Singles Going Steady
his week in singles—The Offspring get impatient, the power Simple Plan’s music overwhelms their ability to title songs, Marques Houston takes a shot at U2, Kelly Osbourne gets people talking about Visage for the first time in 20 years, and Eminem creates possibly the most unnecessary dis track in history. So sit back and watch Josh Love and Ian Mathers take a crack at all of this, plus exactly what R. Kelly is doing in that gosh-darned closet, this week on Singles Going Steady!
Date: May 30, 2005 8:23 AM
Subject: Got my cell on vibrate
Well, you probably saw this coming, and I'm not going to mince words: It's the rare R. Kelly song that doesn't simultaneously bore me and piss me off. And by "rare" I mean "Ignition (Remix)". But I have to give him a hand for simultaneously doing something more interesting than he usually does, veering even further into self-parody, and placing even less emphasis on the music than ever before.
I mean, what's there isn't bad (and Kelly actually uses the synthetic horns well), but it's pure backdrop. The focus is 100% on the crap serial soap melodrama, with his usual less-than-great grasp of human behaviour. By the time Kelly pulls his gun in part one I've begun to laugh, and the rest of the first three parts is, to my ears at least, comedy gold.
And yet, now that I've heard 1-3, I'll admit I kind of want to see just how much more insane it can get. "Trapped In The Closest" may be the purest Jerry Springer-level thrills on the charts right now, but damn if it doesn't work, somehow. I'm sure the video will be a modern classic.
Then again, I think I remember you liking his straighter stuff more than I do. Does the plot here seem laughable to you too?
Date: May 31, 2005 10:25 AM
Subject: Trapped in a priest’s closet
Just got finished reading this article on Yahoo (not exactly SFJ in the Times but whaddya gon' do at 2 am?) about a pop music researcher in PA (no, not Miccio) who's analyzed the relationship between the "meaningfulness" of chart-topping hits and the concurrent public mood of their particular era, finding that economic prosperity seemed to coincide with happier, more ephemeral material while times of hardship lent themselves to deeper pop fare. Which is partly kinda like "duh" but also kind of specious (you wonder at the reliability of folks who named Lifehouse's "Hangin' By a Moment" one of the most meaningful they heard - I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess they misread "Born in the USA" as a chirpy sign of robust Reaganomics).
Anyway, judging from the first three songs I’ve heard for this week (counting R. Kelly as one and including Em and Ms. Osbourne), I think it’d be kind of hard to evince the general consciousness of America right now because everything’s buried under so many damn layers of pop culture name-checking, homage, self-referentiality and meta-commentary. You’ve got R. admitting that he’s trying to make a male version of Desperate Housewives, you’ve got Eminem up to his usual culture-addled tricks, so far gone in cataloguing the country’s sickly hypocritical relationship with teenage starlets that he forgot to write a hook, and then you’ve got Kelly O swiping an 80s hit (Visage’s Kraftwerk-inspired “Fade to Grey”) as an easy gateway to her own personal makeover, which really tells us nothing at all about Kelly, and nothing about America except maybe we?re finally ready to re-embrace our German overlords.
As for R. specifically, I’ve really only taken a passing interest in his career up until recently, but I do admire the way he’s used hysterical contradictions and a blatant disregard for his own image as a means to become even more popular and beloved. This dude who works security at my job spent an hour on the phone with his girl last night expounding on R.’s genius (I’d never bother to try that myself--my own girlfriend can’t get past R.’s criminal incontinence, and honestly I can’t blame her). The whole thing reminds of this dude who used to give a one-minute re-enactment of that day’s Young and the Restless on the local top 40 station when I was a kid--and people LOVED that shit.
Since we’re on the psychological tip already, I’d love to see how this melodrama tests with men vs. women; Kelly may want to make a man’s DH but I guarantee you it’s women who are eating this up, not just b/c they’re more typically soap viewers, but simply because I think (no science here to back me up) women tend to respond more to narrative in general than men. Hey, it’s certainly true with pornography, so why not pop music?
P.S.—Actually, if part 3 is a hit, maybe it’s an indication America’s continuing to soften on same-sex relationships, since Rufus sternly rebukes Kathy/Mary for her assumption that his infidelity is any more wrong than hers. Man, we could spend all week just on “Trapped in the Closet,” couldn’t we?
Date: May 31, 2005 3:46 PM
Subject: Stylus gave Stanley Climbfall an A-
Actually, the subject line of your email reminds me of the fact that Rufus is a priest - and although I thought nothing of it at the time, and I don't think Kelly necessarily means anything by it, I'm a little weirded out that the only homosexual Kelly has depicted in song happens to be a man of the cloth. Of course, he's also married, so I'm assuming there's no subtext on the Catholic celibacy thing. I hope you're right, that what gets taken away by the public is instead the idea that man love isn't a bad thing, but on the other hand if we're taking moral lessons from R. Kelly we're probably screwed, and I don't just say that because of the peeing thing.
Yeah, I'm not sure either "Hangin' By A Moment" or "Trapped In The Closet" are terribly deep, but I don't think that researcher necessarily made an error - do you have any idea how many people my age felt that "Hangin' By A Moment" like, really spoke to them? I'm not trying to bring back the old, odious slander that the general public is a bunch of rubes; but when you listen to very little music, or only listen to it casually, you tend to imbue what you _do_ hear with a significance that you might not if you knew the other options, eh? I mean, I really do think most angsty teenagers would find The Sunset Tree more compelling than, uh, the Used or whoever, but they're never going to hear it. So if we're going by listener reaction rather than the content of the songs (yeah, that's hideously problematic, let's just pretend it's not, eh?), than I'm very much afraid something like Lifehouse may very well be one of the more significant songs of the recent past, no matter how weird that seems to you or me or probably most of our readers.
Which leads me, believe it or not, to Kelly O’s little number. This kind of "cover" that makes me feel kind of guilty, because I've never heard the original, which would be fine, except that I really like "One Word" and I'm not rushing out to go find the source material. Oops, there goes my authenticity. But this is exactly the sort of song that, although it's basically stylish gibberish lyrically (what's with all the outer-space stuff?), I can easily picture teenagers who hear it on the radio fashioning some sort of deep personal meaning from. And if that isn't one of the glories of pop, I don't know what is - couple it with the fact that "One Word" makes me wish I'd grown up in the halcyon days of synth pop, and as far as I'm concerned we've got a winner.
And then there's Eminem - I wanted to let you have the first shot at "Ass Like That", which has the same effect on me as a horribly grisly train wreck. A whole song spent imitating Comedy Ethnic Stereotype #47/Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (because, seriously, he seems to be doing both)? I've listened to it five times now, and the first and last time I was killing myself laughing. Those middle three listens, though, I barely made it through, and I think that's going to be my lasting impression of the song. The sheer front of the song is kind of dizzily compelling at first, but once you settle into it being a song there's nothing there, just a lot of flailing. Which is annoying, because this is the first rap song in along time to use a quasi-Eastern backing that really works. The almost hypnotic way Eminem sings the chorus (until the "de-doing-doing-doing" part, naturally) is actually really awesome - if only there was a song to go with it, and not a blunderbuss-esque attack on pop culture. That shit's already beginning to give off a foul smell.
Of course, I'd still rather than listen to "Ass Like That" than anything by Simple Plan. I sometimes start feeling guilty for projecting pretty much all of my hate for modern wuss-emo onto that band (why, oh why did they have to be Canadian?), but then I hear "Welcome To My Life" or "I'm Just A Kid" again, and I remember how richly my hate is justified. And the one we've got coming up is called "Untitled"? What fresh hell is this?
Date: June 1, 2005 11:09 AM
Subject: DA DOING DOING DOING
You're absolutely right about "Hangin' By a Moment," and I didn't mean to come off like a snob or anything, I just think it's interesting because clearly Lifehouse didn't nail the zeitgeist themselves, but rather they just happened to be in the right place at the right time, their song getting pushed by radio at a time when the public mood was so dismal, and it's funny how the participants seem to transfer the "meaningfulness" of the song onto Lifehouse and seemingly give them credit for it when really they were just lucky bastards (not a bad song though).
In a perverse way, I kind of wish more people shared my own sense of the direction this country's headed, but if that was the case, Simple Plan's sickeningly bathetic "Untitled" would probably spend six months on top of the charts. Maybe I should hope for misguided optimism if it means I get "1 Thing" instead? Actually, two of the biggest chart hits of the year, the Mario's passable "Let Me Love You" and Game/50's excellent "Hate It or Love It," are both kinda somber, so maybe we can split the difference somewhere after all.
While I'm not sure too many people are gonna necessarily find "One Word" to be "meaningful," it's certainly more meaningful to me than anything else we've got this week except maybe R. Kelly (entirely separate rulebook needed) simply because it's the only one that really connects with me on a physically pleasurable level. We could spill a thousand words each deconstructing "Ass Like That," but if you can actually listen to the entire song five times you're a stronger man than me.
P.S.—Is there any way "Ass Like That" will really become very popular? I can't buy it, maybe it's just because I can foresee a future where teenage boys yell "da doing doing doing" at good-looking girls. I don't want to be a part of that future.
Date: June 1, 2005 9:03 PM
Ha ha, the joke's on you - I've already listened to "Ass Like That" SIX times. In a row. The experience was akin to eating an entire bag of Fritos in one go, however, and now I feel greasy and disgusting.
You mentioned that "Untitled" was sickening, but you avoided the fact that it's a fucking string-drenched ballad, territory I had honestly hope Simple Plan would never find the imagination to colonize. Only one moment in the song is good even for laughs, and that's the way the singer belts out the line "and the night goes on" like he's in a hair metal band – other than that, it's arguably just as horrible as "Welcome To My Life", only in a slightly different idiom. If the pop charts really did reflect the post-Bush malaise hanging around the heads of at least a significant portion of the States, I'd like to think they could go for something more Arab Strap-ish than Simple Plan, but hey, I guess that's my version of your "da doing doing doing" nightmare. I'd be equally glad to split the difference with 50 and the Game, but although it's subdued "Hate It Or Love It" is such a triumphal song maybe it summons up the split down there even better than "Untitled"? If Stephen Harper ever gets in up here, I'll have to see if similar things start happening to the Canadian psyche.
You raise a good point about the "meaningfulness" of bands, but I think maybe we should all start thinking about how the same practice happens with all bands, pop hits or not. The Arcade Fire spring to mind, but really pretty much any act we start idolizing is probably partaking of this sort of process. Or am I thinking about it too much?
I was going to try to find some clever segue to work the new Offspring single into the conversation, but whatever it is I've lost it. I admit the band mostly gets a pass from me due to beloved memories of days spent playing videogames to the accompaniment of Crash, but this is still pretty disappointing. I really liked "The Kids Aren't Alright", and this just sounds like a pale copy of that song. Which I don't need. Another reason not to buy the eventual greatest hits, although the fact that I'll never be able to find a version without "Pretty Fly For A White Guy" already put paid to that.
I mean, it's not a bad song, but I sold my childhood Weird Al albums a while ago, you know?
Date: June 2, 2005 10:16 AM
Subject: Trapped in the Closet (Part Four! (spoilers inside!))
Hey Ian -
Is it just me, or has male R&B really been put to shame so far this year by its female counterpart? Mario, Omarion, and now Marques Houston just aren't getting it done next to Amerie, Tweet, and Brooke Valentine, and I think the reason why boils down to personality. Everybody's getting the same creamy Kanye/Kwame/etc. beats, it just seems like the ladies are doing a better job of putting across a distinct identity, not just to distinguish them from each other, but also to distinguish track 1 from track 2 on their own individual albums. Amerie's generally exuberant and emotive while Brooke's just tough as nails, but each of them can switch things up and show different sides of their persona at the drop of a hat. Meanwhile, the boys' club of R&B just comes off like one interminably long pillow talk spiel, each song blending into the next just as seamlessly as the four parts of "Trapped in the Closet," only that different artists making entirely different songs should probably try to be a little more distinct and musically dynamic, don't ya think?
Did you notice what I just said up there - that's right, in case you hadn't heard the fourth part of R.'s saga has leaked and it's mind-bogglingly surrealistic in the sense that it seems to abandon the entire story we just spent three parts building up. I'm sure it will all come full circle in part 5, it just seems like an incredibly lengthy detour for such a miniature stage play, like if Act IV of Hamlet had been exclusively about fly fishing. Yeah, we're still on sex here, but it's Kelly and his wife this time, and it can't even get started until R. gets pulled over by a cop on the way home and slapped with a speeding ticket. R.'s mid-coitus cramping is maybe the highlight of the entire miniseries so far for me, and then of course there's the prophylactic cliffhanger...
Date: June 2, 2005 11:26 AM
Subject: But, seriously, the Offspring?
What, nothing about the Offspring? I know it's undistinguished, but my teenage affection for them makes me feel a bit protective. C'mon, at least say something bad. "Can't Repeat" deserves that.
As for Marques, I was fully and utterly in agreement with you... until I got that email from Andrew explaining he'd accidentally sent the wrong MP3. It's still pretty bad, but at least it stands out from Omarion and Mario, mostly because of the Kanye West production and a guest rap from this Young Rome guy who sounds (oddly enough) like a bad imitation of West. Maybe that's why he got hired? This song, "All Because Of You" as opposed to "Because Of You", is pleasant enough I don't think I'd start switching radio stations to avoid it, but it's still pretty undistinguished.
There's a sense, possibly unjustified, that if you took the female R&B singers we're discussing and swapped their songs, it would actually make a difference, that Tweet and Amerie (for example) would do different things with the tracks for "1 Thing" and "Turn Da Lights Off", whereas I can't help feeling like Mario would sing basically the same type of thing if given "All Because Of You". So I think your point still has some force.
And yeah, I've downloaded part 4 already, but haven't heard it yet. Your description is intriguing, to say the least.
Date: June 2, 2005 11:23 PM
Subject: He may have a graduate degree, but...
I really dig our new SGS format, I think the old one ultimately kinda degenerated into a bunch of painfully "snappy" one-liners (and I was DEFINITELY just as guilty as anyone else, if not moreso), but I understand these sorts of transitions can be tough, so in deference to the people who are having a hard time getting used to our new MO, here's a small sampling of possible responses to the Offspring's "Can't Repeat" from some of Stylus' most beloved critics (and seriously, no harm intended, I love every one of these guys).
David Drake: How can anyone possibly still be listening to these tired-ass 90s alt-rock dinosaurs? Get it straight - guitars are OVER, go cop Fuck Action 40 and the new Juelz mixtape and welcome yourself to the 21st century.
Andrew Unterberger: Not bad, but not nearly as good as "Come Out and Play," which topped the Billboard Modern Rock charts for two weeks in July of 1994, or "Pretty Fly for a White Guy," which topped the UK singles charts for one week in February of 1999.
Anthony Miccio: Call the veteran SoCal pop-punks washed-up at your own self-revealing risk.
Akiva Gottlieb: It's no Wilco.
Josh Timmerman: It's no M.I.A.
Ian Mathers: Since it MUST be either a  or a , I'm gonna hafta go with .
OK, enough inside baseball, clearly this song isn't even worthy of addressing directly, so this weak parody was the best I could do. I can think of no more damning indictment.
By: US Stylus Staff
Published on: 2005-06-03