[This is part two of my post on this year's music. Part one can be found here.]
Here we go, with more songs and videos:
Eminem (featuring Rihanna) — “Love the Way You Lie”
I respect Eminem. I don’t always like his songs. Some of his songs simply don’t engage me. Sometimes I find myself offended by them. But I never doubt the sincerity of his music. And I respect that, because sometimes the things Eminem sings about are ugly. And he doesn’t shy away from that.
This is a song about love and possession, jealousy and rage. It is a song that acknowledges that the root of jealousy is insecurity. That the root of rage is shame. Eminem owns that. He says this, this ugliness, this is me sometimes. And because he says it is in him he lets his listeners admit to the same petty evil. Eminem brings the evil in everyone’s heart out into the light.
He doesn’t celebrate that evil, though. This is not a song about how bitches deserve it, how he’s a better man because he hits her. Eminem sings of confusion and grief, he sings of begging, begging the woman to accept his apology while his apology is laced with the threat to kill her. It’s the apology of a man who has no idea how to separate strength from violence, love from ownership. If she leaves him, he’ll die inside. And he’d rather kill her than feel that pain.
Listening to this song I empathize. That’s how good the lyrics are, how powerful the narrative in the verses. It’s not an easy song to listen to, god no. But it’s amazing. And that’s before we talk about Rihanna.
Because, oh yes, that’s the other half of this. The female vocals are sung by Rihanna. Famous not only for being an amazing singer but for staying in an abusive relationship until her boyfriend put her in the hospital. Rihanna, who has a song called “Russian Roulette” in which she sings about wondering when her boyfriend will shoot her in the head. To have her sing
“Just gonna stand there and watch me burn
Tha’s alright because I like the way it hurts
Just gonna stand there and see me cry
Tha’s alright because I love the way you lie
Love the way you lie”
is either exploitative as all hell or it’s a ferocious assertion of agency. I’m guessing a bit of both, leaning toward the agency side of the equation. Eminem could not have been ignorant of the power, cache, and credibility she would lend to the song. But I also think that Rihanna is set to shout, scream, and sing from every rooftop about her experience. I think she knows that there are tens of thousands of girls and women out there who hear her songs and she wants them to know that they are not alone. Not only are they not alone, but that she understands.
In the same exact way that Eminem is telling his male listeners that he knows their shame and fear and he does not condemn them even though he knows they’ve done wrong, Rihanna is telling the women listening that she knows, she knows why you decide to stay. She knows why you believe he won’t do it again.
I love this song. I can’t listen to it much, but, ohh, I do love it.
Ke$ha — “Take It Off”
I love Ke$ha’s music. It’s not complex or original, it’s just the beat and the hook and the lyrics. But that’s what I listen to in music. This is why Tchaikovsky is one of my favorite composers. Subtle, the man is not.
I also like Ke$ha. I respect her, so far. She’s essentially white trash and she is deliberately riding this whole Pop Music Diva Queen thing as best she can. I’ve read interviews with her, she had no illusion that this will last. She finds the fame a bit ridiculous, the fans and press sort of inexplicable, but she will take it as long as it keeps coming.
To paraphrase Stephen King in The Stand, there’s something in her that’s hard, like biting on tinfoil. I like that about Ke$ha. It takes a hard person to not be eaten alive by fame.
And here we have “Take It Off.” Like most of Ke$ha’s songs it’s about going out partying. Yet the video is … disturbing. In the video the partiers dissolve into clouds of glitter and colored dust. The party wins, as if it is a contest. As if the constant drinking and dancing and the never-ending “fun” are out to get the participants. As if living this way will kill you eventually.
I don’t think that’s just in the video. I don’t know who directed the video, and it’s probable that Ke$ha had almost nothing to do with it. But I think that sense of danger is in the song itself. The chorus samples/riffs/borrows/steals the musical phrase that I think of as “that snake-charmer music.” Likely I think of it that way from dozens of Bugs Bunny cartoons as a kid. I don’t know what song the phrase comes from originally. But it’s not a comforting riff. Minor-key, unsettling.
And the lyrics, they talk about freaks, filth, losing your mind, losing everything. The song talks about going “hardcore,” a phrase frequently associated with porn. The protagonist chants that everyone should take it off and it sounds less like an invitation than a threat.
I think Ke$ha is a lot smarter than her auto-tuned and overproduced songs lead people to think. And I think she intends to get out of the music industry alive.
Pink — “Raise Your Glass”
Pink is another artist who I believe is absolutely sincere when she sings things that might sound trite. I don’t have a ton to say about this song, except that my heart is always with
“All my underdogs
We will never be anything but loud
And nitty gritty
Dirty little freaks
So raise your glass”
Fefe Dobson — “Stuttering”
This song was played in the tv show Hellcats. I love that show, and I love this song. It’s catchy, it’s pop, and it’s over-engineered. I’m okay with all of that. Because, really, I completely endorse a woman demanding that she be told the truth.
Also, the video is funny and thoughtful and kind of weirdly serious. Dobson has clearly thought a lot about the song.
Lykke Li — “Get Some”
I’m not at all sure what this song is about. I haven’t looked up the lyrics. I know almost nothing about the band. I got the song as a free download from the band’s website, in return for which I signed up for their mailing list. Sure, no problem. I just find this song so damn catchy. I’ve listened to it for weeks at a time, in all the playlists I made, I just like it. I drive around in my car bopping my head and singing what lyrics I can understand.
Girlyman — “Genevieve”
I’m not usually a big fan of slow, thoughtful, sweet ballads about relationships. But there’s something in this that caught me. I think it’s the concrete details of the narrator’s life — the snails, the buoys, the fog, the lobster traps. I was thinking, listening to this, that I know more great songs about unhappiness than I do about happiness. This is a good song about a specific person’s quiet joy, and in the unique details the narrator shares the feeling with us.
Usher ft. Pitbull — “DJ Got Us Fallin’ In Love”
First off, I misheard this song when I listened to it on the radio. I thought the song title and lyrics were “Danger got us fallin’ in love again,” not “DJ.”
I like my version a lot better.
And, here’s the thing — listening to the song, it COULD be Danger and not DJ. The references to zombies, to coming back to life, to not being in control of one’s body, all of these things COULD be part of a science-fictional-horror story about a pair of survivors who have fallen in love while fighting for their lives.
“Cause baby tonight
The danger got us fallin’ in love again
Yeah baby tonight
Danger got us fallin’ in love again
So dance dance like it’s the last last night of your life life
Go’an get’chu right
The danger got us fallin’ in love again”
I’m just sayin’.
Far East Movement — “Like A G6”
Sometimes you just get a catchy song about getting really drunk.
I credit this song with adding the word “slizzard” to my vocabulary.
Rihanna — “Only Girl (In the World)”
I like Rihanna’s songs about anger better than her songs about being happy. That said, even her happy songs are not … not very happy.
“Want you to make me feel
Like I’m the only girl in the world”
When she belts this out, it sounds less like an invitation and more like a plea.
My Chemical Romance — “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)”
When I was a kid I was fascinated by the video for Duran Duran’s “New Moon on Monday.”
I could NOT figure out what the HELL was supposed to be going on. Except that there was a, a revolution? Maybe? And what the hell did the video have to do with the song? And everyone was running around in impractical costumes with amazing hair.
They looked like superheroes in the comics I read.
They looked like the X-MEN.
I fell in love.
This is how my kids feel about My Chemical Romance’s “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)”. My kids can name the different Killjoys (the characters played by MCR in the world of the video.) They debate the merits of the different bad guys, discussing who is the worst. In the car while listening to and singing along with the song, my children tell each other self-insert Mary Sue Killjoys fanfic.
And the thing of it is, it’s not a bad song.
There are three albums that I kept returning to throughout 2010. I’m not really an album person; I tend to like one or three songs off of a given album and I ignore the rest. ITunes and Zune Marketplace and all the other single-track digital-delivery systems were invented for people like me. Yet these three albums each had a number of tracks I liked. Five or six or ten.
My Chemical Romance, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys
I only started listening to the album in November, but it’s already growing on me. I like the plot, the story, of Danger Days. I like the idea of the Fabulous Killjoys running around the desert, never staying dead, not really winning but not giving up. It’s a bleak, post-apocalyptic story that reminds me of Max Headroom and the 80s, and I like that.
Musically, My Chemical Romance are always better than their publicity and rabid fanbase leads me to think. Yes, their songs are kinda predictable. But that’s not bad when the music is as well-executed as this. I fully expect I’ll be listening to Danger Days well into 2011.
Florence and the Machine, Lungs
I completely dismissed this album when it came out. But then I heard “Kiss With a Fist” on the soundtrack to the movie Jennifer’s Body. And then I heard “Drumming Song.” And then I heard “Rabbit Hear (Raise It Up).” And then I bought the album and heard “Hurricane Drunk” and “Girl With One Eye” and and and –
I really like this album. It’s sort of incomprehensible, a mix of poetry and fairy tale and myths (some old and some, I suspect, fabricated for the album) and it makes no sense at all. Except emotionally, where it makes a lot of sense.
The album is like Tarot, I think. You get from it what you put into it, you get a mirror to show you the shape of your own hopes and fears and passions. And, lest we forget, damn but this woman can sing.
Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster
There is no question that the album I heard the most songs from this year was Fame Monster. None of the individual tracks made my personal Year in Music list, but that’s because Lady Gaga had so damn many great songs. I loved every single. Every one of them. And I loved a number of the tracks that never made it to the radio, that never had single releases.
But beside my personal love of the songs, I just love Lady Gaga. She is smart, incredibly motivated, she spends her money on her art and on privacy. She is passionate about art, culture, and politics. She is openly queer and speaks up frequently on queer rights issues. She loves her fans and constantly gives them her thanks for everything she has. She is a woman in control of a hurricane — it’s not clear yet whether she’s going to survive this whole mess, but for the moment it goes where she wants.
I respect the hell out of this woman and wish her all the best.
Filed under: Music, Uncategorized Tagged: | 2010, eminem, far east movement, fefe dobson, florence and the machine, girlyman, ke$ha, lady gaga, lykke li, my chemical romance, pink, rihanna, usher, year in music