It’s stupid to assume a song is somebody talking, but then it fully makes sense with what we know about Rihanna’s personal life, so … in some ways I maybe almost like they’re doing that, because it’s sort of like they’re screwing with people.

Hanlon: I don’t like the song, though.

Cohoe: It’s bad, it’s bad. It came on (when) I was driving on my way to MUN one day, (a friend) and I were sitting in the car. We had a little debate about, what’s the point? Is it totally exploitive? Well no, she’s making big money from it, but is it a bit gross? Yeah, probably.

Hanlon: I don’t like the song. I just don’t like the chorus.

Richardson: It’s two songs.

Hanlon: It’s a rap with a pop chorus.

Richardson: I’m all for it. Sorry, but if a guy beats up a chick, then she should spend the next three years having a laugh at his expense, sure. And making shitloads of money off it, too, while destroying his career, absolutely.

Hanlon: Why Eminem? Didn’t he beat his wife too?

Richardson: I think they beat each other.

Cohoe: This is just bad pop music. There is good pop music, and this is just not.

Richardson: I agree. I think it’s just bad music, but once again, he’s Eminem. He’s just so good, he is so good at what he does it’s just freaky.

 

“The Hair Song” by Black Mountain, a short Zeppelin-esque rock song by a Vancouver band.

Hanlon: Sounds like Sam Roberts, or Thornley.

Cohoe: I hate this music. This is as bad as I can imagine, basically.

Hanlon: What is this?

Richardson: You must stretch your imagination!

Cohoe: This is some sort of hideous country 1990s throwback.

Hanlon: Did he just say “bosom”?

Cohoe: Yeah.

Richardson: That’s tricky to get in a song! It’s really hard making “bosom” work!

Cohoe: Ugh.

Hanlon: It’s like a poor man’s Led Zeppelin riff.

Richardson: Homeless man’s Led Zeppelin!

(Telegram identifies song for the musicians)

Cohoe: WHAT? This is Black Mountain?

Richardson: This is Black Mountain, really?

Cohoe: I thought I liked them! (laughs) One of the other guys in (the Subtitles), this is honestly one of his favourite bands, so he’s going to be rotted.

Richardson: I still don’t like it, but I think we should qualify. I heard a Black Mountain album when we were coming back from Corner Brook, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever heard ever.

Hanlon: Is this new?

Richardson: Maybe it’s total tongue-in-cheek irony. I’ll still say it sucks. But the word “bosom” was used in it, so maybe if we listen to it …

Cohoe: To me that’s a negative.

 

“F--- You!” by Cee Lo Green, also called “Forget You!” in its edited-for-radio version, a Grammy-nominated soul song that hit the top 10 in countries around the world.

Cohoe: I love this! I love Cee Lo! I bought this album.

Richardson: This is the “F--- You!” song, hey?

Cohoe: The whole album is deadly, though. It’s a great album.

Richardson: Oh, I’ve only heard “Forget You!”

Hanlon: It’s much better.

Richardson: And Cee Lo, is he the guy that was in …

Hanlon: Gnarls Barkley, yep.

Richardson: Oh, well, his voice is retarded.

Cohoe: It’s amazing.

Richardson: He’s one of the best soul singers to come along in years, man.

Cohoe: On the album, there are some duds, but there are definitely five tunes that are just awesome.

Hanlon: I like this song. It’s funny.

Cohoe: The cool thing about this, I think, compared to the first one we listened to where it was trying to do the Spector thing, is this obviously steeped in tradition, but it is not a carbon copy.

Richardson: Bringing something new, right? … There’s something I really like about having an older style, yet your lyrics being totally contemporary.

Cohoe: Amy Winehouse does that. Fully. I feel the same way.

Hanlon: And she’s got a shit-hot band, too.

Richardson: (agreeing) Ridiculous. Ridiculous.

 

“Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry.

Hanlon: I like this song. I have it.

Cohoe: Katy Perry. There’s something good about this song, but it’s total shit.

Richardson: Is this the “Firework” tune?

Cohoe: No, “Firework” is even more …

Richardson: Oh, “Teenage Dream”? This is so sharp! Is this the (starts to sing the song) …

Cohoe: Now, I’ve seen her do it live, and it’s just about the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

Richardson: Katy Perry, to me, reminds me of Chuck Berry.

Cohoe: Really?

Richardson: Yes. This is what I mean: because Chuck Berry said, “OK, what do kids like?” Right? Cars, girls … he just laid it all out, these are the things. And I find with her stuff, it’s like, “I’m going to represent myself as a cartoon. I’m going to be a cartoon.” And this “Teenage Dream” thing, it’s the whole thing, the (Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg song) “California Gurls.” The narcissism gets to me sometimes. The intense narcissism.

Cohoe: If you’re someone who is only listening to Katy Perry, you got big problems, but …

Richardson: But in your playlist …

Cohoe: … it can pop up from time to time.

Richardson: I’m not sure how much Katy Perry actually writes her own stuff …

Cohoe: She doesn’t. “Firework” is the only one she really has any writing credit on, and it’s the weakest of all of her tunes. But she’s manufactured, she’s made to do this.

Richardson: She’s pretty comfortable with it, it seems. … I think the chorus is phenomenal in this tune. It’s like a Kid Rock song: it is exactly what it is.

Cohoe: It is what it is.

Hanlon: Yeah. It’s a summertime hit.

Richardson: It’s like a Meat Loaf tune as well: Let’s go all the way tonight, here’s exactly what’s going on, here’s how old we are. It’s like you said, a manufactured, perfect pop hit. There’s a lot of money behind this person.

Hanlon: It must be awesome to be one those producers guys. A million dollars, I’ll write you a pop tune.

 

“Over” by Canadian hip-hop superstar Drake.

Cohoe: This is bad.

Hanlon: Is this Lil’ Wayne?

Cohoe: No, this is Drake.

Richardson: Is Drake Canadian?

Cohoe: He is. He used to be on Degrassi. I saw him at the Junos, actually, at the practice.

Hanlon: I don’t like him. I saw a video clip of a concert and he was talking to the crowd, and talking about some guy’s girlfriend in the front row, and how he could f--- her if he wanted to.

Cohoe: Drake is Katy Perry, though. That’s the thing. We all know. He was on Degrassi. There’s a reason. He’s this cute …

Hanlon: I think he writes all his own stuff, right.

Cohoe: Nonetheless, he’s for the kids. He’s a face they know, and they all have a crush on him. It was just his time to go do this kind of stuff.

See ‘THIS’, page B2

Hanlon: He’s not even all that good looking.

Cohoe: I really wanted to like him. When he was coming out, they were kind of playing him as not being a jerk and being a little smarter than the other rappers.

Hanlon: Richard Branson gave him a jet! Drake Air! That’s nuts.

Cohoe: He’s really mumbly-mouthed, too.

Hanlon: I’m more a fan of singing than rapping. I like some of it. I like Notorious B.I.G. He had good flow. … It’s kind of like Jimmy Buffett. Instead of singing about the bad stuff, it’s like, “I’m rich. I’m going to sit on the beach and drink.”

Richardson: I don’t like brag rap unless it’s really, you know, like, “I dropped acid with Buddha and had to talk him down.”

Cohoe: Really over-the-top.

Richardson: Really smart stuff.

 

“Tonight (I’m Lovin’ You),” the clean version of a song by Enrique Iglesias with Ludacris and DJ Frank E.

Cohoe: Oh! I know who it is, I saw it (on The Telegram’s iPod). It’s someone funny. I won’t say. Just think “big facial mole.” Actually, he doesn’t have it anymore.

Hanlon: Enrique Iglesias? Really?

Richardson: I’ll never forgive him after he did that “Hero” thing. I just wanted to shoot him. The 9/11 “Hero” video. It’s brutal.

Hanlon: I don’t like this guy.

Cohoe: This music, if you’re just listening to this in your house, you’re not really doing what you’re supposed to be doing with it. It’s dance music. It’s made for dancing.

Hanlon: I don’t feel you really actually listen to it. It’s just on.

Cohoe: It’s not supposed to be listened to.

Richardson: Right. So if it’s utilitarian, it’s more function than form, right? … He always reminds of, like, a stripper who dances in front of a mirror.

Cohoe: He’s a Latin lover!

Hanlon: Son of Julio.

Cohoe: Which is probably the most interesting thing about him.

Hanlon: Did he really get his mole removed? That was his trademark!

Cohoe: To judge this against something that you’re supposed to be listening to and having revelations to, it’s just stupid. It doesn’t make any sense.

Richardson: It’s not a song. It’s a track.

(Ludacris starts rapping)

Hanlon: Oh, here we go.

Richardson: “Oh, drop down! We need a rapper to drop a juicy 18 bars!”

Telegram: Can you identify the rapper?

Cohoe: Let’s try.

Hanlon: Is it Ludacris?

Richardson: Oh, who doesn’t like rap music? (Hanlon’s) like a closet homophobe gay! He loves rap! “I’m going to say this and get it in The Telegram: I can’t stand rap! I’m much more into songs!”

Hanlon: (protesting) I know his delivery!

 

“Hustle and Cuss” by The Dead Weather, a side project by Jack White of the White Stripes.

Hanlon: That’s pretty cool.

Cohoe: Is this going to be by Them Crooked Vultures or something?

Richardson: Is this Black Keys?

Hanlon: Sounds kind of Black Keys. Dan Auerbach.

Richardson: No, I know who this is! Dead Weather!

Cohoe: That makes sense.

Richardson: “Gee, why is it produced so good?” Because (Jack White) is a machine! I got a copy of this album.

Cohoe: I do think that this is a similar thing to what Black Mountain was doing, but better.

Richardson: I sort of put it in the same triangle: Them Crooked Vultures, Black Keys, and Dead Weather. And I’ve listened to this album quite a few times, and I really dig it, but it’s really more of a full piece, you know? I guess the thing is he goes right into the genre of music and nails it so well and they make it sound so vibrant, but I don’t really get a lot of real strong songs out of it.

Cohoe: Which maybe is the difference between it and the Black Keys’ album.

Richardson: It’s like every single song on (the Black Keys’) “Brothers” is a hit. It’s unbelievable, that Black Keys stuff.

Hanlon: I always hear Rage Against The Machine when I hear this band.

Cohoe, Richardson: Totally.

Richardson: We can name the 10 bands that most rock goes back to, and I mean after Zeppelin, like Rage, Jesus Lizard. How many bands even in town sound like Jesus Lizard?

Hanlon: A lot.

Richardson: I really like the album, I’ve listened to it probably around 10 times since I got it, and the production is so sick, but I can’t say it really blows my mind in terms of full pieces. Like Them Crooked Vultures, there were so many great songs on that album … but this hangs a little too much around. Now that said, it’s six times better than anything I could ever create.

 

“Mine” by young country superstar Taylor Swift.

Cohoe: This is as bad as it gets, in my opinion. This is Taylor Swift. This is the lamest music ever written.

Richardson: Is it really?

Cohoe: No, I have a piece to say. I have a rant about Taylor Swift. Everybody’s like, “Oh my god, she’s so young, she’s doing amazing things.” Well, actually, she’s 20, and Lykke Li was 19 when she put out her friggin’ wicked album where she’s experimenting and doing crazy stuff. The fact is she’s 20 and writing songs for 12-year-olds. And any adult who listens to Taylor Swift literally must have the maturity level of a teenage girl. Because it is about going to the prom, and “I wear glasses so the boys don’t think I’m cute.” It’s the worst. It’s horrible! She’s 20 years old and she’s writing this crap. It’s too much hype. It’s brutal.

Richardson: I don’t know her stuff at all.

Cohoe: Just listen to it. And it’s super narrative, and just ugh. (Panel requests the song be started again.) Really give her a listen. Listen to these words. She’s 20. What were we all doing when we were 20?

Hanlon: Looking for girls.

Richardson: Just stop it for a second? (Music stops) OK, so what makes Katy Perry different? If she’s singing about the very same thing, what makes her different?

Cohoe: Because everyone understands that that is just ridiculous, whereas (with Taylor Swift) people are like, “She’s a real girl! She’s just 20, and she’s doing this! She writes all her own songs!” She writes her own bad songs, yes. She gets all this ridiculous … people like that she’s shiny-clean, and she’s got this Christian sort of …

Richardson: Christian hotness.

Cohoe: It’s just so fake. Katy is not trying to not be fake, she’s not trying to look like anything but what she is.

Hanlon: Katy is a dirtbag.

Cohoe: It’s just manipulative.

Hanlon: This is a bad song. I hate it.

Cohoe: And adults are listening to it! Grown-ups!

 

“Ready to Start” by indie Canadian critical darlings Arcade Fire.

Hanlon: I like this song.

Cohoe: What is it?

Hanlon: Arcade Fire. It’s a really good tune.

Cohoe: Can we actually listen to this? I’ve had a really bad attitude about this album, and I really need to have a real listen.

Richardson: I think it’s great.

Hanlon: That bass, it’s really cool.

Richardson: I also love that one-note guitar.

Hanlon: Yeah, and in the next verse, it all drops and it’s just the guitar doing it.

Richardson: Well, there’s another — you could put Arcade Fire in that gang of people that actually made a sound. So many, so many bands sound like Arcade Fire.

Cohoe: Sometimes it’s a bit hard to listen to Arcade Fire because of that, I find.

Richardson: This song, too, it’s really nicely shaped, everything’s there, but sometimes I like a little more rawness.

Hanlon: This record is a lot more stripped-down than the last two.

Cohoe: Which is good, because I find I’ve always had a bit of a bad attitude about them, because it’s almost like cabaret.

Hanlon: Too much, sometimes.

Cohoe: Is this another situation where I should be listening to the whole album?

Hanlon: Yeah, it’s a concept record. It’s really good.

Cohoe: Well, compared to all the things we’ve listened to so far, as much as a Grinch I can be about it, it sounds wicked.

 

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com, Twitter: TelegramDaniel

Organizations: The Telegram, Led Zeppelin, Jesus Lizard Rage Against The Machine

Geographic location: California, Vancouver, Black Mountain MUN Corner Brook Grammy

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Recent comments

  • Andy
    January 07, 2011 - 13:14

    Thank you for such an honest, fresh take on "pop" music! For those who have made negative comments about these musicans, come on. They were asked to give their honesy reaction to this music, and I'm glad they gave it!

  • Lily
    January 03, 2011 - 22:51

    WOW...could these folks be any more self important and unlikable?? Would be interesting to hear what the artists featured who have actually MADE IT would have to say about the work of these wanna bes.....

  • Mike
    January 03, 2011 - 17:45

    I only skimmed through this and this is what I saw. "Oh (insert name) is just the worst, this song is garbage" I'm not a fan of many of these artists either but I at least recognize they have skill and some of their songs are catchy. This just seems like a bunch of people that could barely fill a bar ripping on anything mainstream.

  • Steve
    January 03, 2011 - 16:39

    Oh Rebecca Cohoe needs to just give it up. The "I have to hate everything that is mainstream" is so typical of about half of the music scene in town. Especially where she hates on Black Mountain when she doesn't know who it is, and then backtracks. How disingenuous. Its not as if her band is lighting the world on fire with originality.

  • wavy
    January 03, 2011 - 14:33

    That had to be the most pretentious, aimless, pointless, unfocused piece of crap I've ever read in the Telegram and that's saying something. What do you think you are now, The Scope? Ughhh...