Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The VS Top 40 Pop Songs of 2014: Honorable Mentions

Another year draws to a close. And while I will be expanding a bit on summing up 2014 for pop music over the next few posts as I present a fully annotated rundown of the top 40 "Top 40" pop songs of the year, I did want to take a moment to shout out some more releases that, while they didn't make the arbitrarily limited list of honor, are still quite worthwhile.

5 Seconds of Summer
5 Seconds of Summer looking so perfect
So take a gander at the Top 40 Pop Songs of 2014 That Didn't Make the VS Top 40 Pop Songs of 2014, in alphabetical order - and just think, if the tunes on this list seem pretty great, imagine how epic the real Top 40 will be!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Madonna Gets Her Groove Back With the 'Rebel Heart' Six

Madonna, it seems, has managed to surprise everyone once again. Following last week's massive leak of unfinished material from her upcoming album, the Queen of Pop was understandably upset and characteristically vocal about it (although her comparisons of the incident to "rape" and "terrorism" ruffled some feathers). Because the album wasn't finished, nor did it have a title or release date, it was unclear how, and if, she would recover from the damage.

Madonna Interview Magazine

The answer to that arrived on Saturday, and it was a bit more ingenious than most would have expected. The album, now entitled Rebel Heart (a phrase that first emerged on Madonna's Instagram, in April), appeared on iTunes for pre-order, with a release date of March 10, 2015 - with six tracks available for immediate download, including lead single "Living for Love."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

"More Like 'Dick Jonas'" And Other Top Vertigo Shtick Tweets of 2014

I don't know if you know this, but Vertigo Shtick has a Twitter account. It's pretty good - a mixture of witticisms, critical and cultural commentary both thorough and off-the-cuff, the rare pop-related joke or meme, some links, and the occasional balls-out take-no-prisoners rant. It's quite entertaining. You should check it out.

Earlier this year, Twitter introduced Twitter Analytics, a fabulous new tool that shows in depth data on your individual tweets beyond the simple retweets and favorites count. As I discovered, retweets and favorites can be a poor indication of how widely one's tweets actually reach, and the data provides a fascinating look at the bizarre, often unpredictable, and sometimes entirely baffling popular life of the tweet. So I decided to compile my Greatest Hits from the year (although analytics only began August 1, so "year" is loosely defined) and take the navel-gazing self indulgence of the End of Year list toward its logical extreme.

Enjoy. And follow me on Twitter, why don't you?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Britney Spears is 33 Today, So I Listened to "3" Eleven Times in a Row and It Was Amazing

As you probably know, Britney Spears turns 33 today. It's so emotional, the sky is literally crying its goddamn eyes out. It's always fun to find some creative way to honor the greatest pop star of my lifetime on the anniversary of her birth in a manger somewhere, and this year I thought I'd listen to her 2009 hit "3" eleven times on repeat (you know, cuz it makes...33 ok you got it, sorry) and share if I had any thoughts while doing so. Here's how it went.

Britney 3
Britney doing "3" on tour, no fucks given

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Popjustice 20 Quid Prize 2014: The Definitive Rankings

Every year since 2003, a panel of judges bestow the Popjustice £20 Music Prize to the artist behind the best British pop single of the year. The debate takes place in a pub in London on the same night as the Mercury Prize, which pompously purports to honor the best album of the year from the UK and Ireland. It’s not unlike the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, except that the UK already has one of those in the BRIT Awards; the Mercury Prize is really more like the Golden Globes of the UK music awards circuit: just another group of music snobs whose opinion matters because it comes with £20,000 and a heck of a jump in album sales. Popjustice’s £20 Music Prize is, in some sense, the Razzie Award, except instead of honoring the worst (see, we do that enough ourselves on the charts) the award goes to the best of an overlooked genre. (The last time a pop album won the Mercury Prize was… ha, fooled you! A pop album has never won the Mercury Prize, come on. There's not even one nominated this year.)

Little Mix Move Video
Little Mix's "Move" is Vertigo Shtick's pick for the 2014 Popjustice 20 Quid Prize

Although I had to sit out this year on Vertigo Shtick's annual rundown of the Popjustice 20 Quid Prize shortlist, that doesn't mean I neglected to become familiar enough with the twelve shortlisted songs to establish a final, authoritative ranking by which this year's crop ought justly to be judged.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Google Is Literally Giving Away Copies of "Prism"

Remember when Amazon, to promote its fledgling digital music service, sold Lady Gaga's sophomore album Born This Way for 99 cents during two days of its debut week, and it broke the Billboard 200? Lady Gaga (or, more accurately, her label) was laughing all the way to the bank,  since Amazon paid full price for every download sold, and Amazon began a habit of digital music-as-loss-leader that it continues to this day. Now Google, to promote its own third-place digital music operation through Google Play, is offering Katy Perry's third album, Prism, for just a click of a mouse and maybe a little piece of your soul.

Katy Perry Prism Google Play
It's all about the price tag

Prism, which came out in 2013, is obviously not the kind of draw Born This Way was, but it's almost certainly going to be a major windfall for Capitol Records, Perry's label, and a boost to Perry's sales record, even if Billboard probably won't count the free "sales" on the Billboard 200 (I've reached out to Billboard for confirmation, and will update if and when I hear back). It's uneasily clear that Perry and her team have little shame when it comes to promoting an album that, perhaps unavoidably but perhaps deservedly hasn't lived up to the enormous and record-breaking success of the smash Teenage Dream.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Best 'New Yorker' Pop Music Articles to Catch Before the Paywall Returns

The New Yorker magazine recently lifted its paywall temporarily, and all articles published since 2007 are available for free until later this year. Since the New Yorker is basically my life force, here are some great pop music-related articles to check out while you can.

New Yorker Factory Girls
K-Pop group Girls Generation from the New Yorker article "Factory Girls"

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Get More of Your Weird Al Fix With the Iggy Azalea Parody "Handy"

Another day, another "Weird Al" Yankovic video (not that I'm complaining!). For today's fourth out of an eight-day video per day release strategy, Yankovic released "Handy," a parody of Iggy Azalea's just-deposed #1 hit and arguable Song of the Summer, "Fancy." With the comedy singer in a blonde wig and mustache and with two hilarious overweight fix-it man backup dancers, "Handy" had me skeptical at first and by the end rolling on the floor. 

"Weird Al" beez in the trap
You'd think the handyman shtick would run cold after a while, but between his impressive array of puns and "glue dat, glue dat, and screw dat, screw dat" rhymes and the uproarious choreography, "Handy" is a real knee-slapper. Yankovic even gets in a sly reference to Azalea's feature verse on Ariana Grande's "Problem" - see if you can find it! Also, what he does with Charli XCX's "ow!" is...I mean, it's all just too much, in the best way.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Weird Al's New Lorde Parody Celebrates "Foil," Goes Hilariously Off the Rails

The "Weird Al" Yankovic farewell tour is really going strong. After releasing two well-received viral music videos over the past two days from his (possibly) final conventional album, Mandatory Fun, the parody mastermind continues his eight videos in eight days offensive with "Foil," a sneakily uproarious parody of Lorde's "Royals."

"Weird Al" Yankovic and the 60s girl group blondes extol the virtues of "Foil"
"Foil" starts out as a somewhat ho-hum ode to the joys of wrapping up leftovers in the titular kitchen commodity, with Yankovic as a public access television cooking show host and a trio of 60s girl group blondes singing the arresting harmonies that first made "Royals" stand out to me. There's a nice pre-chorus that will tickle the fancy of the scientifically inclined:
But then I deal with fungal rot, bacterial formation,
Microbes, enzymes, mold and oxidation
I don't care -
I've got a secret trick up my sleeve!
But beyond that it doesn't seem like much of note is going to come of a joke that seems played out by the end of the first chorus, where he sips "a nice herbal tea." Then shit goes hilariously off the rails.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rejoice and Sing, Grammar Nazis, for Weird Al's "Word Crimes" Is Here

Grammar Nazis; you either know one (at least) or you are one yourself. I feel like there's a sense that grammar Nazism stems from or feeds into some sort of superiority complex, and although I'm sure that's true for plenty of people, in my case it's more an obsessive compulsion, and I react to grammatical misdeeds because of their effect on me rather than for the edification (or chastisement) of somebody else. I subconsciously correct grammatical errors in the lyrics of familiar pop songs when I'm singing along, usually out of subconscious habit; whenever I hear someone misuse "less," I involuntarily say "fewer" out loud, even when I'm by myself. Don't get me wrong - I do think that anyone beyond elementary school who can't handle your/you're or they're/there/their needs to examine his goddamn life. And I, too, struggle with my own abusive habits with the language: my proclivity toward the passive tense probably makes my dad want to hurl himself (or me) over a cliff, and I never use three words when nineteen will do.

The sexy stars of Weird Al's "Blurred Lines" parody, "Word Crimes"
In general, therefore, I am the textbook example of the type of person "Weird Al" Yankovic panders to in his second music video from his new album, the Robin Thicke parody "Word Crimes."

Monday, July 14, 2014

All Your Favorite People Are In the New Weird Al Yankovic Video, "Tacky"

Obviously, "Weird Al" Yankovic no longer has any sort of monopoly on the pop song spoof; the internet has allowed anyone who wishes to make and distribute their own. What continues to set the veteran musical comic apart as he prepares to release his fourteenth (and possibly last) album, Mandatory Fun, on July 15, is the budget for meticulous production and professional-grade music videos. Yankovic released the first video from the album today, a reworking of Pharrell Williams' relentlessly cheerful hit "Happy," called "Tacky," and, like the work it spoofs, it's a satiating crowd-pleaser that hits all the spots.

Aisha Tyler spoofs Pharrell with her boobs
The video, filmed at the Palace Theatre in Los Angeles, is a single continuous shot that follows Yankovic and a handful of exactly the other people you want to see strutting "groovily" like the aggressively charming Williams in the video(s) for "Happy" in hyperbolically loud, tasteless neon clothing. Aisha Tyler wears a wacky hat and plays with her boobs; Margaret Cho serves up her full-body character comedy with faces to match; Eric Stonestreet plays his Modern Family character Cam's nominally straight but probably more than bi-curious twin brother; Kristen Schaal does "airhead hedonist in elevator" with Janet Jackson/Lady Gaga-evoking pink handprints on her tits; Jack Black shimmies, leaps and twerks through the auditorium like Miley Cyrus doing West Side Story. That pretty much covers it all, right?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Here Are a Bunch of Pairs of Pop Songs That Are Essentially the Same

A few days ago, I posted this online:
"I am listening to a self-curated playlist of pairs of songs that are essentially the same. If this interests anyone I can put it on Spotify."
Turns out a number of people were interested, so I've done you one better: a Spotify playlist and a whole post of commentary and notes.

Katy Perry, one of the most prolific offenders
Take a look, and a listen, and feel free to share what you think about any or all pairings. Can you think of more? I'm sure there's more than one post in this topic.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Queen of Hearts Has Just Stealth Dropped Her Debut Album, Cocoon

The British electropop act Queen of Hearts popped onto our radar in late 2011, with a sleek debut EP that positioned the young singer as the successor to Goldfrapp we'd been waiting for, the one who could bring the glammy club vibe of Black Cherry and Supernature into the post-EDM new decade. Since then, she's been one of the rare developing acts that pretty much seems to have been doing everything right in the leadup to a hopeful (and expected) full-length debut, and without any apparent big-label machinations going on publicly behind the scenes. And today, with little - okay, no fanfare whatsoever, that debut arrived, available for purchase and streaming worldwide. It is called Cocoon.

Review: Robyn and Röyksopp "Do It Again" at the Hollywood Bowl

Los Angelinos often joke about our limited notions of architectural history ("the columns date back all the way to 1972!"), and indeed the Hollywood Bowl, erected in 1922, is one of the city's most elderly monuments. The famed amphitheater, among the oldest in the country, has proven a remarkably apt venue for styles of performance its creators couldn't have anticipated, particularly rock (the Beatles, the Doors, and Genesis all had notable concerts there). But despite a major acoustic overhaul in 2003, the Bowl remains fundamentally unsuited to the modern electronic pop concert, with its particular demands in sound and showmanship. While most such acts wisely stick to the more apropos venues in town, some have let the allure and glamor of the historic venue overrule practical concerns, and the result is too often a bit of a letdown.  

Robyn dances on her own during the new "Do It Again" tour
Robyn and Röyksopp met such a fate in October 2011, but that didn't stop them from returning Sunday night for round two and largely, if not entirely, conquering the sold-out arena with a thrillingly offbeat electronic disco burlesque show appropriately called "Do It Again."

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Taking Over the Dancefloor: Havana Brown - "Warrior"

Taking Over the Dancefloor is a weekly column highlighting the current #1 single on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart. Read why here

It's the third week of our coverage of the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart, and, as promised, the top spot has already shifted hands from the superstars to the relatively unknown, as the peak previously occupied by Beyoncé and Avicii gets a new tenant in Australian DJ Havana Brown, with "Warrior."

Brown got her start in 2011 opening for Chris Brown (oh dear), and released her debut EP, When the Lights Go Out, in 2012, following the success of her breakthrough single, "We Run the Night," which was remixed for its US release by RedOne with a guest rap by Pitbull (natch). "We Run the Night" was Brown's first single to top the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart; another track from the EP, "Big Banana," also hit #1 on the chart.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

9 Reasons Why Iggy Azalea is a Hit

To the casual US pop music consumer, the rise of Iggy Azalea seems to have been a pretty swift operation. In reality, Azalea has been navigating a lengthy label battlefield since signing with Interscope in early 2012; her debut album, The New Classic, suffered numerous delays, an executive producer switch, change of labels, and more. Since her initial pre-release work was focused on the UK market (including three official singles, all of which went top 20), workaday Americans wouldn't have gotten much of a whiff of her until she released her fourth single, "Fancy," in early March. "Fancy" made an immediate impact, and The New Classic finally dropped on April 23, selling 52,000 copies in its first week and debuting at #3 on the Billboard 200; it remains in the top five after its second sales week.

Iggy Azalea, living "Fancy"

The New Classic's long schlep through label development hell is neither extraordinary nor terribly interesting, lacking any of the sort of artistically square label execs, icky capitalist villain soundbites, or sheer magnitude that make for interesting storytelling. What interests me is the way it stuck the landing. Whatever the backstage fuckery that went on, from the moment they decided "Ok, yes. this is happening," they managed the roll-out, and it was a success. So can it really be all that hard, if you do it right, to get at least a decent showing out of a new release? I haven't even listened to the album yet, and I still have a pretty good idea why it sold (I've heard from numerous sources that "Fancy" and "Problem" are outliers). Here are our guesses as to what's behind the rapper's recent success: you decide for yourself.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ode to the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs Chart

Billboard magazine is mainly known for its two signature charts, the Hot 100 singles and the Billboard 200 albums. Yet over the years as genres have grown more defined, and different formats and means of distribution have developed, Billboard has grown to include well over a hundred different charts measuring all sorts of things. Most of the charts rank based on sales, radio airplay, online streaming, or some combination of the three. But my favorite  has always been a scrappy, lovably quirky chart called Hot Dance Club Songs.

Hot Dance Club Songs is unlike any other Billboard chart in that it compiles from weekly reports submitted by a nationwide panel of club DJs "detailing the tracks that elicit the most audience response." This unusual methodology obviously makes things more unpredictable on the whole, but it also engenders the chart with a unique kind of personality, with a few quirky habits of its own. The main is that, with the rarest of exceptions, there is a new #1 every week. Not only that, but songs that hit #1 typically have a hilariously big drop the following week, the reason for which is amusing to conjecture. (Surely the audience response isn't "oh, that song is #1 on the Hot Dance Club Songs chart this week, how boring.") In fact, a song will typically spend more time on the chart, especially in the upper regions, if it never actually peaks at #1.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

New Music That Doesn't Suck: May 2014

Summer movie season is approaching, and reboots are all the rage. Not wanting to be left out, I'm reviving an old series, in which I compile some new pop music that's not too terribly objectionable to help you stock your library with as many suckage-free products as possible.

Iggy Azalea, Winner of May 2014

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Listen to This: Gin Wigmore - "Kill of the Night"

An exciting facet of the global music industry is the opportunity to find new material from interesting and far-off places. Lorde, of "Royals" and the current hit "Team," isn't the only interesting act to emerge from New Zealand of late. There is Kimbra, the female featured voice on Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know," and there's Gin Wigmore, whose sultry "Kill of the Night" is featured in a new commercial for Nationwide Insurance.

You may remember Wigmore's voice, a distinctive Macy Gray-meets-Duffy growl, from the James Bond flick Skyfall (and a related beer commercial). Her 2012 sophomore album Gravel and Wine, a number one hit in New Zealand, is full of Bond-like slinky jazz-pop tunes, like "Black Sheep" and "Man Like That." The deeper cut "Kill of the Night" is the kind of timeless lounge pop made popular by Amy Winehouse, and goes to show how immense and lingering the late singer's influence remains seven years after her debut.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hear the New Kylie Minogue Track "Sparks"

Kylie Minogue is surely one of the most durable pop stars of our time. It's hard to think of many other artists who began their careers in the 1980s ("The Loco-Motion" debuted in 1987) still releasing relevant pop music (as her upcoming album Kiss Me Once seems likely to be) in 2014.

Kylie Minogue Sparks

The album's lead single, "Into The Blue," is at least as solid as your average Kylie single. It has its official sale release today in the UK, whose weird music release practices often involve radio release long before anyone is allowed to purchase a single (also released today: Katy Perry's "Dark Horse"), which just seems baffling in the digital age (although the UK music charts are purely sales- and not radio-based, which I definitely like).

Kylie is an old pro from the era when singles had physical releases, first as 7" vinyl records and later as CDs, and in those days it made sense to include an additional track, or B-side, that wouldn't appear on the main album but would still fit the album's vibe. The B-side was the ancestor of the bonus track. And in today's digital, track-based sales environment, there's no need for, nor much sense in, B-sides with a single release. But Kylie's still in the habit - internet be damned! - and today's UK single release of "Into the Blue" includes the B-side "Sparks," produced by Matt Schwartz and written by Karen Poole, the team behind Minogue's 2012 one-off single "Timebomb" (Poole also wrote past singles "Red Blooded Woman," "Chocolate," and "Wow").

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Adele Dazeem and Oscar's Big Music Problem

There wasn't much air left in the tires by the time the 86th Academy Awards rolled around on Sunday, and it wasn't just Putin's fault. Certainly the Olympics-mandated extended wait between the nominations and the ceremony (six and a half weeks, instead of the usual four and a half) - not to mention those two weeks the nation spent binging on winter sports and the progression of Bob Costas' pink eye - had much to do with it (although the telecast had 43.74 million viewers, the most since 2000).

The other part of this year's ho-hummitude was a combination of extreme predictability and relative inaccessibility of most if not all of the likely winners in the high profile acting, writing, and best picture categories - also known as the only categories not expected to be taken by Gravity or Frozen. And, sure enough, in those categories we got three Oscars for "slavery is bad," two for "AIDS is bad," and one for the Woody Allen movie. You could forgive any but the most ardent Oscars nut for tuning out or falling asleep after Best Original Song (I did). Not until then, of course, since this year's Best Original Song category offered one of the only semi-dramatic races, and not just (I don't think) for pop music partisans like me.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Getting High for "Sheezus" (Lily Allen, On A Roll)

So, Lily Allen. I was living in London when Lily Allen was first bicycling into the picture, and overall I found her mildly annoying. I did enjoy her debut single, "Smile," with its muffled reggae piano and cheery nastiness, but not her other single, "LDN," because it was dull and her singing was terrible. I liked her chavvy accent, which seemed to be more of an issue for the Brits; we Americans find any British accent charming (see: Bastille's "Pompeii"). Then I remember liking her singles from It's Not Me, It's You, but probably being more impressed that she merited a profile in The New Yorker. I didn't like the childish Katy Perry feud or the childish Azealia Banks feud or the odd blip where she changed her professional name to Lily Rose Cooper, but overall I tended to lean pro-Lily without a ton of enthusiasm either way. And I'm leery of post-baby albums from female artists I've enjoyed because babies, ew, and the only one who's done a song about her baby that isn't dreck is Kelis.

Have you thought about your butt?
Then came "Hard Out Here," which I loved. And the video, which I LOVED. And the controversy, which I both loathed and devoured. And then came "Air Balloon," which...I also loved. And then her song on the Girls soundtrack, "L8 CMMR," which...wait for it...I also loved. And when I learned this weekend that the album is to be called Sheezus - well, I think I audibly cheered. Yes, certainly it helps that I'm not coming in with any expectations on Lily Allen's next project that she needs to hold up to, but that I'm fully on board with literally everything she's done so far with this project is remarkably unusual, and it's got me excited about 2014 when for the last two years it's taken until about June to rouse my spirits about the stuff coming down the pipeline.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dark Horses: New EPs by Meg Myers and Kimberly Cole Are Just What the Doctor Ordered

The other night I was listening to Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill for about the 43879643th time and thinking something I've thought for a while now: what the world needs now is some good new pissed-off-chick music. It's not specifically "rock" I mean, although it was late 90s rock that saw the last big wave; what I'm jonesing for is something "darker," but aggressive, rather than depressive, as most down-tempo female pop has been for most of the millennium (Adele, R&B on the whole). I think that's why I've latched onto Lorde so enthusiastically (especially her goth-y minimalist Hot Topic Grammys performance) and why my songs like Meredith Brooks' "Bitch," Björk's "Human Behaviour," Garbage's "#1 Crush," and Peaches' "Fuck the Pain Away" keep popping up on my playlists lately.

Meg Myers is ready for, ready for a perfect storm

And there's some evidence that I'm not entirely alone here. There is, of course, Lorde's nine-week reign atop the Billboard Hot 100 with "Royals" (although with the success of its rather more friendly followup, "Team," it's hard to say for certain that her popular embrace stems from precisely the same place as my own), as well as the rabid response to Beyoncé's sexy, insubordinate new album. A Slate piece suggested that the popularity of Katy Perry's "Dark Horse," the current Hot 100 #1, belies a public interest in her "goth-girl-with-training-wheels persona," which is a bit maddening not only given how I was mocked for predicting, back in late 2012, that Perry's third album might be "some unexpected alt-pop masterpiece" but especially because I sure want something much better than "Dark Horse." Sky Ferreira's album of moody indie-rockish-pop was much fawned over by critics (it wasn't my thing), and Nicki Minaj's bellicose new video caused so much Twitter ejaculation I had to grab an umbrella. All of this indicates that a pair of excellent EPs released last week might be just what the doctor ordered.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ingrid Michaelson Returns, Queers Up Robert Palmer With "Girls Chase Boys"

Some purists may feel differently, but I've liked Ingrid Michaelson's toe-dips into mainstream pop during the last few years. Her just-for-fun pop cover of Cheryl Cole's "Parachute," which Michaelson co-wrote, presaged her polished, studio-refined 2012 album, Human Again, on which she tinkered with just enough elements of electronic pop to make things interesting, and some of her early followers mad. Her new single, "Girls Chase Boys," ahead of the upcoming album Lights Out, finds her comfortably in her pop-with-indie-pout zone, and it's about exactly as charming as we've come to expect.

Tribute to Robert Palmer

"Girls Chase Boys" is an energetic pop tune, with lightweight lyrics about breakups over claps, heavy drums and, I don't know, is that a harpsichord, maybe? Michaelson doesn't challenge things, she just tosses in something a little weird. She's still playing the glasses-wearing, bookish little sister to Sara Bareilles, and the drums in particular recall the aggressive percussion of "Brave," but "Girls Chase Boys" doesn't aim for the same emotional or musical heights; Michaelson is very comfortable staying at about 7.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Vertigo Shtick Top 40 Pop Singles of 2013, Part Three (#10-1)

As we head into this exciting new year of possibility, here's a look at some of the highlights of the year in pop music gone by. (Note: for this list, date of release and the term "single" are broadly defined.)

The Vertigo Shtick Top 40 Pop Singles of 2013

>>40-26<<       >>25-11<<

10. "Birthday" - Selena Gomez

Stars Dance

The gimmick of Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers was placing Disney teen idols in bikinis robbing shit, and Gomez, one of said idols, mines a similar attraction on her raucous album opener. I've always pegged Gomez as the most interesting Disney grad of the recent pop class, the Britney to Miley's Christina (stay with me) in that while Miley's appeal (and talent) is more straightforward, bleached fauxhawk and twerking-at-the-VMAs antics blaring her sexuality and rebelliousness like a neon sign, Gomez is more demure and her talent less bombastic, yet there's something inexplicably magnetic about her, even when she doesn't even seem to try. On an album where Gomez takes up where Dev left off, a gonzo Sleigh Bells-style party anthem is a neat way to reintroduce herself (I love the blase "hooraaaay" fading in and out near the end). And listen to her having so much fun! It's every parent's worst nightmare, proof that it's not just the tongue-wagging Mileys of the world they have to fear - good girls can be just as bad, and they don't come with hazard lights.


9. Real - Gorgon City feat. Yasmin

Real EP

New electronic outfit Gorgon City teams up with one of Britain's best new talents for this late night dirge of disaffected regret. Yasmin, who sounded great on her breakthrough single, "Finish Line," sounds even singing about an octave lower; her voice is immaculate. At five minutes, it's a long track, but the energy never flags, even if it never breaks a sweat. Each time Yasmin sings "We used to be real" is punctuated by what sounds like the knell of a depressed church bell, swelling in your ears (the record has something of a Fever-era Kylie Minogue-on-downers vibe). The whole track operates with that sort of 3D sound, and even though there's not too much going on, the attention to detail makes for a truly immersive experience.

CHOICE LYRIC: "Now all I know is that we used to be real." 

8. "Heart Attack" - Demi Lovato


“Heart Attack” is an interesting followup to Lovato's last single, “Give Your Heart a Break,” in that she's essentially playing the exact sort of gun-shy romantic conscientious objector she'd been exhorting to give love a chance the last time around. But such character continuity issues are the nature of the interpretive pop performer (as when, on Funhouse, Pink blithely follows “Sober” up a few tracks later with a drinking song). As a performer and persona, Demi Lovato falls somewhere between the cooly disaffected Selena Gomez and personality-heavy Bridgit Mendler. What she lacks in personality she makes up for in passion; whatever she's singing about is a matter of life and death. Her melodramatization of often pretty benign stuff can be amusing, but it is fitting to the way in which everything seems like the end of the world at the age of her core audience, and I'm sure it's why she is more passionately beloved of said audience than Gomez or post-Hannah Montana Miley Cyrus. And even those of us who are older and jaded can't help but grow concerned, given the intensity of her performance – 'Oh dear...someone should do something. She could have a heart attack!' Whether it's genuine or has to be tricked out of you, “Heart Attack” will win your affection whether or not you intend to let it (there is one particularly sublime moment, at the end of the bridge), so you may as well not even bother putting your defenses up.

CHOICE LYRIC: "Won't wash my hair, then make 'em bounce like a basketball." 

7. "Do What U Want" - Lady Gaga feat. R. Kelly


ARTPOP's second single is irresistible from the first moment, and it's the one track that nails the R&B-injected pop style Gaga tinkers with on the first half of the album. When Gaga sings, one can almost hear echoes of Christina Aguilera from a parallel dimension, so it's no surprise that the two teamed up for a duet on The Voice and a subsequent studio recording. R Kelly's presence is a bit unsettling given the subject matter (especially his verse), but you can't deny the smooth and seductive allure of his voice. And anyway, the song isn't really about sex; it's an intriguing reversal of the usual trick of disguising sexual meaning in more everyday terms that perhaps only Gaga, with her unique blend of sexuality and self-obsession, could pull off.

CHOICE LYRIC: "But then you print some shit that makes me wanna scream." 

6. "We Can't Stop" - Miley Cyrus


My only regret in life is how much time I wasted hating "We Can't Stop." I was too turned off by the "written for Rihanna" thing (especially after "Come and Get It") and confused by its non-party sound to understand what was really going on. But after waking up one fateful morning and, in my grogginess, hearing the song in my head and liking the way it fit with my mood, I listened to it again, and everything fell into place. What I realized was we don't need another "Woohoo let's party!" song - we've got tons (TONS) and there will be tons more to come - and we don't particularly need another hangover theme song either. Miley's nihilistic party anthem celebrates that 4am part of the party - and isn't that about the time we're having the most fun? I don't think Rihanna could have pulled it off; she's either too good or too boring to get sloppy drunk in a song for us. Miley's neither putting on an act nor being taken advantage of; she knows where she stands, and, like Ke$ha before her, knows how valuable it is to celebrate one's hard-partying rebellious youth while acknowledging that it's merely one step on the road to maturity and not a permanent state of being.

CHOICE LYRIC: "We run things, things don't run we." 

5. "Don't Hold the Wall" - Justin Timberlake

The 20/20 Experience

The 20/20 Experience was a triumphant comeback for one of our best male pop starts, not to mention one of our best hip hop producers. Timbaland's return to form is hardly better in evidence than on this seven minute slow dance, with low-tuned wind chimes, bass down to the toes, and snare crackling like the rafters of an ancient discotheque beneath Timberlake's breathy come-ons and exquisite vocal harmonies. After the mid-act stylistic shift that marks each track on the album, an old-fashioned woman's voice asks "Well? How'dya like it?" I echo Timbaland's response: "I love it."

CHOICE LYRIC: "Well...I'm the best ever." 

4. "White Noise" - Disclosure feat. AlunaGeorge


"White Noise" is one of the more traditionally pop structured tracks on Settle produced with the  detailed techno-driven style and sound of the sample-based electronica of the rest of the album, in this case with a kiss-off vocal by AlunaGeorge that's as firm and sensual as the electronic production beneath and around it. The track starts with a thumping four on the floor beat and a sort of pogo stick effect that eventually gives the illusion of muffled crowd noise, like the murmur of a restaurant with four Michelin stars. That sort of luxury pervades "White Noise" and much of the rest of the album; listening to it makes you feel like you're in the VIP lounge gorging on caviar and Cristal. The synthy-xylophone hook is inventive and bonkers, and, like the track as a whole, it keeps you guessing; nothing about "White Noise" is predictable, yet everything sounds exactly as it should. Such is the precocious genius of this young duo that has so arrested audiences and critics - they give you exactly what you never knew you wanted.

CHOICE LYRIC: "You got me washed out, washed out, color drained." 

3. "Grown Woman" - Beyoncé


Timbaland's joyful production, anchored by an African-influenced percussion beat, remains thrilling from the first moment to the last, while densely layered details of vocal production over and within it twist and turn and shift from segment to segment just enough for the over-five minute track to maintain its freshness and energy all the way through. As for Beyoncé, she is in rare form, in a way I haven't heard since "Ring the Alarm." Her vocal performance bursts with personality and attitude, and her shrieks, mhm's, and repetition of the hook/mission statement, "I'm a grown woman. I can do whatever I want," sound genuine rather than cynically designed. "Grown Woman" is much broader than the heavily Britney-specific "Piece of Me," and many women in particular are more apt to identify with the lyrics than hear them as proprietary to Queen Bey. Despite her ascension to almost deific status in the past few years, Beyoncé is canny enough to have found a piece of common ground between herself and the peasant folk who listen to her music. Long before Beyoncé's surprise album release revealed the unrecognizably flourishing artistic personality of this post-Blue Ivy American royal, she and Timbaland had made something unique, risky, interesting, and unexpected - and made it sound like a tried and true hit.

CHOICE LYRIC: "You really wanna know how I got it like that? Cuz I got a cute face and my booty's so fat." 

2. "The Apple" - VV Brown

Samson & Delilah

August 10 was a big day for pop music. Katy Perry released her first single from Prism, the eventual #1 hit "Roar"; then Lady Gaga, true to form, leaked "Applause" so as not to be outshone. But there was a third giant pop moment that flew somewhat under the radar: VV Brown's exceptional single "The Apple." What's so astonishing wasn't just that "The Apple" is perfect (though it is), it's also that Brown has never been that remarkable an artist - certainly not one from whom one would expect something this divine. The production is immense and deep, with a bass line and background effects that hit like a thick fog, through which Brown's strong, echoing vocal pierces like a lighthouse beam. The lyrics are powerful and surprising, on the verses ("Hold my soul now/Inside your box/Make me loose/Psychological locks"), the pre-chorus ("In the middle of the night I see you go/We have grown apart into lonely souls") and the chorus ("Don't patronize me/I'm not your clown/Don't cause me suff'ring/It's over now"). Halfway through you hear Brown singing (shouting?) over the pre-chorus, and each line has a different sort of vocal layering that punctuates every lyric. The instrumental middle eight is orgasmic and always makes me say aloud something like "SO GOOD." "The Apple" is fearless, innovative, and one of the most thrilling pop songs I've heard in years.

CHOICE LYRIC: "Don't patronize me." 

1. "Royals" - Lorde

Pure Heroine

I vacillated for a bit on which song to put at #1, until I realized that it simply had to be "Royals." The first time I heard "Royals," at work, I stopped everything to go over to the radio and listen to try to remember enough of the lyrics so I could look it up at home (no Shazam, alas). The harmonies - and a woman's voice on alternative radio - were what initially got my attention, and when I went home and listened to my hastily purchased mp3 copy I found there wasn't much more to it - snaps, kick drum, a little wubwub, a gong, and Lorde. But what more do you need, really? The melody lilts and cascades and descends like a singalong, and those lyrics! "I've never seen a diamond in the flesh." Well hello there! (I did have to look up "Maybach.")

That I can simultaneously love "Royals" and "We Can't Stop" and not feel like that makes me a hypocrite is one of the joys of pop music. And I still love "Royals." Every time it plays on the radio I feel like my day has met its minimum purpose. When I listen to the album and it comes up I shout "hooray!" When it plays on my iPod I turn it up and sing along. When there's no music playing anywhere around and I need to be making noise of some kind, I sing "Royals." I know I should be saturated to the point of boredom, if not outright hatred. Even the most ardent Lorde supporters among my friends have eventually tired of "Royals," like the sleigh bell in The Polar Express. But the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe, and I believe I will love "Royals" until the day I die, and if I'm together enough on my deathbed, I'll try and manage it that my last word before I croak is "Roooyyyyallllls." If there had been no other music released this year, I would still be pleased enough with "Royals" to consider 2013 the best year for pop music since 2010. "Let me be your ruler," she sings. Here, Lorde, take the crown. The throne is yours.

CHOICE LYRIC: "Let me be your ruler; you can call me Queen Bee, and baby I'll rule." 

Return to #25-11

Return to #40-26

The Vertigo Shtick Top 40 Pop Singles of 2013, Part Two (#25-11)

As we head into this exciting new year of possibility, here's a look at some of the highlights of the year in pop music gone by. (Note: for this list, date of release and the term "single" are broadly defined.)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Vertigo Shtick Top 40 Pop Singles of 2013, Part One (#40-26)

At the very least, 2013 was an interesting year for pop music. After the creative high point pop reached in 2010, when the European-influenced dance pop trend hit its stride, EDM became so ubiquitous and generic that it was wrung dry within a very short time. It fell out of favor so quickly that nothing had emerged to take its place, and to distract from the dregs of any trend's inevitable decline.

Lily Allen
Lily Allen
2013 was the first year that new sounds managed to permeate the airwaves and hit the top of the charts, leading to an amusing motley crew of disparate number one singles. Within just one year, there was the nostalgic, jazzy hip hop of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' "Thrift Shop," the retro disco pop of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," the Marvin Gaye pastiche of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," the woozy hip-pop of Miley Cyrus' "We Can't Stop," and, oddest of all, the minimalist alternative rebellion of Lorde's "Royals."

Alternative music made a strong showing for the first time since the turn of the century, with slow burning hits like Bastille's "Pompeii," The Neighborhood's "Sweater Weather," and Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive" and "Demons." A few EDM stars went unexpectedly highbrow, leading to the surreal experience of hearing Avicii played on KROQ-FM. Meanwhile, male hip-hop artists moved album downloads in staggering quantities, but made little impact on mainstream radio. The year's biggest smash releases, like Justin Timberlake, Daft Punk, and Beyonce, were more product of marketing ingenuity than of embodying or defining the musical zeitgeist, their success existing largely outside the musical moment and largely deflecting imitation, so far at least.

What all of this leads to is that as of the beginning of 2014, there is still no clear indication which direction pop music is headed - which means - excitingly - it's really anybody's game. It's almost certain that the music released in 2014 will determine how pop music sounds for years to come; rarely has there been as blank a stylistic canvas and as open a general consumer taste as 2013's eclectic array of mainstream hits indicates.

As we head into this exciting new year of possibility, here's a look at some of the highlights of the year in pop music gone by. (Note: for this list, date of release and the term "single" are broadly defined.)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

What Pitbull and Ke$ha's "Timber" Hitting Number One Means For Music (and The Rest of Us)

It's official: Pitbull and Ke$ha have completed their inevitable climb up the US singles chart, as "Timber" reaches the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for the January 18 edition, announced today. In an odd coincidence of timing, "Timber" also tops this week's UK Singles Chart, which unlike the Hot 100 is based solely on sales (the single was just released in the UK last week); it's also the number one song in Canada and Germany, among others. And all this despite the fact that no matter how much you might like one or both artists behind it (as we do), "Timber" is, well, pretty much dreadful.

Don't get me wrong: I was rooting for it. I'm thrilled that it knocked Rihanna and Eminem off the throne, and I hope it stays up there long enough to cockblock OneRepublic, Passenger, and/or Katy Perry and their even worse respective singles from scaling the peak, although I know the last one at least is doubtful. And I'm stoked that Ke$ha is number one on both sides of the globe. But I know full well that I'm just making the best of a momentary low point in pop music here, and you should too!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Vertigo Shtick Statement on Ke$ha, Eating Disorders, Dr. Luke, Rehab and Refrigerators

As some of Ke$ha's most ardent critical champions and devout personal fans, we at Vertigo Shtick were troubled by the news of her recent admission to a rehab facility for treatment an eating disorder. While obviously concerned for her well-being, we are glad that she is getting help.

While eating disorders, like addiction, can happen to anyone, it's encouraging that Ke$ha and those close to her have been sharp enough to recognize and address the problem before it could ravage her physically and mentally beyond full repair. As someone who once declared (admiringly) that she was a surprisingly hefty gal after first seeing her live, and whose favorite bit of the "Crazy Kids" video is when her milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, I did notice how dramatically different her body appeared in the music video for her Pitbull collab, "Timber," released in late November. It certainly didn't look like the Ke$ha I knew and loved.

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