Friday, December 31, 2010

Forty Favorite Pop Songs of 2010: #30-#26

30. “XXXO (Remix)” M.I.A. Feat. Jay-Z (/\/\/\Y/\)

M.I.A. is an artist I could easily find obnoxious, but there's a combination of artistic interest and a sense of her overall harmlessness that has thus far allowed me to look past the confrontational public image, fetish for controversy, and Lady Gaga-bashing (admittedly, the last has since ceased to bother me) on occasions when something of hers crosses my musical path. There may have additionally been an element of serendipitous timing in the case of "XXXO," the first official single from the Sri Lankan/British alternative dance/progressive electropop artiste-agitator's third studio album /\/\/\Y/\ but one that arrived in the considerably muddy wake of a notoriously graphic, genocide-themed short film built around another track from the album, "Born Free," that was both hailed and lambasted by critics and consumers and subject of a messy argument over content restrictions. "XXXO" is probably the most accessible track on the wildly, at times overbearingly experimental album, and one of the few that revisit the unique dichotomous sexuality, at once exotically naive and aggressively explicit, of much of her two previous albums (not to mention the sizzling Bangladesh-produced "Hit That," which surfaced in the months leading up to the release of sophomore set Kala but never landed on an album). A moderate hit in the UK, the official remix replaces the weak third verse that somewhat deflates the original cut with an energetic if not entirely relevant rap by Jay-Z in one of the few instances I find a remixed edit to be an improvement on the original. M.I.A. directed the oddly engrossing video (watch below), in which the surprisingly sexified singer deadpans to the camera while imitating the body language of internet seduction amid graphics suggestive of the visual staples of Arabic and American social and dating websites, echoing the theme of the album artwork. It's almost eerie the way M.I.A. continues to toe the line with such unsettling ambiguity that you're never entirely sure she's truly being ironic.

29 “Crazy Possessive” Kaci Battaglia (Bring It On)

Shortly before Christina Aguilera's Bionic landed, I made what would be one of the last forays onto Limewire - which I admit to having used consistently for most of my music acquisitions for years until a full-time salary allowed for the acquisition of ethical responsibility in the matter - to see what there was to find (I'm not usually into leaks, out of artistic respect much more than financial, and I almost never actively seek them out, so I don't know what came over me). Among my several discoveries was one track purporting to be the song "Glam," a song title that surfaced months earlier as being on the album. When I first listened through it I nearly died laughing, and though it was clear pretty quickly that the singer was not, in fact, Xtina, once you take a listen to what I found out MUCH later was actually called "Crazy Possessive," one of the most ridiculous Britney-borrowing guilty pleasures to appear recently, you'll probably get a solid idea why. The song is my favorite trashy, feel-like-a-badass anthem since Willa Ford, with that instantly classic chorus of "call my man again and I'ma fuck you up" that I much appreciate. The track's actual artist is the new dance-pop singer Kaci Battaglia, who, it turns out, has the misfortune of being both excruciatingly hot and slightly clever, but either unaware of this fact or justwhat to do with it. A cunning producer could turn such ingredients into a smash hit in his sleep; no such leadership, however, is in evidence anywhere on the singer's long-delayed 2010 album Bring It On. The song's music video (watch it below), pleasurable to witness as it may be, is representative of the problems that mar the bulk of the project. here's an intriguing concept at the very base, the doppelganger motif apt for the outwardly confrontational and confidently defensive lyrics that are in fact riddled with the uncertainty and insecurity that tend to accompany mad jealousy. But nothing really comes of it; we just get Battaglia lip synching and looking like she'd been instructed to look perturbed, while in the meantime her body gyrates and poses sexily modeling various bikini swimsuits. Perhaps that's just the default range of motion instinctive in women that attractive, or the creative decision of an amateur team, but it just looks as though some artistically inclined director came up with a great concept, got the location and the performers, then unexpectedly took off before the rehearsal, so they just decided to wing it. This tune actually landed last year and climbed to the peak of the Billboard Dance Club Play chart (as did the dull as nails "Body Shots" which suffers from production so egregiously poor even a guest spot by Ludacris can't save it) but in spite of that and the aforementioned failings, I'm still putting it on this list, because it's just that awesome.

28. “Misery” Maroon 5 (Hands All Over)
For one of the best-looking frontmen in the current pop music scene, Adam Levine sure has issues with women. To introduce their third studio album Hands All Over, the always entertaining pop-rock quintet sent out a lead single every bit as deceptively love-bruised as their biggest hits, “This Love,” “Makes Me Wonder,” and “If I Never See Your Face Again.” And sure, it breaks approximately no ground in terms of musical progression from “This Love,” the infectious single succeeds because Maroon 5's signature blend of love-gone-wrong themes, upbeat tune, clever (but not distracting) lyrics, and Levine's silky, impeccable tenor vocal is, as it always has been, a tried-and-true winner. The video is a strange blend of cartoon violence and innocent sincerity, with Levine's aesthetically gifted on-screen femme fatale proceeds to pitilessly maim, bludgeon and torture our hero (and a few unfortunate passersby) repeatedly over a dozen or so different scenes, while the singer plays his best pitiable martyr, singing with unshaken earnestness throughout regardless of his present situation, most of which aren't terribly comfortable-looking. It's as good an uptempo single as the group has done, which may not make it especially great but puts it in strong company and no one really seems to be complaining. After all, if it ain't broke...

27 “Bad Gal” Savage Skulls & Douster feat. Robyn (Get Rich or High Tryin'Body Talk Pt. 2)

Perhaps there was a time when it might have seemed odd to see Robyn's name attached to a track from a genre not generally associated with Swedish pop singers, but it has long since passed. The brilliant and versatile blonde (not her natural color, I recently learned...who knew?) has bestowed her services as a guest vocalist to acts ranging from Los Angeles rapper Snoop Dogg to Norwegian electronica duo Röyksopp to indie rocker I Blame Coco, and had already proven she could belong in the R&B, hip-hop, funky soul, and even tropical Dancehall genres if she damn well chose. After cementing her claim to that last in the charmingly cocky Diplo-produced single "Dancehall Queen" on Body Talk Pt. 1 earlier this year, her appearance (which appeared as an iTunes bonus track with Body Talk Pt. 2) on "Bad Gal," a collaboration between tropical house duo Savage Skulls (who co-produced the Body Talk Pt. 2 track "Love Kills") and upcoming young French dancehall/reggae producer Hugo Douster, barely gave cause to bat an eye. It's a simple, fast-paced yet leisurely dance track, with Robyn in full "Konichiwa Bitches" swagger singing boasts like "I wish someone could cool me, 'cause I'm hot and you're not" over an immaculate set of light-hearted tropical beats, major thirds bouncing upwards for a few bars before cascading downward in a minor five-note arpeggio (the first of which, at about 1:05 in, literally made me squeal with delight the first time I played it through, and still pleases me in ways one wouldn't share with children) that repeats a different way each time it comes around in the four minute track, a prime example of the intricacy and playfulness of the three producers' tooling that despite its variety never overwhelms the senses or comes off as inconsistent. If this is Robyn being a bad gal, we don't need her to be good. 

26 “Barbra StreisandDuck Sauce (Single)

I know, it's very strange to see the name Barbra Streisand at the top of the Billboard Dance Club Play chart in late 2010 - or at all, really. The legendary diva has made but one appearance on the chart, when "Night of My Life," from her 2005 album Guilty Pleasures, nearly conquered the chart but stalled out at number two...and I bet she HATED that. But perhaps Babs can find some validation in last week's chart, at the top of which, at long last, sat "Barbra Streisand." Sure, she had nothing to do with the addictive, critically lauded disco house hit by the DJ duo Duck Sauce, the reputable American DJs Armand Van Helden and A-Trak, although amongst the swirling, Boney M-sampling, guitar and synth-heavy disco joy the only two words on the track, repeated throughout as a sort of divinely succinct chorus over silence as if in hushed awe, are "Barbra Streisand." It's an intoxicating hit musically, but I also think it makes a rather genius statement; does a song named for the famously self-important scenery chomping multi-award winning icon really need to say anything more than the name, letting its supposedly overwhelming impressiveness suffice as its meaning? It's a love letter to someone who loves nothing more than being loved, and yet the rest of us can't help but love it too, no matter how thoroughly we've been trained to despise the woman by a hipster parent or flamboyant diva of a cinema professor (or whatever...). Incidentally, guess who's getting the lifetime achievement award at this year's Grammy Awards? *Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh*...Barbra Streisand.

Vertigo Shtick's Forty Favorite Pop Songs of 2010: #35-31

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