I’m astounded by the insular myopia and sheer hateful ignorance of people dissing Miley Cyrus for “cultural appropriation”. Would you say the same to Kitty Pryde? Would you say the same to Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, all of whom knew damn well that rock & roll originated with black Americans? Would you say the same to Vampire Weekend, whose wonderful Modern Vampires of the City appropriates influences from all over the world to form one all-encompassing pop style? Of course not. It’s obvious people just hate Cyrus not because she imitates crunk music videos or even because she’s too sexually explicit but because she’s too corporate. Personally, I don’t think she’s corporate enough, or at least not in the right way — she’s not audacious enough or irresistible enough to become another Britney Spears, that’s for sure. If there’s anything about her to reject on principle, it’s the grossly entitled privilege of a Nashville princess who thinks she can have whatever she wants (black backup dancers, commercial validation from Robin Thicke, whatever). But to attack cultural appropriation is to reduce real human beings to one-dimensional stereotypes, all in the name of purist authenticity.
The Dirtbombs: Ooey Gooey Chewy Kablooey!
In The Red, 2013 [BUY]
On this self-proclaimed novelty album, a beloved garage-rock group records a joyful tribute to ’60s bubblegum and gloriously succeeds, kind of. While indeed a deliberately minor genre exercise, it’s marked by collective spirit and unabashed humor, not unlike the best garage-rock.
This album is just too weird, not to mention too indie, ever to reach an audience wider than eccentric, committed aesthetes. But for those who delight in eccentric aesthetic commitment and fragmentary formalism, it’s rather sublime. Ten short, catchy guitar-driven songs parade one after another, each goofier and more gleeful than the last — sounds like real bubblegum! The garage-rock format has its limits: too many riffs are crudely abrasive rather than sleekly clean, the singing is obscured by static, and though its inspired amateurism is supposed to save the record from becoming a total parody, I for one find it much too amateurish. But its pop exuberance is so inspired it soars over your reservations anyway.
Anyone feeling adventurous should try out this record, as should anyone looking to laugh. The titles sum it up quite nicely: “Hot Sour Salty Sweet,” “Girl on the Carousel,” “Hey! Cookie,” “We Come in the Sunshine,” as in “I love the sunshine, you love the sunshine, we love the sunshine, let’s come in the sunshine!”
MMG Presents Self Made Vol. 3
Maybach/Atlantic, 2013 [BUY]
Maybach Music Group is run by Miami kingpin Rick Ross, aided by numerous sidekicks such as Gunplay, Meek Mill, and French Montana. This is their collaborative album, credited to the group; it’s essentially a slower, heavier Young Money album, as all the lesser rappers basically ape the boss. Only in this case, the boss himself is also rather dull.
Taken at face value, Ross is just another rapper in the minimal-crunk/aggressive-commercial style, yelling over percussive blasts of dinky-keyboard and synthesized orchestral glitz. But even more than Big Sean or Waka Flocka Flame, he exemplifies what’s made the aggressive-commercial so ubiquitous and so gross. Taking full advantage of hip-hop’s accepted pop status in mainstream American culture, Ross & his imitators pretend to be both wealthy entrepreneurs and underground gangsters, flaunting their money as they attribute it to pimping and dealing crack. In a defensive show of male validation, they declare this the only “reality,” and in part due to hip-hop’s pop status, it’s no longer entirely contradictory. Nevertheless, I find it distasteful for avowed thugs to brag on record about their wild rock-star lifestyle, especially when they’re gruffly barking at the top of their lungs.
Beneath all the surface hostility, Ross and the rest are confronted by the old authenticity problem, namely, do they get more respect within the hip-hop community for being rich or for being ghetto? One thing’s for sure: letting down their macho display would compromise their bona fides.
Atlantic, 2013 [BUY]
Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s corny of me to pick on a Christian metal band. But this music exists, it’s not going away anytime soon, and it’s more interesting than you might think. Not only does it sound an awful lot like music that might conceivably make it onto the pop charts, but it actually reached #4 on the Billboard 200, all while maintaining subcultural prestige. It also received numerous rave reviews from several Christian-rock magazines.
Whamming out one giant power chord after another, with distorted chunks of massively crunchy guitar pinning down an overwhelmingly loud and abrasive band style, this sounds like your average emo record on first listen, only huger, more earnest, more earth-shaking. Like most emo records, it’s music intended to comfort (and maybe convert!) white suburban, spiritually alienated teenagers by inflating their petty insecurities up to maximum grandiosity. Hence tunelessly screamed choruses like “Unite and fight to make a better life,” hence the bratty teenage whine in which John Cooper sings these solemnly aggrandizing heartsongs. His Christian faith adds moral force, blowing everything further out of proportion.
Primarily, these guys don’t read as metalheads or emo kids. They’re another example of the religious using rock as a mask through which to proselytize. If the end result should come out unnecessarily strained, overworked, and unlistenable, well, what can I say? After all, rock is devil’s music.
Icona Pop: This Is … Icona Pop
Ten/Big Beat, 2013 [BUY]
Like Robyn, Max Martin, and the Teddybears, this Swedish duo has completely mastered the art of popform, from their fabulous name to their idealized voices. Not only does their international debut maintain the festive spirit of hit single “I Love It,” but they cover Tupac, match the single with “On a Roll,” and generally have a blast asserting themselves.
Stylistically, a lot of these songs will sound vaguely familiar, as they adopt the contemporary synthed-up house mode that dominates clubs and dancefloors. But few electropop singers are as joyously expressive as this, or as blatant either. Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo have stripped the genre down and compressed it tighter than ever, their beats faster, dinkier, more cartoonishly triumphant, the self-conscious quotation marks around their music only further driving their determination. Riding an unstoppable wave of liquid momentum, their simple yet fiery monolithic keyboards buzz and bounce up and down while both women scream in cutesy Euro accents. Well, sometimes they wail, and squeal. Always they get carried away by their own glee.
While this album capitalizes on the crass expediency so common among foreign pop groups hoping to make a splash with the American markets, it enjoys a kind of uncompromised aesthetic force that’s also east of the Atlantic. Far from sounding trite, it packs tremendous emotional and rhythmic punch.
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