Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Are There Any Songs About Getting Fired, or Losing a Job?

I can think of a few songs about "working stiffs"--Bruce Springsteen's work comes to mind, "She Works Hard For the Money", "Manic Monday". But when I was fired, the only song that I could think of was Daughtry's "No Surprise", and that was mainly for the video:

Two blue-collar folk are having troubles, and it affects their relationship. The song is really about a breakup, though--it doesn't have anything to do with the economy. Daughtry said he wanted the video to reflect what people were really going through, and while it features the young and pretty, it is realistic and bleak (if glamorized) in a way that most music videos aren't. They key lyrics in this interpretation come in the bridge: "If I could see the future and how this plays out / I bet it's better than where we are now / But after going through this, it's easier to see the reason why"

So this is what I played. It wasn't too appropriate, but I was at a loss. "Breakaway" floated in my head weeks later, but that's about, uh, breaking away, starting a new life, completely different than what I needed. Where was "I lost my job, and this sucks"?

Should SNL's Brittany Murphy Skit Be Pulled?

The Brittany Murphy sketch on Saturday Night Live two weeks ago was mildly funny at best, more noteworthy for the fact that it skewed an actress that hadn't done a notable movie in some time, and was not much in the public eye recently. Her biggest hits--Clueless, 8 Mile--were over five years old, and she was a voice in a relatively low-profile show, King of the Hill. It was one of those bits that you knew the writers threw out in a desperate attempt for an idea, and they had a somewhat competent actress able to play her (Abby Elliot, best known for her Angelina Jolie "bebes" bit; this was a good try, but the whole thing was just not good), and it made it onto the air. In normal circumstances, the piece would be forgotten.

But Brittany Murphy died suddenly and tragically, so far without explanation, last week, and the eerie timing of the piece was uncomfortable. And with the web and Hulu, things live online. So while most people were unaware of the Brittany Murphy sketch, it floated to the top of the heap, spurned by those arts aggregators and the few who were actually watching NBC at 12:20 am on a Sunday.

Now, it makes sense that NBC and Hulu (which NBC partly owns) would pull it out of respect. It's not funny, and it doesn't have anything to say. It prevents this now-gruesome mockery from becoming further terrible, obscuring the actual actress and her work. Does this mean that it should be forever gone? Is that restricted to the web (where bootlegs can surface)? Does SNL have an obligation never to air it again, whether in reruns on NBC or on other sites like Comedy Central? What about DVDs and the like? While I doubt that this piece will be considered one of Abby Elliot's standouts (let's hope), does it really deserve to be buried because of unfortunate timing? Is it just a matter of timing, that in another few weeks or months the clip will quietly resurface? That is probably the most likely case, since while the piece was in bad taste (though there are plenty that say the Tiger Woods sketch was way worse), it only suffered from bad timing. If this sketch had happened a year ago, even a few months ago, it wouldn't be as big a deal, though it would suffer from the same problem.

Was Brittany Murphy even aware of the sketch? Was she bothered by it? That would be interesting to know.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This Is Ludicrous

Tim McGraw has the most popular song of the decade based on radio play?!?!?

Ok, so I live in an area of the country where country radio, for all intents and purposes, doesn't exist. So, by that margin, the song should be a crossover hit, a Carrie Underwood or a Rascal Flatts, a song that is everywhere and everyone knows it. Now, I am still amazed that there are "popular" songs that I don't know. Maybe I do know this "Something Like That" if I heard it, maybe it's that countryish song making the rounds that I can never pin on down who sings it. But no, as this song was big in 1999-2000. Is that really fair? It's older than all the other songs on the list! It had the most time to get played! How in the world did it beat out "Smooth", Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana's blockbluster that was everywhere those two years? It had radio play on several different formats!

Let's go down this list.

Some of them are so obvious. "Drops of Jupiter"? Dear God, that's a song no one can forget, still completely memorable. (I might still know every word of it.) "Low" is also unmistakable, completely owning 2007 just like "Drops of Jupiter" owned 2001. You can't help but sing along to both of them. Usher owned 2004 (forgive me for overusing the verb, but it's true), and it's a song, like "Low", that defined the decade. My local Top 40 radio station named "Yeah!" their top song of 2004, a rare case of it matching the reality.

Album rock is a radio genre I'm not super-familiar with, mainly because rock stations have gone through myriad format changes in the last several years, so it's too hard to decipher when there's only one or two in a given market. Staind was one of those early '00s bands that bored me to tears; I found Aaron Lewis' vocals to be whiny and monotone, and I couldn't stand "It's Been Awhile", in addition to all their other leaden singles. The fact that the band fizzled out dampers the honor; it's like awarding Creed the label.

"Last Resort" is also an odd song to win "most played" status. Obviously Papa Roach's biggest hit, they scored huge on TRL back in the day (remember, it was in 2000, so this was a big deal), and it being such an angry song, it connected well with the teenagers (me included). The band itself also fizzled out somewhat, sticking to genre formats; like the rock problem above, they need a place to go.

And of course, to the Urban label, aka rap for many of those who don't speak radio. "Drop It Like It's Hot", Snoop. One of those hits that's big, but sticks around for awhile. Like Lil Jon, it was great to parody, which extended its life; all I think of is a haze of marijuana smoke and some ho'ed-out girls in black leather nothings droppin' to their knees. Completely awful in so many ways, but so effin' catchy. Snoop never had it so good.

I can't speak for the other categories, including country. But Urban Adult Contemporary? Who knew such a thing existed, besides Billboard aficionados?

It's interesting to look at the dates--2004 comes across like a banner year here--but it also makes sense that nothing from this year or last made the cut; time works on your side in these categories, with things hitting in the middle of the decade doing well because they have time to bubble, to grow and be loved, without being completely forgotten or even overexposed, which is what more recent hits turn into before they have time to fade away and rediscovered.

Of course, such a short list based on radio play ignores bigger trends and the bigger artists, but that is what other lists--iTunes downloads, album sales--pick up. Notice there is no Beyonce, Destiny's Child, Rihanna, Maroon 5, Kelly Clarkson, Coldplay, Norah Jones, Green Day, Kanye West, Jay-Z...all of these artists made the '00s, and one hotshot single, when many of them had multiple, won't cover the impact they had.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Grammys Are Going to Be Good This Year!

The Grammys are music’s highest honor, and they usually don’t mirror the pop charts. They have their faves—U2 comes to mind—and they love to honor older-skewing acts. But this year, the Grammys are either bowing to popular taste or are trying to reflect it: Top nominees echo the top artists of the year. Lady Gaga, the Black Eyed Peas, unstoppable Beyoncé and the country’s biggest selling artist in terms of albums for the past two years, Taylor Swift, each received multiple nominations.

MTV News reports that this has been a trend for the Grammys the past few years, wanting to appeal to a younger audience, but the 2010 nominees make the Dave Matthews Band look old. Ink was spilled on the fact that Lady Gaga would not be eligible for Best New Artist, because she had been nominated last year for “Just Dance” in the apparently overlooked category of Best Dance Recording, up against “Disturbia” (!) and Madonna, and losing to Daft Punk’s “Harder Better Faster Stronger”. (The Recording Academy noted that at the time of the nominations, there was no album to anchor “Just Dance.”) Although Keri Hilson is a Best New Artist nominee, she has written songs for other artists like Britney Spears and Ne-Yo, and was featured prominently in Timbaland’s massive 2007 hit “The Way You Are”…so she’s not really that new. But, it looks like she’s never been nominated before, either for her songwriting skills or for her collaborations, so she’s considered “new”.

Looking at the list, there are plenty of lesser-known songs that occupy most of the nominations; there are many categories where one superstar song, like Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”, sticks out because of sheer omnipresence. Hopefully this will mean that B will perform come January 31, along with many of those other top-tier acts. With a list this strong, you can't not have them.