Best Songs of 2009: 11-15

•December 2, 2009 • Leave a Comment

11.

“Cudi Zone” by KiD CuDi

Kid CuDi received a lot of hype this year. He was one of the most exciting new rappers if only because he had such a talented group of people behind him. CuDi is prone to repeating the same theme and it seems like every song is about the same thing: the “depth” of CuDi. While being lonely doesn’t necessarily equate to depth, some of his songs demonstrate his true potential, including the excellent “CuDi Zone”. A little bit faster-paced than his other songs, “CuDi Zone” is an excellent mix of lyrical wit and soaring chorus. The song runs the various other cliché tropes that CuDi often employs… and yet, it doesn’t feel tired. A shining example by a possibly worthwhile MC, only time will tell if CuDi can live up the quality of this song.

12.

“Ambling Alp” by Yeasayer

The summer of 2009 shall go down in history as the summer of psychedelic pop. Bands like Animal Collective, MGMT, and Miike Snow experienced huge surges in popularity. Although it has become an almost tired genre, Yeasayer has managed to produce a song that is new and exciting. “Ambling Alp” is an infectious bit of indie psych pop that will get stuck in the listener’s head for days. The video is not safe for work. That being said, enjoy the naked people.

13.

“Exodus 5.1” by Rhymefest

“Exodus 5.1” by Rhymefest is an illuminating look into the life of a young black man who aspires to greatness but is bound by the realities of street life. The song asks of the listener to consider the difficulties of his life and contrast them with those espoused in the song. “Exodus 5.1” forces the listener to consider their difficulties in life and puts them into perspective. The song ends with “And if you’ve never been through none of this in your life/ What’s the closest you’ve ever been to Christ?” A striking question that drives Rhymefest’s point home.

14.

“Silvia” by Miike Snow

This song blew up earlier this year and was featured in a few remixes and mash-ups. It’s a catchy bit of indie electro but is probably a bit inaccessible to people who aren’t fans of music that is a bit “out there”. Regardless, “Silvia” is a fantastic song that is an interesting listen due to its varied nature. It starts off slow but eventually builds into a synth-lover’s dream. The jury is still out on Miike Snow, but “Silvia” is a guaranteed winner.

15.

“She Wolf (Villains Remix)” by Shakira

Villains does a good job of maintaining the ethos of Shakira’s song while improving it vastly. It isn’t exactly rocket science to take an already danceable song and make it more danceable but Villains goes over the top and delivers a song that is superior to the original in almost every way. Adding an intense guitar rift and an electro backbeat, “She Wolf” becomes a whole new beast, one that will tear up any dance floor.

Best Songs of 2009: 16-20

•December 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

16.

“Heartbreaker” by MSTRKRFT ft. John Legend

John Legend is a talented, if overrated, performer. MSTRKRFT is just fabulous. Combine the talents of these two artists and the result is “Heartbreaker”, a surprisingly successful blend of piano and electronica. The two artists play to the other’s weaknesses. MSTRKRFT takes Legend’s bland approach to songs and speeds it up; Legend takes MSTRKRFT’s tendency to overwhelm the listener with driven beats and forces the production of a song with a more traditional pop organization. An enjoyable listen all the way through.

17.

“Already Home” by Jay-Z ft. Kid Cudi

Jay-Z’s new album, The Blueprint 3, has spawned several singles and was a commercial success but has failed to convince many that Jay-Z is as relevant a rapper as he was in the past. That being said, one of the best songs from the album is one that features the potential flash-in-the-pan Kid CuDi. “Already Home” is carried on the quality of the fast beat and excellent string riff that provide some much needed energy to the song. Although little more than a polemic against the “they”, “Already Home” is an excellent example of production stealing the show.

18.

“You Belong with Me” by Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift is an important figure in music for several reasons. Musically, she is combining pop and country in a way that hasn’t been heard since Shania’s heyday. But she’s doing much more than that. Swift has become an amalgamation of girl-next-door type and sexy pop starlet in a way that makes her both an attractive role-model for young girls and an icon for young men. Her universal appeal is tapped in her single “You Belong with Me” as it portrays the ubiquitous experience of unrequited love in high school. She makes the listener root for her and, in turn, for the listener’s self as well. A song this popular has to end in cliché but “You Belong with Me” is a song for the ages.

19.

“Bathtub Clash (CFCF Remix)” by FEMME

FEMME is a band that is wholly uninteresting in almost every aspect; boring music mixed with boring lyrics equates to a boring band. But when one of the hottest new producers decides to remix a song by said boring band, well then, the result is impressive indeed. It is no surprise that it would take a producer with the talent of CFCF to give new life to such a dead beast. CFCF manages this by adding a cinematic element (in the form of a piano piece), synths, and an interesting beat to the song.

20.

“Daylight” by Matt & Kim

As brutally infectious as any song made this year, “Daylight” by Matt & Kim is guaranteed to get stuck in one’s head after one or two listens. It received a huge boost this year when it was featured in a Bacardi commercial. The commercial itself was forgettable but “Daylight” stole the show and thrust Matt & Kim into the spotlight. This is a song worth drinking to.

Hannah Montana’s “Supergirl”

•November 17, 2009 • 1 Comment

Hannah Montana is popular for a variety of reasons, the foremost being that she readily addresses the pressures of growing up as a young girl. Built into her character is a schizophrenic existence that is familiar to most adolescents: the challenges of being the successful star (the grown-up) and the normal girl (the teenager). An adolescent girl has to contend with expectations on both sides. She must be grown-up while she is still growing up. Hannah Montana and Miley physically embody this schism. Hannah Montana is grown up. She never cracks under pressure, she performs when she has to, and she makes more money than most adults can ever dream of. 

But Miley is not Hannah Montana. Miley has boy troubles, she struggles with math, and she has to deal with an annoying older brother. She is just as prone to the pressures of being growing up as any other teenage girl. Thus, Miley is forced to reconcile between two lives: one fully grown, and the other burgeoning. What makes her accessible to her target audience is her ability to meet them on her level, as Miley. Hannah Montana is the girl they all wish they could be, while Miley is just like them. The balance between grown up and young adult is tenuous. And yet that is what makes Hannah Montana/Miley appealing: she has as much trouble navigating the divide as the next girl.

This is what makes the song “Supergirl” all the more striking. On first listen, it sounds like a reasonably succinct account of being Hannah Montana/Miley. Hannah Montana has pressures to deal with that Miley doesn’t and yet when the time comes, she has to persevere:

“When I feel all alone and nobody knows
Still gotta smile for a while, I can’t let it show
Dry my tears, have no fears and when I’m
(And when I’m)
Backstage feeling down and the lights come on

No time to worry, gotta hurry
Time to sing my song, gonna shake it off”

The separate demands of Miley and Hannah Montana clash but Hannah Montana has deal with her issue first. This intimates that the pressures of growing up are less important than the pressures of being grown up. It diminishes the worries, problems, and fears of the young girl. Miley’s problems come second to Hannah’s.

Another unsettling trait of this song is that it directly addresses what pop stars know and strive for but never admit: that the pop idol is someone to model one’s self on. Part of the appeal of a pop star is the want to emulate their dress, grace, and confidence. “Supergirl” takes it a step further and asks the audience to consider what that all entails. There is a price to pay for that elegance: the pressures of keeping up that appearance, at all times. It isn’t enough to be merely beautiful; one has to maintain that standard:

“I’m super cool, super hot
Livin’ like a rock star
You think I’m super, you think I’m super
On the cover of your magazine

Wherever I go they make a scene
I’m super, super, I’m super-duper
So you wanna be just like
So you wanna be just like

Think you wanna be just like me
Everybody’s watchin’ me
Never as easy as it seems
To be super, super, to be super, supergirl”

Hannah Montana is telling the audience that they only think they want to be “super cool” or “super hot”; that the price of those attributes is an expectation that no normal girl could ever meet. She makes the beauty, grace, and glamour of Hannah Montana unattainable for anyone but her. This addresses an uncomfortable truth about Hannah Montana: she is everything the audience is not, because she is a product, not a real person. The audience aspires to be “super duper” just like her, and Hannah Montana challenges the audience, “think you wanna be just like me”, knowing full well that they, in fact, cannot. This is a veiled taunt and an affront to the empathy that powers the Hannah Montana engine. An interesting aspect of the Hannah Montana/Miley conflation is how much of Miley is lost in translation. Even Miley acknowledges that Hannah Montana is a being far beyond her, “Wish you could see I’m like everybody else/Struggling to let go and always be myself”. If the actress who play Hannah can’t keep up, how can an adolescent girl even begin to measure up?

A sort of perverse solipsism drives Hannah Montana. She has been created and thus she can construct her own reality. A reality where being beautiful, glamorous, and super cool is only attainable by a girl more perfect than any girl could ever be.

A Response to “Company”

•November 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I was able to attend a showing of “Company” this weekend. The performances were adequate and there were no obvious miscues or any of the various other maladies that can afflict a play. The plot itself was concerned entirely with the problem of marriage; that is, it is a problem for Bobby, the protagonist. He has just turned 35 and is contemplating whether or not he should commit himself to another human being or maintain his solitude. Bobby takes the audience into the past with musings that are anachronistically explored in several vignettes and concern his relationships with five different married couples and some girlfriends.  He is constantly pressured and harangued about his status as a single man by these couples. Bobby can’t explain why he isn’t single and neither can his married friends. But the audience is privy to knowledge that none of the characters are: the decision between marriage and solitude is a false choice. Every character in “Company” is lonely. Marriage is treated as little more than a device to inflict one’s loneliness on another.

Bobby plays the straight man as he reminisces about his experiences with these “zany” couples. One couple in particular highlights the false choice mentioned above. Larry and Joanne are anything but blissfully married. Larry is “fascinated” by Joanne and Joanne is on her third marriage. Even the most amateur scholar of Rand would recognize that Joanne is looking out for her well-being (for the better). She gets what she wants out of marriage and then moves on, always alone and insecure. The play intends for the audience to dislike her, she’s a loud, obnoxious, bossy chore of a woman, but the savvy viewer will recognize that she embodies the ethos of the play. Joanne is mercenary in her approach to marriage and to life, a position to which Bobby should aspire.

The play attempts to redeem this false choice at the end by contending that the choice between marriage and being a bachelor is the choice between experiencing the entire breadth of human emotion (the soaring heights and the unfathomable lows) and a muted dysthymia. I don’t buy into the play’s argument but to my own: man lives and dies alone; marriage is but a needless distraction.

On the Nature of Beauty and Life

•November 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

As an avid reader, I am often inspired to emulate – to the best of my meager ability – the entrancing literature I encounter. I feel that this is a natural inclination: how often have you seen a phenomenally talented athlete performing at the highest level and said, “I wish I could do that”? There is an important difference between athletes and writers though: an athlete is the product of innate talent and hard work, capable of feats of physicality of which we mortals can only dream; a writer is the product of inspiration and hard work. It can be said that a writer can compensate a lack of the former with an abundance of the latter (or vice versa). Thus the Horatio Alger myth persists when it comes to writing, that is, if I (the writer) work hard enough, I can someday achieve the art of Keats, Wordsworth, or Coleridge. But this is a false hope. The greatest of writers write with both inspiration and hard work. Thus, I am disheartened when I, eager to achieve, look to the real world for inspiration. It seems that the world I live in is irreconcilable with the one presented in literature:

There are no St. Georges defending ladies in distress.

There are no Ophelias taking her life into her own hands.

There are no Antigones who die righteously.

There are no Humbert Humberts who expose us to such depravity so artfully.

To put it bluntly: the entire breadth of the human experience appears to be nothing more than a watered-down version of what is seen in literature. The people I encounter on a quotidian basis lead base and petty lives; only concerned with the banal mechanics of existence. It saddens me that my only encounters with the boundless possibilities of human existence are limited to books. This incongruence of beauty, from literature to real life, is made even more startling when I see the lives of those around me.

“But if the world is so muted, why don’t you try to improve it?”

A valid question but one that ultimately misunderstands my position. I am not a “mover” or a “shaker”. I am an observer by nature. My greatest asset is my ability to see the world around me and accurately assess it. I am a ceaseless critic, and I hope to never stop.