Welcome to Singles Showdown, a new reoccurring blog where I review five songs in one post. At the end, the five songs will be ranked and scored. Each Singles Showdown will have a theme such as Summer Songs, 1960s Psychedelia, or Breakup Songs. Today’s theme is Pop songs released in 2012. So lets waste no more time, pop in our ear buds and check out some songs in the most commercially successful genre today.
After the poor response to her last album, Bionic, and the lukewarm reception to her first starring movie Burlesque, Xtina bounced back to prominence by appearing as a coach on the singing competition reality show The Voice and as a guest on Maroon 5’s hit song Moves Like Jagger. Aguilera is now releasing a new album at the end of the year and the first single of that album is Your Body, a highly produced ElectroPop song with professional hit makers behind the helm. In most artist’s hands, this would be an empty and typical sex song dilute by a lack of personality and conviction. The song is a departure from Aguilera as there is no sense of female empowerment in the lyrics nor is this a personal song from Aguilera proper. So can she give a strong performance to an admittedly shallow song?
As it turns out, yes she can and with stellar results. Aguilera is prone to sing about empowerment, as well as her own feelings so it’s nice to hear her sing about just wanting to get laid, no empowerment subtext or alternate motives in sight. The lyrics are not anything that hasn’t been heard before. Double entendres like “So open the box, don’t need no key, I’m unlocked” are abound and sly yet blunt crude implications like “If you don’t know where to go, I’ll finish off on my own” are here and accounted for. What makes this song great is Aguilera’s performance. She’s always had a tendency to over sing in most of her songs but when the track in question is an excessively produced, bombastic, heavily synthesized dance song with lyrics evoking the desire to get some, over singing fits perfectly. The song itself is one of the few ElectroPop songs that remembers to have a melody as well as a good back beat and doesn’t rely on synth chords to carry the song. A constant repeating chorus is also absent and a simple, easy to sing along chorus takes it’s place. Admittedly, the song manages to be a great performance of a tired formula and some may not like this song due to déjà vu but Your Body is an extremely catchy song that avoids being annoying.
From the soundtrack for the TV show Smash, star and American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee has Touch Me to add to her resume as Most Underrated Pop Song of 2012. While I’m not a viewer of the TV show, this song excels in that thanks to the production and tone of the song, there is much more being conveyed in this song than the lyrics would have you think. Katharine McPhee herself has a great voice and gives a great performance on this recording, which isn’t a surprise as she has proven through her past albums that she is musically versatile. The lyrics paint the picture of a woman (I assume) eager to seduce a man into spending the night with her. McPhee’s vocals are sexy and sultry without being excessive but the music is where things get interesting.
The production itself is dark in tone and although the song manages to be catchy, touches like the bridge’s syncopated drum beat, the auto-tune robot vocals, and the sometimes ominous backing vocals gives this dance floor ready track a sinister overtone. One line in the bridge, “Take a good snapshot, get me from my better angle cause I like it hot and you know I love a scandal”, suggests an alternative motive. The song’s performance in the show itself, when consists of McPhee teasing the prospect of performing nude, being locked in a bed prison and men in white masks photographing and trying to grab her, supports this idea. The melody is lacking though serviceable and its darker subtext isn’t enough for the song to be more than another dance song but there’s nothing wrong with a Pop song trying to be something a little more. Especially a song for a TV show no less.
Nelly Furtado has been out of the popular consciousness since 2007, when Say It Right, a single off her 2006 album Loose, was a number one hit. She released a Spanish-speaking album in 2009 and released a greatest hits collection in 2010 but Big Hoops (Bigger The Better) is the first single off her new album The Spirit Indestructible and her attempt to return to the charts. So what has changed in the five, six years she’s been gone? Sadly not much. Big Hoops shows Furtado trying to recreate Promiscuous and Maneater from Loose while giving a Rihanna-esque performance.
Although produced by Darkchild and not Timbaland, this song sounds like an outtake from the Loose album that was polished slightly for this release. It falls for the traps many pop songs due such as annoying, constantly repeating lyrics, virtually no melody, and overly minimalistic back beat that borders on lazy. Furtado herself sings about going out to dance and being strong despite some dude not responding to her presence. With lyrics like “Yeah, he and all of his friends, they, they got that hair like high five”, words were clearly not a priority. Add her auto-tune vocals and a more nasally that usual delivery and this song seems like a pass. Yet Furtado does sing like she believes what she’s saying and Furtado is more interesting than Rihanna, which saves this song from mediocrity. Plus the breakdown at the end of the song is pretty cool. For fans of Urban music only.
Coldplay’s latest album has been a mixed bag. While Mylo Xyloto has managed to be relatively successful, going Platinum in multiple countries, it’s managed to kill Coldplay’s relevance here in America. None of the singles have managed to achieve popular success and Princess of China is really no exception. The song debuted and peaked at number 20 on the Billboard Top 100 and it quickly dropped off the chart soon after. Of course, lack of chart success doesn’t make a song bad but in this case, it does mean the song is not great. What exactly is wrong with this song?
For starters, the song says featuring Rihanna but you hear her more than Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin. Furthermore, this song sounds more like something she would record. Another problem is the title of the song. Never is “Princess of China” uttered in the lyrics nor is there anything suggesting this is about a “Princess of China”. The word “Princess” is sung a few times but nothing other than that. The main problem however is the song just sounds incomplete. There’s a very simple backbeat which barely changes throughout the song, it relies on held down synth cords to move the song forward, and the main riff, which is the only melody for the song, is repeated too many times. Back to the lyrics, which describe a relationship falling apart; there is no chorus whatsoever. In it’s place, we have Rihanna singing the guitar riff with the expression “oh”. The song ends with Martin and Rihanna repeating the line “cause you really hurt me” in a rather disjointed fashion to the other lyrics. Princess of China admittedly is competently performed, a couple of my complaints are minor, and from a simple perspective, it’s a decent song. However, the song is way too lazy to be an album track, let alone a single.
Call Me Maybe is a little song about a girl asking a guy she’s got the hots for to call her. Simple premise that’s been done millions of times but a premise that is nearly universally relatable. As such, it became one of the biggest songs of the year and the chorus’ lyrics became a meme. As with anything that’s become so popular, some people have become annoyed with the song as it’s become overplayed. However, that’s a repercussion of being wildly successful rather than being annoying or bad. So is Call Me Maybe a precious, simple pop song about puppy love or is it the latest irritating product from the pop machine? I think it’s alright.
Yeah, I like Call Me Maybe. The lyrics are simple, with the verses sounding like something from a romance novel. The production is high yet the music isn’t bombastic like many overly produced songs today. Jepsen herself isn’t a sex kitten trying to get you on the dance floor and is instead just a cute girl singing about a crush in a family friendly way. Now I know that description would scare away many people, including myself, but unlike many songs or anything really that’s described as family friendly, it’s not throwing that in your face. It’s not overly trying to be family friendly. It just is. Jepsen’s performance is authentic, even if the delivery is squeaky clean. It’s authentically squeaky clean. The song itself is catchy and easily recognizable, just like the best pop songs should be. In that way, Call Me Maybe is what great Pop songs like Like a Virgin by Madonna, I’m Like a Bird by Nelly Furtado and Hey, Soul Sister by Train should be. Are they great works of art? No. Do they have challenging lyrics? Nope. Are they catchy and memorable with easy lyrics to sing along to? Absolutely. And that’s what Call Me Maybe is. Nothing more and nothing less. Just ignore the fact that Jepsen is a 26 year old woman who looks, sounds and acts like a 15 year old.
I’ll choose five more songs and post iterations of Singles Showdown periodically. And now for the results. I listed the five songs in order of what I think are the best songs in this bunch from the top to bottom, best to worse. I also gave each song a score on 5 point scale with half points. There are no ties should multiple songs have the same score. Links are included to each song so you can listen to them yourself and, if you wish to, comment in the comment section below to give me your thoughts on these songs.
Katharine McPhee: Touch Me – 4 out of 5
Christina Aguilera: Your Body – 4 out of 5
Carly Rae Jepsen: Call Me Maybe – 3.5 out of 5
Coldplay: Princess of China (feat. Rihanna) – 3 out of 5
Nelly Furtado: Big Hoops (Bigger The Better) – 2.5 out of 5