Saturday, March 7, 2015

"Can See Can Do" and the Politics of M.I.A.

Sometimes, when I need to check myself, I put on M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes." Popularized by the trailer to the stoner film Pineapple Express, it was the first big hit for the British dance artist (and for her producer and then-beau, Diplo), peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and earning a Record of the Year nomination at the 2009 Grammys (she performed at the ceremony, nine months pregnant). And I was baffled, and perhaps a little offended; "She can't even sing!" was my general response. I didn't get it. A year later, I launched this blog, as a reaction to, and toward, the people who "don't get it." Thus often goes the story of the evangelized.

Of course, whether M.I.A. can even sing is irrelevant, because it's not really the point. M.I.A.'s music isn't about tuneful warbling, it's about rebellion and radicalism, in the lyrics and in the beats. At it best, it stows social commentary away within benignly appealing thematic frameworks, transparently enough that even if you notice it you don't feel like you've been tricked. Even when the topic is directly political, as on her new song "Can See Can Do," released this morning on Soundcloud, she tends to hew more to the broadly applicable style of 60s protest songs than the expressive specificity of rap.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Let's Rate Some iTunes New Artist Spotlight Singles with Emoji

The Billboard Hot 100 is in one of its regular ruts at the moment. Seven of the current top ten singles are stagnant or on the decline, and the other three aren't much more inspired (Maroon 5, Taylor Swift, and barrel-bottom Pitbull); meanwhile, Mark Ronson's Bruno Mars single "Uptown Funk" spends a ninth week at #1, Ed Sheeran holds a seventh week at #2 and Ellie Goudling's 50 Shades of Grey song clocks a fourth atop the UK Singles Chart, a sales- and streaming-based chart where turnover at the summit is usually high. It'd be one thing if any of these singles were making some sort of imprint on the societal moment beyond themselves, but as a non-radio listener, I've barely been aware of them. From the look of the charts, you'd think we were in a real post-Grammys, pre-Spring Break creative drought, like we often are early in the year.

Australian band Sheppard say "Geronimo"
Except, for once, we're not. After a real snooze of a year, 2015 has come front-loaded with more good new music released in the first two months than 2014 had put out by about October. We've gotten great albums from Jazmine Sullivan, Fifth Harmony, and Drake, with promising releases from Madonna and Marina and the Diamonds imminent and monster returns by Kanye West, Rihanna, and Adele on the horizon. And the spate of exciting rookie acts that kicked off last year hasn't let up, with solid big-label introductions from Eden xo, Rae Sremmurd, Tori Kelly, and Ella Henderson making impact on radio and streaming.

In fact, it looks like the major labels are starting to show willingness to put some real budgetary and promotional support behind new artists on their rosters (following the huge success of Iggy Azalea and ClearChannel's "On the Verge" new artist program). Even iTunes is getting into it, offering "New Artist Spotlights" on its main page and genre main pages. So why is everyone still just listening to the same ol' Bruno Mars song?

Maybe you're like me, and this whole "new artists being promoted" thing is still a little foreign to you and you don't really know how or where to even start with all these weirdly named new acts on your iTunes page or Spotify playlist. Back in the day we used to have these things to help with this sort of dilemma, called "blogs." Maybe you've heard of them? Anyway, I'll get to work on that for y'all. Here's a starter batch for the weekend.

1. "Shut Up and Dance" - Walk the Moon (Talking is Hard)
2. "Geronimo" - Sheppard (Geronimo)
3. "Goodbye" - Who Is Fancy (Single)
4. "Budapest" - George Ezra (Wanted on a Voyage)
5. "I'm An Albatraoz" - AronChupa (Single)
6. "Reflections" - MisterWives (Our Own House)
7. "Cheerleader (Feliz Jaehn Remix)" - Omi (Single)
8. "Roll Up Your Sleeves" - Meg Mac (Single)
9. "You Know You Like It" - DJ Snake feat. AlunaGeorge (Single)
10. "Electric Love" - Bร˜RNS (Candy)
11. "We'll Be The Stars" - Sabrina Carpenter (Single)
12. "Real Love" - Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne (New Eyes)

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