Radio Rant: Meghan Trainor – Lips Are Movin

*yawn*

Hello, and welcome back to Radio Rants. Let’s keep it friendly today; I’m still recovering from the holidays. How about that Hozier song, or something?

Did I miss a memo? When did Meghan Trainor notch a second hit? We’re still sort of dealing with overplay and bad, bad jokes from “All About That Bass”, and now she’s already on a new song? That seems odd, especially since this wasn’t on that EP she released. …hang on, let me check something. Quick factcheck to Wikipedia, and yep, eminent album confirmed. Meghan Trainor wants to be a pop star.

I have mixed feelings about this.

Ok, so I liked “All About That Bass” enough for it to get a passing grade. Not a high one, but still, it was a charming, catchy enough accidental hit that was hard to dislike on its face. What it didn’t do is convince me that Trainor is someone we need to hear more from. When it comes down to it, the song just isn’t that interesting as a composition, and the same holds true for Trainor as a singer/songwriter; she’s competent and distinct, but nothing suggests she deserves more than being a one hit wonder.

In fact, “Lips Are Movin” is practically Exhibit A for MT’s One-Hit-Wonder status because it’s a wholesale rewrite of “All About That Bass”. Trainor like-rapped her verses on that song? She makes Iggy Azalea sound like Ghostface Killah here! Did you enjoy the horns with jaunty piano on “AATB”‘s chorus? Guess what! “Lips Are Movin” has jaunty piano with horns for its chorus! I hope y’all liked hearing a body part-based title repeated from here to eternity, because that bullshit’s back like Shady’s back, too. Some of the same melodic ticks and backing vocals make a reappearance, and Trainor even mentions her bass by name four fucking times. Hey, she wasn’t kidding when she said it was all she’s about.

With the “All About That Bass” Radio Rant, I mentioned that Trainor would do best if she kept writing songs that became accidental hits, not planned ones. This is partly because chasing your own song from a few months ago is kind of tacky, but also because the soul/doo-wop sound she explored on that song was a novelty genre blend you can only squeeze so much life out of. Like, if you were feeling disingenuous, you could say that “AATB” sounded like an Old Navy commercial (the “pretty people doing pretty dances in pretty clothes” video didn’t exactly help), but the song was fresh enough and the iota of social commentary kept that charge from sticking. Now, remove any of that song’s smarts–lyrical or production–and you’re left with “Lips Are Movin”, the Target advert Amy Winehouse never had to write for drug money. Perhaps tired of the “is she a good feminist or nah?” commentary that’s surrounded her for months, Trainor opted for the most tepid kiss-off song ever.

“If your lips are moving, if you’re lips are moving/If your lips are moving, then you’re lyin’, lyin’, lyin’, baby” “If I copy my lyrics, I’ll stop tryin, tryin’, tryin’, baby”

“Boy, look at me in my face/Tell me you’re not just about this Bass” I was kidding, dammit.

“You really think I could be replaced?/Nah, I come from outer space/And I’m a classy girl, I’ma hold it up/You’re full of something, but it ain’t love” Dear God, I’m having “Black Widow” flashbacks, and I don’t know who I’m supposed to be insulting with that.

“I know you lie/Cuz your lips are moving/Tell me do you think I’m dumb?/I might be young, but I ain’t stupid/Talking around in circles with your tongue” This stanza would be okay, except there’s no elegant way to use “tongue” in a song.

“You can buy me diamond earrings and deny/But I smell her on your collar so goodbye” This couplet in such an upbeat voice that the lyrics barely register. Meghan Trainor takes infidelity better than I take the Chipotle line being too long.

Look, I get that Trainor’s in an uncomfortable position. She’s got a few Grammy nods, but the Title EP was met with a collective shrug, and no one wants to be a One Hit Wonder by 22. But shamelessly rewriting your first hit right down the the lyrical references is a bad look on anyone; Carly Rae Jepsen at least had the good sense to try something different on her album than write “Maybe Call Me”. Trainor’s biggest problem is a very real lack of depth; “Lips Are Movin” might be a hit, but she needs to sound exciting or fresh. This song is neither. I compared her to Lorde, but this song makes her career strike a lot closer to Taio “Two Hits For the Timing of One” Cruz. The lips might be moving, but I don’t hear a damn thing.

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2014 Superlatives and Odds n Ends

Welcome to Day 7 here of Listmas ’14. Thanks for reading this week, and all year long with Ranting About Music! If you want to check out the rest of Listmas, links to everything are at the bottom. There might be a new Radio Rant or one-off review from this year I missed going up soon, but this is more or less the end of new coverage until January. It’s been fun everyone. Thanks for reading again!

Albums That Weren’t Favorites But I Quite Liked Anyway (“Favorite Album” Honorable Mentions):
YG – My Krazy Life
Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – We Don’t Have Each Other
Gerard Way – Hesitant Alien
The Smashing Pumpkins – Monuments to an Elegy
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2
Weird Al – Mandatory Fun

Albums Most Hurt By Being Released in the Middle of December When We’ve All Stopped Paying Attention
Nicki Minaj – The Pinkprint
Charli XCX – Sucker

Album I Kept Meaning to Listen to, but Never Got Around To: The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

Album I Couldn’t Get Into Because the Artist Spent the Year Acting Like an Asshole: Sun Kil Moon – Benji.

Album I Could Get Into Despite the Artist Spending the Year Acting Like an Asshole: Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste, Thurston Moore – The Best Day

Most Underrated Album: Gerard Way – Hesitant Alien. Way made an album of glammy alternative rock that’s a little weirder and a lot more likeable than anything he ever did with MCR. That this got slept on by just about everyone’s a damn shame.

Most Overrated Album: Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2. Don’t get me wrong, I love this thing, but I know full well we’re still on the post-release hype train. I doubt it would get as many accolades with an earlier release date.

“Sleeper” Album of the Year: Sharon Van Etten – Are We There. This thing’s a fall album that had a spring release date.

Least Essential Album of the Year: Maroon 5 – V

Pop-Punk Album Power Rankings
5. Fireworks – Oh Common Life
4. Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All
3. Candy Hearts – All The Ways You Let Me Down
2. Joyce Manor - Never Hungover Again
1. The Hoteliers – Home, Like Noplace There Is

Favorite Hot 100 Songs That Didn’t Make the Year End Chart
Childish Gambino – “3005”
Big Sean ft. E-40 – “I Don’t Fuck With You”
Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk” (next year, baby)

Pop Honorable Nominees (Best Hits Considerations)
Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea – “Problem”
Lorde – “Team”
KONGOS – “Come With Me Now”
5 Seconds of Summer – “She Looks So Perfect”
Nicki Minaj – “Anaconda”

Pop Dishonorable Nominees (Worst Hits Consideration)
Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX – “Fancy”
5 Seconds of Summer “Amnesia”
Chris Brown ft. Usher and Rick Ross – “New Flame”
Maroon 5 – “Animals”
Jason Aldean – “Burnin’ It Down”

Best #1 Hit: Meghan Trainor – “All About That Bass” (¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

Worst #1 Hit: MAGIC! – “Rude” (yuck)

Most Boring #1 Hit: Pharrell – “Happy”

Respected But Not Liked #1 Hit: Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”

Pop Career Whose Grave I Was Ready to Dance On and Then Fucking “Animals” Happened: Maroon 5. V wasn’t awful numbers-wise, but “Maps” and initially “Animals” failed to catch on. The latter’s latent ascension is proving me wrong, though.

Pop Career I’m Most Curious For in 2015: Charli XCX. Come on, y’all, let’s make this happen. I don’t want to sit through a year of Iggy Azalea verses.

And, Introducing Ranting About Music’s Resident Intern
Cinder
This is Cinder, guys. He used to chill out in the living room of my old place, but now that I moved, he sits with the CDs and stereo on my desk. His duties include DJing, running social media, and answering the mail. He also likes hats. Refuses to get my coffee, though.

Listmas 2014
December 16th: Worst Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 17th: Worst Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 18th: Best Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 19th: Best Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 20th: Favorite Albums of the Year
December 21st: The Gibby Fifty: 50 Favorite Songs
December 22nd: Odds and Ends

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The Gibby Fifty: Favorite 50 Songs of 2014

It’s Saturday guys, no heavy reading here. List is arranged alphabetically by artist, limited to one entry per main artist, and nothing from the best hits list qualified because you can already assume it’d be here. Spotify playlist is at the bottom, although you’re on your own if you want to hear Taylor Swift’s “I Wish You Would”.

Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – “Grapefruit”
Against Me! – “FUCKMYLIFE666″
Allison Weiss – “Giving Up”
Azealia Banks – “Ice Princess”
Beck – “Waking Light”
Beyonce ft. Nicki Minaj – “Flawless (Remix)”
The Black Keys – “Turn Blue”
Bleachers – “I Wanna Get Better”
Bleeding Rainbow – “Time and Place”
Candy Hearts – “Something’s Missing”
Charli XCX – “Break the Rules”
D’Angelo – “Another Life”
Death From Above 1979 – “Government Trash”
5 Seconds of Summer – “She Looks So Perfect”
FKA twigs – “Pendulum”
Flying Lotus ft. Kendrick Lamar – “Never Catch Me”
Foo Fighters – “The Feast and the Famine”
The Gaslight Anthem – “Get Hurt”
Gerard Way – “Millions”
HAERTS – “Call My Name”
Hozier – “Take Me to Church”
Interpol – “All The Rage Back Home”
J.Cole – “’03 Adolescence”
Jack White – “High Ball Stepper”
Joyce Manor – “Heart Tattoo”
The Juan Maclean – “Here I Am”
Julian Cassablancas and the Voidz – “Where No Eagles Fly”
Kendrick Lamar – “i”
Kitty – “285”
Lana Del Rey – “Shades of Cool”
Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk”
Modern Baseball – “Rock Bottom”
Nicki Minaj – “Anaconda”
Paramore – “Tell Me It’s Okay”
Pharrell ft. Justin Timberlake – “Brand New”
Restorations – “Separate Songs”
Run the Jewels ft. Zach de la Rocha – “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”
Sharon Van Etten – “Your Love Is Killing Me”
The Smashing Pumpkins – “Anti-Hero”
St. Vincent – “Huey Newton”
Taylor Swift – “I Wish You Would” (close enough)
Tinashe ft. Schoolboy Q – “2 On”
Tove Lo – “Thousand Miles”
TV On the Radio – “Happy Idiot”
The War on Drugs – “Red Eyes”
Weezer – “Cleopatra”
Willow ft. SZA – “9”
Xerxes – “A Toast”
YG Ft. Drake – “Who Do You Love?”
Youth Culture – “Grocery Store”

Come back tomorrow for the conclusion, or catch up below!

Listmas 2014
December 16th: Worst Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 17th: Worst Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 18th: Best Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 19th: Best Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 20th: Favorite Albums of the Year
December 21st: The Gibby Fifty–50 Favorite Songs
December 22nd: Odds and Ends

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Top 11 Favorite Albums of 2014

Welcome to Listmas Day Five, where we’re finally leaving the gridlock of the charts and song-by-song analysis for the open territories of entire albums. As with Listmases long, long ago, the albums here had to meet the nebulous qualifier of being my “favorite”, and I realize that label’s subjective as all get out. It’s not meant as an all-inclusive ranking, but I feel like the scope is generous this year. In a field of eleven candidates, we have dense, dreamy R&B, and punks whose best songs clock in under 2 minutes. Steve Hyden, one of my favorite music writers, once commented that his “favorites of the year” meant he had to mean he was a obsessed with each at some point in the last 12 months, and I like that definition. So, here are my eleven obsessions; I’d love to hear yours.

11. Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All
The kinda-emo-revival of the last two years has led to a slew of bands coming out swinging, and Modern Baseball’s one of my favorite of the bunch. A poppy emo record with a folk streak, You’re Gonna Miss It All anchors zippy punk tunes like “Broken ATM Machine” and the acoustic meditations of “Potholes” with small-scale anthems like “Charlie Black” and “Your Graduation”. YGMIA‘s fairly typical “20something writing my life” wallflower lyrics get a boost from these guys being pretty insightful and damn funny once you get them talking (see: “Sharp as a tack/but in the sense that you’re not smart/Just a prick”). Sardonic wit and neurotic crush songs are half the fight, but Modern Baseball can write some sad bastard shit to go with it, and You’re Gonna Miss It All is a winning balance of the two. It takes talent to write a song about an asshole while realizing you’re one, too. And being okay with that.

10. D’Angelo – Black Messiah
How dare this motherfucker, right? Here it is, mid-December, and everyone’s already finalizing year-end retrospectives, and he has to drop an album 14 years in the making with barely a week’s notice. And the best/worst part is that Black Messiah actually justifies it’s own sudden madness; it’s an immaculately made R&B album that’s enjoyed best when you can take time, dig deep, and just listen to it. Sure, it has surface thrills (see: “1000 Deaths”, “Really Love”, “Another Life”), but especially in the back half, it shines with time. The thing’s a great listen, but doubles as an encyclopedia of R&B and certain strains of Black consciousness. And, like it needs to be said, D’Angelo sounds phenomenal. I’ve been kicking this one around all week, and it justified creating it’s own place in my favorites. Imagine what would happen with more time.

9. Tove Lo – Queen of the Clouds
“Habits” put Tove Lo on the pop map, but Queen of the Clouds is an impressive record of why she should stay. There’s an enforced narrative about a failed romance (in three arcs: “The Sex”, “The Love”, “The Pain”), and the clubbed up synthpop in each one bubbles over with size and color. It’s expansive and maximalist without being overblown, like Gaga’s earlier albums, and Tove Lo’s personality sometimes outshines the synths in a great way. From chasing all the young dudes to describing herself as “On the good days, I am charming as fuck” to the stoned, Twinky slow dance of “Habits”, she establishes herself as a believable, delightfully vulgar, endearing personality. Queen of the Clouds‘ elevator pitch is basically “1989 on HBO” in concept, and what I desperately wanted the latter to be in execution.

8. The Roots – …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin
The Roots’ latest trip down the rabbit hole of experimental, nihilist, commentary-and-story-heavy hip-hop is their weirdest and darkest yet. Gotta balance a day job of playing under Jimmy Fallon lip-sync battles somehow. Yet still grimer and more abstract that undun, Cousin is art-y and high-concept to an almost unfriendly degree; Black Thought disappears for stretches, it’s heavy on samples and interludes (especially for a 30 minute album), and its longer songs almost drift apart in their own malaise. And I’m still fascinated by it. The record’s able to set atmosphere remarkably well, it’s lively when it wants to be, and Black Thought/Dice Raw/Greg Porn/etc. strike with surgical precision when they step up to the mic. …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin would have probably been better received if it told a little more than it showed, but it’s still solid, and I like an album that trusts its audience.

7. Candy Hearts – All The Ways You Let Me Down
I suppose I’m just a Candy Hearts lifer at this point, but if they keep cracking out records this easy to like, it’s hard not to be. All The Ways You Let Me Down is slightly more candy than heart, but it packs a hell of a compact punch, and it’s had more staying power in the colder months than I thought it would. The first half of it or so is still an impressive run of shiny pop-punk, and the slower numbers play to the band’s sense of melody and likeably clunky lyrics. “Michigan”, “Something’s Missing”, “Coffee With My Friends”, and the title track are not just some of the band’s best work, but some of the year’s brightest pop rock, to boot. Candy Hearts might have been let down, but that doesn’t mean they have to be one, themselves.

6. FKA twigs – LP1
Twigs took all of her EP buzz as a fringe, Art&B singer, and pushed everything forward with LP1. It’s a headphone album in the best way: immersive soundscapes, gymnastic melodies, and vocals that manage to be sighing, anxious, and dreamy at the same time. “Two Weeks” and “Pendulum” are standout exemplars, but LP1 is best as an end-to-end listen, where it is simply one of the year’s best daydreaming albums. Twigs is a compelling performer, and LP1 is a great statement of purpose.

5. Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
This hasn’t really come up on the site, but I became a reformed Lana hater about a year ago, when she defined herself better. Born to Die‘s biggest weakness was not knowing how to present itself; I couldn’t tell if Lana was fucking with us, or playing her bullshit as truth. With song titles like “Fucked My Way Up To the Top”, “Sad” and “Money Power Glory”, Ultraviolence reveals that Lana is somehow doing both and maybe neither, making the enterprise work much better in the meantime. Of course, it helps that Ultraviolence is a better made album from the word “go”; Lana sounds better over cinematic, psychedelic-tinged California rock songs than she did among 808s and canned strings. Her persona’s better formed, too: her chaotic, cruel fuck-ups are more nuanced than Born To Die‘s paperdoll lolitas. The best song here is “Shades of Cool”, the best James Bond theme Sam Smith can never write. I take it all back, Lana. You can be America’s girl.

4. Sharon Van Etten – Are We There
Are We There is an album that’s felt as much as it’s listened to. In another decade, it would be a confessional folk album, or maybe a slowburning country one, but in 2014, it’s chilly indie rock; a full-band record built on echoing guitars and piano, topped with Etten’s aching singer-songwriter vocals. Even during its sturdiest moments, there’s a fragility to the album, like it could fall apart if pushed. And Etten gets pushed damn hard; almost every note and word communicates some sort of sadness or heartbreak (even when she jokes, it’s like grinning through tears). But she stands resolute. When she sings “Break my legs so I won’t walk to you/Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you/Burn my skin so I can’t feel you/Stab my eyes so I can’t see you” on “Your Love Is Killing Me”, it’s a focused mantra, not a plea. Are We There could be a bit much in lesser hands, but for Etten, it’s the best and most realized she’s ever sounded.

3. Joyce Manor – Never Hungover Again
How long’s an album have to be to be an album? I’m only asking because Joyce Manor seem to have made Never Hungover Again with a stopwatch in the studio; this thing rips through ten songs in nineteen minutes. And what’s remarkable is that the band stuffs each song to the gills: there’s barely a moment to singalong before the band’s jumped onto a new verse or a surprisingly intricate guitar riff. Your only choice is to pound the table and scream “Again!” as the song screeches to a halt. Epic “In the Army Now” manages two full verses, a chorus, a bridge, an extended guitar jam, and an outro in full in under two and a half minutes, while “Heart Tattoo” is a blink-182 1994-2000 compilation in under two minutes. It’s an addictive little sing-along that pulls some heart strings on the way (see “In the Army Now”‘s dueling epic “Falling In Love Again”–an indulgent 2:28). How long’s an album need to be? Long enough.

2. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
St. Vincent has spent three albums only going up, and her brand of indie rock is in its purest form on her stylized, future-cult leader self-titled record. It’s an assured work that builds on the dead-eyed, clinical but hysteric madness last seen on Strange Mercy, with a dash of synthy paranoia to boot. Even something as smooth as the brassy bounciness of “Digital Witness” is slightly off-kilter and prone to fits of shrieking cacophony, and tender ballad “I Prefer Your Love” has a dark undercurrent hiding beneath a sunny chorus. St. Vincent is willfully obtuse at times, but it’s hard to deny anything as immediate as “Birth in Reverse”, that glorious riff halfway through “Huey Newton”, or the subtle panicking of “Rattlesnake”. Even when the joke is grim and it seems like St. Vincent’s laughing to herself (just imagine “severed crossed fingers”), it feels like not getting it is your fault, not hers. She’s just more advanced.

1. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
This album came out in January. It set the bar then, and I wouldn’t feel justified putting anything else here. Laura Jane Grace’s widely publicized transition drives this record, but even stripped of the story, this is a propulsive, captivating, emphatic record that roars with life and kicks the shit out of damn near everything that comes across it. It’s stacked with anthems, from fist in the air “True Trans Soul Rebel” and the gut-wrenching title track to the tear jerker “Paralytic States” and triumphantly defiant closer “Black Me Out”. There’s not a single bum track here, and most of these would be highlights on any other album. It’s already become a personal favorite, and a no-brainer for my favorite album of 2014.

Listmas 2014
December 16th: Worst Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 17th: Worst Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 18th: Best Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 19th: Best Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 20th: Favorite Albums of the Year
December 21st: The Gibby Fifty–50 Favorite Songs
December 22nd: Odds and Ends

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The Best Hits of 2014 (5-1)

Let’s go!

5. Drake – “0 to 100/The Catch Up”
Calling Drake a rapper still feels vaguely misleading. It’s not that he isn’t a rapper, but the Drizzy canon lacks a singular rap performance, and whenever he tries to spit, it sounds competent, but kind of adorable. “0 to 100″ fixes this by meeting him where he’s at; the beat’s a got a laid back vibe that doesn’t push him too hard, and he sounds much better for it. Drake’s talking about his favorite subject–Drake’s story and as many “Oh Lord!”s as he can cram in–without any singing or a defined hook. It’s basically an improved “Started From the Bottom”, and I’m alright with that. “The Catch Up” boils Nothing Was the Same to its base components, and however I felt about the album, it’s a solid 2 and a half minutes. It’s Drake at his Drake-iest, and his finest. Damn shame about that shot, though.

4. Sia – “Chandelier”
The most disarming moment in pop this year occurs thirty three seconds into “Chandelier”, when massive drums and Sia’s howl of “I’m going to swing from the chandelier” blow the hinges off the song. It’s a huge sonic leap, and the production matches massive scope with tension and dread; it’s a subverted twist on pop’s flights of “party like there’s no tomorrow” fancy. We’ve had songs written about wanting to die young, but Sia throws herself into the song with the intensity of someone with a death wish. Swinging from the chandelier sounds almost like a threat. She’s written hits for other people–you can almost hear them channel her in “Diamond” and “Perfume”–but this is a class all of her own. It’s a great listen, and somehow fit the charts while sounding jarring at the same time. Hell of an accomplishment.

3. Charli XCX – “Boom Clap”
Almost year, we get at least one song that perfectly captures that head-over-heels in love feeling in a new way. Last year, my pick was Paramore’s “Still Into You”, which marveled at how you could feel the elation of falling for someone almost every day after seeing them for forever. This year, that dizzy, headstruck, slowly-and-then-all-at-once feeling was summed up in two words: “Boom, clap”. Charli XCX is (hopefully) done playing second string to one hit duos and inept headlines; “Boom Clap” hits the pop sweet spot with its infinitely loopable melody and surprisingly textured production. It’s just a flat out great pop song from a source no one was expecting.

2. Disclosure ft. Sam Smith – “Latch”
Someone tell Sam Smith he doesn’t have to be boring. Do it soon, before the Grammys get ahold of him. Smith has potential as an Adele stop-gap, but as “Latch” shows, he could do so much more. Of course, Disclosure’s incredibly slick production, where dreamy synths, looped effects and samples, and bass swells are grounded by a resolute beat that barely registers as more than a click track, wins half the battle (the risingpre-chorus even, as an instrumental, is gorgeous). The album that houses “Latch”, Settle, came out last year, and it’s pretty great; it’s basically the Daft Punk album everyone wanted that Random Access Memories refused to be. Anyway, both Disclosure and Smith bring their A game here: Disclosure’s beat is top notch, and Smith doesn’t just bring octave skipping vocals, but a human heart as well. He sounds fully comfortable emoting on a dance track, where singers run the risk of being froze by the beat (see: his riffs over the last chorus). C’mon man, ditch that gospel choir for a turntable.

1. Michael Jackson (ft. Justin Timberlake, kinda) – “Love Never Felt So Good”
A song that’s technically 31 years old topped my list. Lemme explain.

When Michael Jackson recorded a piano and vocal demo written with standards singer Paul Anka in 1983, he probably didn’t know he was writing the blueprints to his finest posthumous tribute. First of all, credit to Anka for writing a song that could be a hit by anyone at almost any time. Credit also goes to producers John McClain and Giorgio Tuinfort for producing a “solo” version of “Love Never Felt So Good” that sounds like an Off The Wall outtake, and to J-Roc and Timbaland for producing what sounds like the 2014 approximation of an Off The Wall outtake as a Justin Timberlake duet (if you think I’m getting hero worship-y here, listen to JT). But y’all know it’s Michael that’s the heart and soul of this song. In day to day listening, I prefer the fully produced versions, but please listen to the original demo at least once. Michael puts in a performance only he could; it’s a remarkably pure take, full of his vocal tics and flourishes in all the right spots, and encapsulates everything people love in Jackson.

1983 is an oasis in Michael’s career: he’s already released Thriller, but it hasn’t become THRILLER yet, and he’s at the top of his game. For at least one take, he isn’t Michael Jackson, complicated, conflicted world megastar; he’s a phenomenal singer performing the shit out of a song like it’s the third most important thing he did that day. And that ease translates to every version. It’s the kind of pop song that gets other people singing pop songs, and my pick for best of the year.

Listmas 2014
December 16th: Worst Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 17th: Worst Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 18th: Best Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 19th: Best Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 20th: Favorite Albums of the Year
December 21st: The Gibby Fifty–50 Favorite Songs
December 22nd: Odds and Ends

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The Best Hits of 2014 (10-6)

Hello, and welcome to Day 3 of Listmas 2014. Now that we have the ugliness of the worst of the year behind us, let’s look at the hits we enjoyed, hm?

Honorable Mention: Jeremih ft. YG – “Don’t Tell ‘Em”
Did you listen to any mainstream hip-hop this year? Did you hear someone grunt “Mustaonabeat” in the first ten seconds? Did you then notice said song, even if performed by an utter tool, was a little hypnotizing and pretty catchy? If so, you were probably listening to a beat made by DJ Mustard, 2014’s most prolific producer. Mustard’s 2014 credits include “Royal”, “Show Me”, “I Don’t Fuck With You”, “My Nigga”, “You and Your Friends”, “Nothin Like Me”, “No Mediocre”, “2 On”, and “Don’t Tell ‘Em”. He’s had a style that splits the difference between club-style electronics and G-funk smoothness; if you’ve heard a beat with deep bass pulse, a minimal synth, and “hey”s in the background, you’ve probably heard him. Not only has 2014 been a quantity year for him, it’s been a quality high mark, too: the guy’s gone from “Rack City” to being half the reason YG’s My Krazy Life‘s got the amount of buzz it has.

Anyway, “Don’t Tell ‘Em” gets the honorary nod for a great Mustard beat, a surprisingly melodic hook, and a hilarious YG guest verse (“I GOT A MISSED CALL FROM YO’ BITCH” makes me laugh every time; it’s one of the year’s best delivered punchlines). I honestly went in expecting to hate this one, and while I’m not sure it’s a good song, it’s too well-made to be a bad one. This is my second year with a honorable mention slot, and last year went to “Blurred Lines”, so I guess I should just call it the “Douchebag With a Great Beat” category.

10. Justin Timberlake – “Not a Bad Thing”
I appreciate what Justin Timberlake wanted to do with The 20/20 Experience. He was, probably not pop’s king, but a respected steward of the throne who could have announced his comeback, dashed out an album of dozen four minute crooners, gone on tour, and collected his millions with barely a word against him. But instead, JT wanted to challenge himself, and we got a pair of bloated albums that ran over an hour each, with self-consciously arty songs that frequently pushed the 7 and 8 minute mark. It didn’t go over well.

This is, I think, JT’s ultimate mistake: in trying to win over our brains, he forgot our hearts were here, still checking their dilapidated Razr phones for him to call back. “Not a Bad Thing” is that make-up call, the reassurance that for all the glitz and art pop experiments, he can still sell the shit out of a love song. It’s a sweet, simple song almost to the point of pandering; Justin plays the vocal equivalent of puppy dog eyes for all it’s worth, and Timbaland brings the most Timbaland beat ever to the table. And I can’t resist it. Listening to it now, I’m halfway tempted to hop on AIM, ask the pretty girl in class if she’s going to the mixer this weekend, and plan how I can slow dance with her despite the fact I’m fairly sure that she’s two states away and engaged.

9. Shakira ft. Rihanna – “Can’t Remember To Forget You”
With all respect to the efficient catchiness of “All About That Bass”, “Happy”, and “Bang, Bang”, pop could have afforded to color outside the lines a bit more this year. Shakira’s always cut a distinct figure when she’s on the charts, and “Can’t Remember To Forget You” is a proud continuation of her charmingly “wtf?” pop career. This song’s as odd in practice as it is on paper: overdriven, frantic upstroke guitars push the Latin-tinged verses into ska-punk territory, Shakira doubles down on her throaty vocals, and then the whole thing goes careening into a hard rock chorus. And then Rihanna shows up, sounding looser than she has on the last five club jams she’s done, and after a verse, the two criss-cross vocals for the song’s remaining half. Yet the whole thing actually works pretty well. “Can’t Remember To Forget You” is a sort of doofy pop song that matches its gonzo setup with credible, fun hooks and personality, and for a year in desperate need of the latter, it’s a success. It also gets points for making me realize how much I’m dying for a new Rihanna single.

8. Paramore – “Ain’t It Fun”
“Aint It Fun” could potentially be Paramore’s biggest hit, but it’s already the biggest they’ve ever sounded. I’ve written at length about my joy at Paramore’s transition to a deceptively heavy pop band, and “Ain’t It Fun” is perhaps the clearest demonstration of Paramore 2.0 in action. The song’s built on a surprisingly groovy rhythm section, while Hayley Williams gives one of her most controlled but rewarding vocal performances, and the song refuses to commit to a genre. There’s a lotta rock, synthed up New Wave, a dash of funk, and it ends with a fucking gospel choir, which is 1. immensely satisfying, and 2. purist trolling at its finest. I didn’t pick up on this until I saw “Aint It Fun” played live, but there are guitars all over this thing; that choked riff in the verses is brawny, and the outro is slathered in a Big Rock solo hiding in plain sight. Like most of Paramore’s strongest material, it has a gleeful defiance that makes it a blast to sing along to. And it was still only my like, sixth favorite song from their self-titled.

7. DJ Snake Ft. Lil Jon – “Turn Down For What”
Objectively speaking, I know there has to be an intellectual way to analyze “Turn Down For What”, but anytime I try, I black out, and come to with half my whiskey gone and a small, smoking crater in front of my home. I yield. So enjoy the song, watch the video, and pelvic thrust a rando’s tv. You deserve it.

6. Tove Lo – “Habits”
Would it surprise you to know that Tove Lo attended the same fancy pants music school as dance-pop heavyweight Robyn? Given the two’s shared affinity for synth-pop with excellent songcraft, maybe not, but ToLo’s cloudy electropop is thoroughly human, whereas Robyn tucks her heart away in robotic circuitry. On “Habits”, Love To deals with a break-up in the most relatable way possible: playing it off, going on an “I feel like shit” bender, giving zero fucks…and then admitting she’s a mess. It’d be a bit much if the song didn’t sound kind of spectacular; the sing-song verses where LotSo drops lines about eating in the bathroom and gorging on Twinkies while stoned come across as self-effacing and a little funny, and the cinematic sweep lifts the chorus to a higher place instead of sounding glum. All the melancholy from the lyric sheet creeps in at the edges; the way her voice cracks in the chorus, and being “trapped” in a haze instead of simply “stuck” or “lost” in one. Maybe this isn’t something she has control over. The song’s called “Habits” for a reason. The rest of her album, Queen of Clouds might be this year’s best slept-on pop record.

Also, just as a fun aside, “Habits” has been in circulation since March 2013. My girlfriend’s been stumping for it since at least last fall. I tell you, LeBron is less satisfied after a dunk than she is after it comes on the radio now.

And that’s it for today, come back tomorrow for, well, check the schedule.

Listmas 2014
December 16th: Worst Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 17th: Worst Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 18th: Best Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 19th: Best Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 20th: Favorite Albums of the Year
December 21st: The Gibby Fifty–50 Favorite Songs
December 22nd: Odds and Ends

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The Worst Hits of 2014 (5-1)

Let’s end this.

5. Maroon 5 – “Maps”
Is “Maps” even a real song?

I mean, I know I’ve heard it before, and I could even sing that flimsy guitar riff, but it feels like half the song’s missing. The verse sounds like it’s supposed to be building toward something that never comes, and instead, we get a completely flat-footed chorus. It utterly refuses to commit to a melody, just a few snatches of notes on “following, following, following” that don’t really stick, sung in the most dispassionate way. It fails the bare minimum that the universe asks from Maroon 5; I listen to “Maps”, and I cannot tell if Adam Levine is propositioning someone for sex. I found a live performance of it (Adam, kill that shirt), and “Maps” somehow sounds worse and slighter on real instruments. The chorus is even more ineffectual with live drums, and the band slogs through the song like it’s hour three of an eight hour day. This was a lead single. Little disappointed but relieved we’re not hearing a Yeah Yeah Yeahs cover, though. Heads would roll.

4. Iggy Azalea ft. Rita Ora – “Black Widow”
Iggy Azalea’s fame this year seemed pre-ordained. Not in the sense that she was destined for greatness, but insomuch that “Fancy” appeared, and the music industry basically shrugged and said, “Yep, that’s the one we’re gonna push on everyone this year. Sure, why not?” In his excellent “How Hip-Hop Failed Black America” series, Questlove describes modern hip-hop as being simultaneously everywhere and no where, and that description fits Azalea’s ascension to a tee. She doesn’t have the stacked resume of features like early Nicki, she lacks Lil Wayne’s patented pop weirdness, and she possesses neither Drake’s versatility nor Kendrick’s technical chops. She doesn’t bring anything to the table, and no where is that more apparent than “Black Widow”, her pop filler collaboration with Rita Ora. Everything about the song sounds second rate: the beat’s a mostly unflattering combination of “Fancy” and “Dark Horse”, Ora’s hook tries harder than it could ever pay off, and Azalea’s verses are forgettable with a mucky flow. Azalea might be our new pop rapper, but she doesn’t sound like she wants the title. She doesn’t sound like anything at all.

3. Florida Georgia Line ft. Luke Bryan – “This Is How We Roll”
Is it possible to be influenced by every genre, take the worst parts of each one, and come up with something more unpleasant as a result? Because that’s how Florida Georgia Line rolls. FML FGL takes county at its most shallow, hip-hop at its most lyrically repetitive and disastrous, rock pushed to its absolute dumbest, pop at its most automatic, liquefies it, overprocesses each one’s elements beyond recognition, and then uses the unholy bile to fuel their tour bus. I never thought I’d miss the not-singing the duo did on “Cruise”, but then Georgia here (or Florida, whichever) decides to actually try to rap. It’s bad enough to make me actually long for a Pitbull verse. The production’s a clattering, claustrophobic mess: all clipped drums and guitars mixed like a nightmare. Bless Luke Bryan’s big ol’ heart for trying here, but “This Is How We Roll” is too much of a graceless, lumbering behemoth for even him to smooth over. Invoking Nickelback is the pop music equivalent of Godwin’s Law, but Florida Georgia Line might be the only working group dumb enough, uncreative enough, and just outright unpleasant enough to earn the comparison. No wonder Taylor Swift bailed on country.

2. MAGIC! – “Rude”
If this list was solely about what pissed me off most, “Rude” would be be a clear victor, because I have never not hated this song. From the first upstroke of that GarageBand guitar to the final yelp-y whine of “Why ya gotta be so ruuuuuuude?”, this song was a shit listen in July, and it’s a shit listen in December. I beat this dead horse past the point where Katy Perry would recognize it in an earlier write-up, but I’m still astounded at how fake “Rude” sounds; it’s like a Kidz Bop version of itself. And no one actually thinks the dad is the villain here, right? MAGIC! (gag) lead singer Nasri doesn’t actually say this poor girl wants to marry him, and he conveniently leaves out any reason why the dad should be okay with them getting married. Shit, I wouldn’t be okay if the guy that wrote “Rude” wanted to marry my daughter, either.

I admit I sometimes get nostalgic for ghosts of Listmas past, but that’s definitely not the case with MAGIC; I’m ready for these guys to sound as dated as ebola scares and Brazil World Cup jokes the second that ball drops in Times Square in a few weeks.

1. Jason Derulo ft. Snoop Dogg – “Wiggle”
Vine is probably the defining social media platform of 2014. A Vine is six seconds long. Perhaps not incidentally, six very specific seconds are all you need to argue “Wiggle”‘s status as the worst song of the year. From :045-:051, you get the song’s putrid set up, the pause, the punch line, and that godawful hook all condensed into one abhorrent experience that, if Vined, you could loop for all of eternity. I almost wish the song was just those six seconds for its entire runtime–at least maybe you could block it out eventually–because this entire thing is actively terrible. No one thought Jason Derulo could be any worse than when he tried to be seductive, but then he tried to be seductive while being funny. It somehow goes worse than you’d think. Snoop Dogg’s well aware of his lifetime pass, and that this was easy money, but his verse here makes “California Gurls” look like at least “Drop It Like It’s Hot”. This song’s just bad on every conceivable level; the production adds cartoon effects on Derulo’s failed punchlines, and, as mentioned, the hook would be better if it was replaced with the sound of styrofoam sqeaking. It was Summer of Ass, and leave it to Jason Derulo to make a song that’s complete shit. Why couldn’t this chump’s career be over in six seconds?

And with that unpleasantness behind us, let’s move onto better stuff tomorrow!

Listmas 2014
December 16th: Worst Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 17th: Worst Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 18th: Best Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 19th: Best Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 20th: Favorite Albums of the Year
December 21st: The Gibby Fifty–50 Favorite Songs
December 22nd: Odds and Ends

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