Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Feel-bad hits of the summer

Cliché-ridden, creepy earworms have us lunging for the radio dial

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Barring a surprise Beyoncé release, the hottest pop songs of summer 2014 have been decided. This year's mainstream successes include the odd racial gymnastics of Iggy Azalea's Fancy, the irresistible bombast of DJ Snake and Lil Jon's Turn Down for What and the sublimely catchy pearl from Ariana Grande, Problem.

Along with one-word winners including Happy, Wiggle and Summer, each has entered seasonal ubiquity, ensuring an afterlife on summer 2014 playlists and class reunions for generations to come.

But all hasn't been sunshine and perfect waves. Lesser, darker works have aimed to find purchase in our psyches, looking to piggyback on the never-ending quest for a memorable vacation soundtrack. A few of them, like Canadian pop group Magic!'s insufferable Rude, have succeeded on the charts despite themselves. These gratuitous earworms have done so by appealing to the basest summer desires with tired clichés, unadventurous musical tropes and/or some cloying conceit.

Eclipsing all has been the season's most high-profile failure: Robin Thicke's stalker-suggestive album Paula. In a season of bountiful mediocrity, Thicke's effort has been met with a level of disdain normally reserved for a fresh Chris Brown indictment. Still, to pile on Paula, while a fun way to spend an afternoon (especially at this point if you're his estranged wife, Paula Patton), diminishes a host of equally inconsequential, or memorably failed, would-be summer hits.

Below, the worst songs of the summer:

-- Chris Young, Who I Am With You. Every summer needs a campfire makeout song, but this year's big offerings have mostly fizzled. Near the top of the heap is John Legend's All of Me, which has all the earnest, glistening tropes of a Thomas Kinkade painting.

But for sheer clichés-per-measure chuckles, none can equal country crooner Young's flaccid Who I Am With You. Featuring a tranquil, Harlequin-romantic piano melody and just enough twang to kick up a small stink, the song sees Young, who earned his fame through the reality show Nashville Star, describing himself as "a rolling stone" "flying blind" in its first two lines -- until he met you.

"Who I am with you is who I really want to be," he sings, a man drowning in the mundanity of a flat lyric -- before adding with equal blandness. "You're so good for me." Poetic stuff.

  • Tiesto, Wasted. "I like us better when we're wasted" might be a great opening line for a country song, one that could go on to explore the destructive effects of intoxicants on a relationship. As the celebratory chorus of Wasted, a thump-heavy Dutch Euro-trance track by Tiesto, though, the line is delivered with the utmost sincerity. Channeling EDM bliss is one thing, but as the central message of a song directly aimed at the ears of teens and 20-somethings starved for life advice, it's not necessarily the one to fatten the wallet with. Unless, apparently, you're Tiesto.
  • Magic!, Rude. Three simple words are required to underline the failure of Magic! and Rude: Canadian reggae fusion. Aside from a few measures of Rush's The Spirit of Radio, when has such a recipe ever succeeded? Musically tepid and cloying, Rude strives for a brand of tropical pop akin to Paul Simon's Mother and Child Reunion or the crossover vibe of Sublime but lands at third-rate Men at Work.

Lyrically, the song is a long rant-threat from a boyfriend to his girl's dismissive father, but it suffers by offering too little context and from only the narrator's perspective. After all, a few months ago, no one had a clue who this guy was, or, for example, whether the father might have valid concerns about his daughter marrying the singer for a Canadian reggae fusion band. Who can blame him? "Can I have your daughter for the rest of my life?," asks vocalist-producer Nasri Atweh. Wisely, the father says no, perhaps fearing decades of casino and state fair gigs in his would-be son-in-law's future.

  •  Aloe Blacc, The Man. This year's Eye of the Tiger first gained traction not via radio but on one of the many Beats Music TV ads it scored. The fist-pumping workout song has since become mainstay on sports highlight reels the world over, the platform where fading songs go to die, where Blacc's message of overcoming adversity has made it the Tubthumping of 2014 (apologies to Chumbawamba).

Yes, Blacc can be an inspiring singer, but like much of his work, The Man feels more like a jingle than a jam -- built for easy digestion. To add insult, The Man riffs on a great Elton John ballad, Your Song, tainting not only the summer but also a better composition. Don't be surprised if the next time you hear John's hit, The Man pops into your head when it hasn't earned the right.

  •  Jake Owen, Beachin'. Every summer needs a glassy-eyed party song, but few manage to deliver in such an aggressively simplistic way as Owen's bro-country cowpat Beachin'. The lyrical doozies that populate this ode to drinking and objectifying describe the worst party ever.

Double-entendres involving beer koozies? Yes. "A reggae band full of dread heads"? They're probably jamming Rude. Bottomless margaritas? Of course. Bonus points: like many male country songs this year, Beachin' stars a faceless, nameless blond notable only for her tan lines and her subservient come-on: "Honey, I sure want you." At least somebody does.

  •  Florida Georgia Line, This Is How We Roll. Want to hang with some fun guys on a Friday night? Look no further than Florida Georgia Line, whose This Is How We Roll features drunken, stoned, pistol-shooting dudes cruising with pretty girls sitting (where else?) on the passenger side and offering kisses that are "automatic like a free throw." (Nothing like a ball-in-hole sports metaphor to turn a lady's head.) The group's night out starts in a jacked-up truck, where "the mix in our drinks is a little stronger than you think." Then they drive around in circles and "light it up with our hands up -- this is how we roll." Steer clear of my block -- but maybe Tiesto's up for some fun.
  •  Pitbull, Timber. Careful, tree stumps, Pitbull's on the prowl in this song that's been simmering since Christmas. In his Timber, which features Kesha, women are trees that tend to fall when the singer is around, even if the ultimate aim in our hero's mind isn't to leave an impression. Rather, it's to "make a night you won't remember," implying one of two things: Either the two will forget the evening when it's over, in which case maybe they should have just stayed home, or they're aiming to get her so wasted they black out. Either way, it won't be a night at the theatre. By comparison, Pitbull makes Owen and Florida Georgia Line seem like sophisticates. At least they want to look across the pickup cab at their dates; Pitbull prefers another angle: "Face down, booty up -- timber!"

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 19, 2014 G3

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