It’s Time To Choose!

I hope you had a great summer! I wrote about one last round of potential Song of the Summer candidates for the Awl, again excluding anything in English.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a teen pop group this large in the U.S.—there are eight members, including one drummer who doesn’t participate in the choreography. Here they swap out leads so quickly and stitch together the vocals so tightly that the singers are still all but indistinguishable by the end; it’s a five-minute song, so that’s 37.5 seconds allotted to each member, if we allow no time for breathing. To keep things under control, they’re sometimes split into two color-coded sub-groups, just like the blue and gold teams from the early-nineties X-Men.

Where Is The Song of the Summer?

Wrote about some great pop songs from Botswana, Macau, and French Polynesia for the Awl:
Some of the samples harken back to the nineties heyday of white R&B/pop. They’re spliced in here with a heavy-handed aggression, though, a refreshing change from the usual misty-eyed nostalgia, so it sounds like nothing else so much as bludgeoning the New Radicals to death with Paula Abdul. more

More Summer Songs

My worldwide pop chart watch for the Awl continues.

In a world teeming with earnest YouTube bedroom confessionals, maybe finding the good ones becomes more rewarding? Everybody please take care when stampeding down to the pawn shop to buy ukuleles. more

I cannot stop listening to “Playback.”

It’s Still Number One Somewhere

In a manner of speaking, The Awl has picked up the remnants of my erstwhile Spin column about foreign language pop songs. For the next few months, I’ll be covering the phenomenon of the “song of the summer,” but specifically excluding anything with English lyrics.

The Japanese songwriter’s new single is so relentlessly upbeat and optimistic that it almost reads as 2015’s response to Pharrell’s “Happy,” but it’s also somehow simultaneously weirder than anything currently happening in mainstream American pop. There are the unexpected production flourishes derived from disco, of course – shades of Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You,” or perhaps at least the lightweight adaptation of it he might have performed during a guest appearance on Sesame Street thirty years or so ago.


A Man, A Plan, Canal Street, Panamah

Head on over to Spin for a quick look at Panamah, an electronic pop trio who sound quite a lot like The xx.

Even fans of the xx would have to concede that there’s a strict formula in play in their music — sparse percussion, simple chord progressions implied more than stated, and most importantly the hypersexual whispered interplay between dueling vocalists. “Børn Af Natten” proceeds along at a tempo that’s just a hair too fast for the xx, and this has the effect of tempering the depressing sinking feeling that emerges from the spaces between the beats.


Ai No Beat

Over at Spin, a look at the new single from the Japanese boy band Kis-My-Ft2, which was released in both rock and pop versions:

The dual release format makes a lot of sense precisely because the composition almost seems to have been built from the ground up for this express purpose — each version focuses on one part of the song, at the expense of the rest. Which is not to say anybody’s any better off as a result — the median age of the band members is a crisp 21 years, and consequently the rock version sounds like a hazy reflection of rock as understood by someone who grew up in the age of Shinedown: dramatic pauses, fluttering echoes and filters, doubletracking everything to death even when the riffs don’t actually want to go anywhere useful.


But by all means, continue doing the horsey dance

Over at Spin, we debunk the notion that listening to “Gangnam Style” in any way qualifies as global cultural awareness by pointing you toward “Bloom,” a wonderful new jam that is handily beating Psy on the Korean pop charts.

Korean rapper PSY’s runaway smash-of-smashes “Gangnam Style” has long since graduated to such a level of worldwide Internet saturation that Korean pop listeners have decided it’s time to move on. Son Ga-In is by far his most exciting successor yet; she clearly wants you to have fun, but there are no dances that frat boys will be doing on Halloween, and no shots of anyone rapping on the toilet. more

Gotham’s Reckoning

Today the Village Voice has some tremendous new developments which you should go read about, but meanwhile Spin has also posted my newest piece on foreign pop. This time I focus on the remix of “One Day/Reckoning Song” by Israeli folk singer Asaf Avidan, on top in half a dozen European charts and strongly reminiscent of Cat Power, whose tremendous new album you should go listen to.

Baby Chan-Chan-Chankapana

The second installment of my new Spin series on foreign pop hits looks at “Chankapana,” an excellent contemporary disco single by the Japanese boy band N.E.W.S.

As the the arrangements grow more elaborate, there quickly approaches a limit beyond which the phrase “boy band” seems unjustly dismissive. We’re well past that point here, so once you’re done swooning you can also find your way to a reading that’s at least slightly more mature. more

It’s No. 1 Somewhere

I’m starting up a new recurring feature for Spin Magazine called It’s No. 1 Somewhere, in which we’ll look at pop songs which are doing well on the foreign charts but wholly ignored in the United States. The first installment ran earlier today — it’s about Ukrainian dance-pop singer Svetlana Loboda and the ways in which she seems to logically follow from Lady Gaga and Shakira — but since we just sort of hit the ground running with it, I’m thinking perhaps I should use this space to provide a little introduction or explanation. Or a mission statement, even?

“World music,” though in a way it feels like a term so broad as to be useless, has gradually become actually quite restrictive, since it’s mostly attached to traditional folkish forms that can sell out Carnegie Hall once a year but aren’t really getting any attention at the clubs and radio stations back at home. I mean, I absolutely adore Tinariwen, but they’re also a prime example of how the marketing of the world music genre can preclude mainstream reception for a great band even as it builds a focused and enthusiastic audience out of other people. Truth is, in many cases what’s actually bumping from the car stereos elsewhere is not aesthetically all that different from what we listen to here, except that there might be a language barrier. But so what? It’s not like we’re listening to Ke$ha for her lyrical insights.

This then means that there’s an extremely accessible pop middle ground between those two worlds that’s being largely ignored simply because western audiences are too busy sorting through their own overabundance of musicians and media files. I think we can use chart performance in other parts of the world as a sort of qualifier, a red flag indicating that we should take a break from all this navel gazing — that is, anything that 80% of Nigerian teenagers love should at least briefly register as a blip for us over here. We’re hoping to help connect foreign artists that are poppy enough to immediately feel accessible and familiar to the receptive audiences who won’t mind filing them right between Adele and Beyoncé. Both these groups are already out there, but they’re having trouble finding each other.

At the end of 2011, UCLA doctoral student Patrick Adler compiled a geographic distribution of the bands represented in Pitchfork’s “Best Songs Of The Year” list. Even though I really enjoyed many of those tunes, his terrifying chart speaks for itself.

This is bullshit, and I want to help fix it. Won’t you join me?