Saturday, February 4, 2012

Top Ten Pop Hooks in Rotation for 2011 / TUN3R still indefinitely suspended

I thought I write this one last "epilogue" post. The last one about TUN3R's indefinite suspension was a bit of a downer to end on. Feel free to read it if you're curious about the history of TUN3r and why we suspended it.

I should have written this post about a month ago. I've started a new job and have been very tight on time these days so I'm going to jump right into the list. It will likely be my last post on the TUN3R blog. But never say never. While the list itself has not been rushed. I'll admit this post is a bit.

Ten: Friday (Rebecca Black): To be sure, this is a horrible song. It's entirely sung in AutoTune and for anyone over the age of 10, is surely one of the most grating sounds to have every reached such a wide audience. But there's something I secretly admire about Friday. Namely, it completely bypassed all the established controls that are normally put in place by the mainstream entertainment complex. It did so using a simple catchy pop hook, which at first was mocked by Daniel Tosh, and later became embraced by millions of pre-tweens around the world. What's most amazing about Friday is that it also features a video showing a bunch of young teenagers with acne. That's right acne. You would think there was a strict law (punishable by death) preventing us from seeing acne anywhere on television. There might as well have been. But no, here we can see it in full display - in the back of a Chrysler Sebring convertible no less. So for this reason I must doff my hat at Rebecca Black, and hope she never releases another song for the rest of her life.

Nine: Buy My Love (Wynter Gordon): I'm kind of surprised this song didn't get more airplay. Whoever wrote it has done an impressive job stitching together various pop hooks into a cohesive song that still sounds fresh to my ears. Yes it's poppy and probably annoying for most music aficionados. But songs like this are a lot rarer than most people realize.

Eight: Price Tag (Jessie J feat. B.o.B.): I read an interview with Jessie J a few months ago which stuck out in my mind, and deserves to be mentioned here. Jessie J revealed what it takes to create a great pop hook. Behind "Price Tag" are about a thousand songs you'll never hear. That's right - Jessie J literally wrote one thousand songs before choosing a handful for her album, of which this is the only one I've heard. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, these pop hooks that float to the surface are the product of highly competitive Darwinian process. What's most interesting for me (another point I bring up) is that all the songs you'll hear this year won't amount to a single Beatles album from the 60s. Still a great mystery of science I suppose.

Seven: More Thank You Know - RAM Radio Edit (Flash Brothers): I've never been a big trance fan. The tempo is always a bit too fast for my liking, there's rarely any vocals, and it all too often sounds like a big wash. But this song, while squarely in the trance genre is oddly...entrancing (horrible pun, I know). There's a kind of anxiety/urgency to the singer's voice which gets my heart rate going. But more impressively, there's something mellifluous to this track that's lacking in most other trance hits.

Six: Someone Like You - Happy HotDog Radio Edit (Adele): Yes she's all the rage still, and I do very much like Adele's voice. But until I'd heard this Happy HotDog mix, I'd never paid much attention to her. There's something about taking a mushy pop hook and sharpening it up, that really appeals to me.

Five: Loca People (Sak Noel): This immediately reminded me of a song (from 1998 I believe) by Touch and Go called "Would You...?". If you remember the song, you'll know what I'm talking about. What I find fascinating about both Loca People and Would You is that they both follow the exact same formula, were both minor hits, and yet there are surprisingly few copycats. But what I find most fascinating about these songs is that they're basically spoken word pop hooks. Sort of reminds me of those extended samples (often from Blade Runner) that would pop up in 90s industrial music. But as simple as Loca People sounds, I suspect it's harder to come up with spoken word pop hooks, than it looks.

Four: Give Me Everything (Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer): I'm a bit reluctant to put this song on this list, and from a pure talent perspective I'm not sure if this should be at number four. But the reason I'm giving this more prominence is that I believe this song answers a question I raised last year. Namely, "How has popular music discernibly changed over the past 2-5 years?" While there are many answers to this question, a pattern that appears to be in plain sight is the convergence of hip hop and dance. If go back to the earlier days of hip hop (or rap if you prefer), its roots were more jazz based. When Snoop first released Doggy Style, he applied a more melody. When P. Diddy first broke onto the seen, he took full blown pop hooks and spliced in his rap - but it always felt like he was pausing the pop hook so we could listen to him rap. Then came Eminem and 50 Cent who began to popularize more melodic rapping - but there was still something disjointed about their music. But if you listen to Flo Rida's "Club Can't Handle Me" and Pitbull's "Give Me Everything" it's become clear that the lines between hip hop and dance no longer exist. That said, I'm sure it's not easy rap melodically - there are a lot of constraints working against you. But constraints are also engines of creativity, so I think this will get better, and I think we have some interesting stuff to look forward to.

Three: Fade Into Darkness (Avicii): There's not a lot to this song. But what makes it noteworthy is how it was shamelessly stolen by Leona Lewis and re-released as Collide. Apparently the two were able to work things out with Lewis crediting Avicii as a co-author. But if anything, what this song points out is the dearth of decent pop hooks to work with. As I've pointed out before, many artists simply rehash theirs and others pop hooks. It's almost like there's a fixed supply of gold and the mining companies are struggling to find new deposits.

Two: Take You Higher - Radio Edit (Goodwill & Hook N Sling): This song is sort of a remix of Big Jet Plane by Angus and Julia Stone (they're brother and sister in case you're wondering). But I think it's more than a remix. It feels a different song. The only way I can describe this song would be if Bob Dylan decided to put out a dance song, without compromising his character. There's something uncharacteristically anti-climactic about this song which whenever I hear it I wonder "What are people in the dance clubs doing when this song comes on? Dancing awkwardly?"

One: Attaboy (Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile): I'm not sure what genre this song fits in. It's kind classical, kind of bluegrass/country/folk. I probably don't listen to enough modern classical music. For whatever reason, it seems to eschew blatant melody. But this song is not only rife with pop hooks, there is an effortless playfulness and to this piece that leaves everything else on this list in the dust from a pop hook perspective. But what's disappointing is that everything other song on The Goat Rodeo Sessions is forgettable. Goes to show how difficult it is to come up with a killer pop hook.

There are times I wonder if pop hooks are discovered or "mined". If so, in the same way the miners are saying we've hit peak gold, is it possible we've hit peak music?

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