Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Worst Song Of 2009

Sugababes - "Get Sexy"

Over 20 years ago the KLF published a book called "The Manual (How To Have A Number One The Easy Way)".  Part satire, part deadly-serious demystifying of the pop process, it basically argued that in order to have a hit, all you needed to do was put a string of hooks over a dancable beat.  Reading it now, it's clear that this book has become the bible for all pop made in the twenty-first century, although it does show its age by still mentioning the need for choruses, tunes and "writing lyrics".

Pop temping agency Sugababes have taken this concept one stage further by adopting the pre-owned hook technique.  That way, you don't need to worry about all that stressful writing palaver, plus you know that your hook is popular already.  It worked for them last year with "Girls", and it gave them their breakthrough with the actually-quite-brilliant "Freak Like Me".  So naturally they did their best to repeat the trick this year.

So, for their flagship first-off-the-album single, they released "Get Sexy".  And as the prefab hook, they chose Right Said Fred's camp kitsch classic "I'm Too Sexy".  Only they didn't really - as if a bit embarassed by the campness, they changed the lyric to "I'm too sexy in this club, so sexy it hurts" and delivered it in a flat monotone, thereby instantly dumping all that was appealing about the original.  It seems they only used it because it contains the word "sexy" - and used it to try to spice up a song which confuses relentless repetition of the word "sexy" for actual sexiness.

I'm sure that Sugababes used to be a bit sexy.  They always had that allure, that air of danger.  You always felt that at the slightest provocation Mutya would start kicking you in the face while Keisha held you down (Heidi would be nervously giggling in a corner).  Now the only thing about them you could describe as dangerous is their job security.

"Get Sexy" has no allure whatsoever - it's all over you like a divorcee after too much gin.  It's basically three anonymous  ladies trying too hard to be shocking over a cheap plodding synth, with a badly chosen hook jammed in as a substitute for a tune.  KLF - this is all your fault.  Happy New Year.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Some of the Worst Songs of 2009

Like a lot of things, I'm finding the process of picking the worst music of the year much harder than it used to be.  I simply don't listen to enough new music or pop music.  I don't listen to Radio 1 much these days - I count myself as one of those at the older end of the market (and, presumably, all right-thinking people and non-fans of drill-into-your-own-head inanity) who have been successfully driven out by the recent appointment of Fearne Cotton in a prominent daytime slot.

So I really can't claim any authority in picking the dregs of the year any more.  I haven't done the research.  Sure, some things do seep through to the mainstream, offending me all the more by invading my personal area without consent.  Joe, obviously.  N-Dubz, though I honestly couldn't name a single one of their songs, strike me as the sort that would dominate the list any year -the Black Eyed Peas reflected in the window of TK Maxx, with all talent removed and replaced by a simpleton in a daft hat.

Then there is Beyonce's Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It), unignorable thanks to that iconic video, but still the reprehensible work of a great artist repeating two phrases cynically designed to be repeated at hen-nights forever more, accompanied by a drum machine set to "generic r&b".  Pop-Soul vampire Mark Ronson sucked the life out of The Rumble Strips, like he had the Kaiser Chiefs the year before. Westlife apparently released something, so that must have been terrible by definition.  Michael Buble, ditto.  Or Lady Gaga's Bad Romance, the audible confirmation that this particular barrel most definitely has a bottom.

So there's seven.  But brace yourselves - the worst is yet to come...

Monday, December 21, 2009

On second thoughts, what you tell me doesn't sound that great after all...

Well, when you're wrong, you're wrong.  In the end, Rage Against The Machine sold just over 500,000 and Joe sold 450,000 or so.  Therefore, I put my hands up and say that I completely underestimated the anti-Cowell feeling and the organisational powers of the youth of today.  I salute you all.

Still, some of it must be down to a little apathy on the part of the pro-Joe brigade.  Given that a chart battle always boosts sales, Joe's single really didn't sell that well, especially when compared to Alexandra Burke's "Hallelujah" which sold about 120,000 more.  Maybe next year they'll realise they can't release any old rubbish and it'll still hit the top spot.  I guess that's the danger - we kill them now, only for them to come back more powerful than we can possibly imagine...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Oh all right then, I'll do what you tell me

Tonight at just before 7pm it will be announced that Rage Against The Machine have failed to get the 2009 Christmas Number One.  It pains me to say this, but despite the valiant facebook campaign and the collective moaning of indie kids everywhere, Joe McElderry's The Climb was always going to beat it.  Why?  Thanks to the Great Non-Record-Buying Public, that's why.

It goes without saying that "The Climb" is a terrible record, but obviously I'm not going to let it go without saying.  The poor thing never had a chance - it is the child of parents riddled with genetic diseases (Simon Cowell, reality TV), given an extra kicking by being both a Miley Cyrus cover and a mawkish ballad. It's not even the song most X Factor fans wanted - that was Journey's "Don't Stop Believing", which would at least have lent the record a fun air of kitsch, rather than the stench of self-importance it's been saddled with.

Honestly, I'm tired of saying the same things about these records every year, which is why I've done my best to analyse why these disasters happen.  If I can't forgive, at least I can begin to understand, and that's the first step to acceptance.

The Great Non-Record-Buying Public have always been Simon Cowell's secret weapon.  Because they aren't fans of music, they don't usually buy it in any form.  They're fans of TV, and they're far more numerous than those of us who usually buy records - they'll buy this and possibly the Susan Boyle album, and that'll be it for the year.  Arguments about musical quality are irrelevant, as these records are not being bought because they're good records, more because they are a souvenir of an enjoyable television experience.  Enjoyable to them, not to me, obviously.

Us music fans can't hope to compete.  Which is why "Killing In The Name Of", despite being lyrically appropriate to make a stand against the X Factor behemoth, was a poor choice of people's champion.  It's so alternative that it's never going to appeal to the masses.  You wonder if we'd have been better off getting behind a fun but quality bit of Christmas fluff - The Pet Shop Boys' "It Doesn't Often Snow At Christmas", for example.

So where does this leave us?  Acceptance?  No.  OK then - for those that follow these things, "The Climb" is probably the worst song of the year, possibly the second worst.  It's a weeping boil on the arse of British Popular Music.  There, now I feel cleansed.

Friday, November 06, 2009

John and Edward's Excellent Adventure

I'm worried about John and Edward Grimes, the freakish X Factor sensations with the Vanilla Ice hair and the Piers Morgan sense of self-worth.  I'm worried that Jedward, as we're obliged to call them, may be like Bill and Ted, and that future society will be based on their teachings.  Although surely if that was the case the Large Hadron Collider would have looked back from the future and sucked us into a black hole of its own making.

Not that I watch the X Factor, you understand, but being a member of polite society I am required to have an opinion about them.  In fact, I've seriously considered tuning in, just so I can participate in conversation.  Damn you Cowell, you evil genius you.  But the Jedward debacle does raise an interesting question - does Simon Cowell have standards?  For despite their money-making potential, he has actually come out and said that he "prays the twins don't win".

Now this is confusing.  If Cowell hates them, does this mean, logically, that they are actually brilliant?  Fortunately this hypothesis can be quickly dismissed by talking to anyone who has ever seen or heard them.  So this must mean, therefore, that we have found the line - unlikely as it sounds, there is level of quality below which Simon Cowell will not sink, even though he is likely to make millions from them.

No.  If that was true, it must follow that the man has a shred of human decency, and that would be patently ridiculous.  Cowell hates them because he know that if they win, then the X Factor will be shown up for the circus that it is.  All pretence of it being a "quest for talent" will be out of the window, leaving only the squalid popularity contest, a factory for novelty acts who are back to their day jobs by the following Christmas.  Leona Lewis, it would be said, was just a fluke.

So, a vote for Jedward is a vote for the premature demise of the X Factor.  Maybe they are our saviours after all.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Standing Up For British Satire

The UK media is currently fawning all over The Daily Show, the US satirical news show shown over here on More4. And rightly so - Jon Stewart's masterful, passionate and erudite demolition of CNBC's financial coverage is just the latest example of a show which hits its targets in politics and news media with a deadly and hilarious accuracy.

Trouble is, this only serves to show up the gaping hole in home-grown comedy where satire should be. "There is no British equivalent" says The Observer today. Is this fair?

Glancing at the UK TV schedules, you'd have to say it was. Have I Got News For You is a parody of itself thanks to Ian Hislop's pomposity and the show's air of smugness, with only very occasional flashes of satirical bite. But a prime time BBC1 show has to please too many people, and therefore is the wrong place to look for effective satire - a minority channel can allow such a show to breathe and develop away from potentially suffocating controversy.

The BBC's most obvious attempt to emulate The Daily Show was Marcus Brigstocke's The Late Edition. Brigstocke seems the obvious candidate for a UK Jon Stewart, full of comedic bile at the idiots who make our lives difficult, be they politicians or BT Broadband. The show almost directly copied the Daily Show's format, but seemed oddly toothless and, crucially, wasn't very funny. It seems to have been quietly forgotten. And wonderful as The Thick Of It is, the satire does not progress much beyond "politicians are incompetent idiots".

But there are plenty of examples of decent British satire if you know where to look. Radio 4's The Now Show consistently delivers with a winning mix of silliness and righteous indignation. The Bugle podcast sees two of our best political comedians, Andy Zaltsman and The Daily Show's own Jon Oliver discuss some of the burning issues on both sides of the Atlantic, and it is both hugely funny and scarily informative. We do have plenty of good comedians who can do politics - Andy Parsons being a very good example - and their work on Mock The Week is inconsistent but probably our best mainstream satirical outlet. And, quietly making our most incisive satire for years and years on Channel 4, take a bow Bremner, Bird and Fortune.

The popularity of satire in British comedy waxes and wanes, and a quick look at last year's Edinburgh Fringe programme reveals very few acts who could be described as "political", and many more doing observational, whimsical or character comedy. But the time is right for a change, and thanks to The Daily Show there may now be enough interest in making new British TV satire. There are plenty of people out there who could do it well.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Worst Track of 2008

1. Pussycat Dolls - When I Grow Up

You may remember a classic episode of Father Ted in which Ted and Dougal try to write the Irish entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. Realising that their stolen melody is actually rather well known, they hastily revert to their previous, self-composed version - the one Ted had rejected, saying, "it's awful - it's only got one note", and that Father Jack had criticised by blowing away their guitar with a shotgun.

Now, I only mention this because "When I Grow Up" is uncannily - and I mean uncannily - similar. Honestly, try comparing them. Spooky, isn't it?

There does seem to be a baffling trend for songs which hardly deviate from one note. Are they easier to remember and more likely to become lodged in the brain? Not really, seeing as more and more songs are utterly indistinguishable as a result. They do sound computer-generated - "When I Grow Up" could easily be covered by Stephen Hawking with minimal tweaking - raising suspicions that some sort of sinister pop machine is spewing out these ditties by the ton.

So how did "When I Grow Up" get so popular? Is it the oddly sexless gyrating of the various interchangeable dolls (so anonymous that following the recent reality TV show "Search For The Next Doll" no-one was sure if the winner was performing with them or not)? Is it the slightly risque but confused lyrics (discussing the irony of desperately wanting to be famous when young, and all the things that go with it, including large breasts (album version) and loads of sex with random admirers (the radio version, weirdly) before repeating "Careful what you wish for", complaining about the consequences of fame and then heading off any accusations of having-cake-and-eating-it by incongruously adding "I'm not complaining")?

In Summary, then: a monotonous dirge with tedious cop-out lyrics sung by shop-window lingerie dummies. The least deserving most successful track of the year, and a worthy winner.