WORST NEW TRACK
Grimes lost a critical endorsement this week when Pitchfork refused her summer jam “Go” a valuable BNT. Not like throwing former darlings under the B24 isn’t Pitchfork’s M.O., but even so – Grimes isn’t some basic Best Coast, and “Go” isn’t some basic “Bitter Rivals.” What Ryan Schreiber and friends are thinking is always a mystery, but in this case you could narrow down the speculation to a few options: 1.) Pitchfork is genuinely over Grimes; 2.) they aren’t treating “Go” as a serious release; 3.) they’re waiting for LP no. 4 to drop before putting their stamp of approval on a song that may or may not sound like what “regular Grimes” in 2014 sounds like. The first is impossible, the second is misguided, and the third is frustratingly self-conscious and political – and therefore the most likely option. Pitchfork is no stranger to early enthusiastic approval of future Top Ten contenders, but they don’t want to give that approval to one of their own when she might potentially be betraying her indie roots. In other words, they’re straddling dangerous poptimist/rockist divides – a nod to an idiosyncratic pop single will gain them poptimist cred, but premature praise of a former MPDG who sold her soul to Hova will make them look totally-not-legit.
Either way, the snub was a regrettable decision – a BNT for “Go” might have been a gamble, but when you’re betting on the hero the odds are in yr favor whether you win or not. Pitchfork could have claimed credit for the greatest indie poptimist victory in history; now they’re looking like just another traitorous opportunity. Pray for mercy, Ian Cohen.
WORST NEW TRACK, PT. 2
Who got the week’s obligatory Pitchfork pop single BNT instead? Ariana Grande, of course, for her new track “Break Free” “featuring” Russo-German EDM nuisance Zedd. This isn’t especially surprising: Pitchfork has been on Ariana’s tip since the beginning and continues to cling on in what can only be sheer terror. “…there’s not much that could stop that voice from taking over the world,” Andrew Ryce wrote last year, and now that it has they’ve been bowing down to all five cruel feet of her like their lives depend on it (they probably do). You don’t want to mess with the rightful heir to the Billboard throne if she’d just been pushed another step away from No. 1 by some Canadian usurpers. All hail Princess Ariana. You’re really great on iCarly and MAGIC! totally suck.
Self-preservation aside though – “Break Free” isn’t going to do much for Ariana’s eventual takeover. It may have all the inane post-dubstep four-to-the-floors, semi-catchy hooks, controlled belting, and post-“Since U Been Gone” personal empowerment lyrics it needs to rocket it straight to no. 1, but it sounds more or less the same as “Clarity,” Zedd’s last emotional powerhouse super-hit. That one featured British singer Louisa Allen, slightly better known as Foxes. “Clarity” was an international hit and an anthem for stupid people and slightly less stupid people alike, but Allen – a pretty girl with a pretty good voice – is still pretty much nobody. If Ariana keeps putting out tracks like this without some sort of hospital visit or cellphone hack, she could end up the same way. She may be ruthless and pure evil, but she doesn’t have the voice or the image to make a Zedd song into an Ariana song, billing be damned. “Break Free” is a black hole single that lacks the analog-ish warmth and bullshit innocence that made “Problem” an almost-total success. At best, this will be another summer single for ex-frat boys and ex-communication majors to make out to at that one bar in the East Village with the name I can’t ever remember but it has $7 frozen margaritas sometimes, so that, years later, when they’re pouring over historical Billboard charts (as ex-fratboys and ex-communications majors do), they’ll stop and look at one another and say, no shit, that song was No. 1? It doesn’t play to Ariana’s strengths. It doesn’t play to anyone’s strengths. It’s just the inane half-disguised-as-not-inane kind of thing that America doesn’t need. The poptimist-courting BNT Pitchfork slapped on it is almost palpably cynical.
UPDATE ON THE BIRTH DEARTH
On the topic of no. 2 spot holders, Canadian anomalies MAGIC! have just joined the club with their ska-ish traditionalist anthem “Rude.” How this happened is a mystery to me, not because these guys are out of nowhere with a sound that has nothing to do with what contemporary pop music is supposed to sound like, but because they’re debut hit is a song about about young people getting married, something various publications have told me doesn’t happen anymore. Who still relates to parental disapproval? Do children even know that you’re supposed to ask a girl’s father for her hand before you marry her in polite society? I don’t think that even happens in movies. This would be bizarre if enough if it were a solitary freak Canadian thing, but “Rude” is one of THREE songs in the Top 20 about marriages and/or their manufacture. JT’s no. 17 “Not A Bad Thing” PR release is centered around a cringe-makingly fake viral video proposal thing, and John Legend’s unavoidably pretty “All Of Me” (no. 7) is a sex-after-marriage ballad featuring an unavoidably pretty Nabil-directed video starring John and his wife being in love and stuff. Then you have “Happy” (no. 10), which seems to express the semi-recently married Pharell’s general emotional state, Sam Smith’s nauseating “Stay With Me” (no. 6), which seems to express a desire for long term commitment, and whatever “Paula” is. But then in between all that you’ve got “Wiggle” (no. 5), “Turn Down For What” (no. 9), “Loyal” (no. 23), and whatever “Paula” is, so I don’t know. But that aside – who is propelling this marital stuff to the top? Are there some non-liberal-arts-educated young people out there who still believe in being in love and getting pregnant and maybe affirming their interest in these activities in the presence of a priest, rabbi, and/or judge? I find this hard to believe, but regardless it’s nice to imagine that marriage is a possibility for people who aren’t Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
BILLBOARD REPORT – DISTANT THREATS, FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC
Other than MAGIC!’s big moves, the Top 40 stays more or less the same. Sia cracks the Top 20, up 12 from last week. If trends continue we could have an all Australian Top 10 by September. Unfortunately 5SOS won’t be assisting as they’ve plummeted out of the 40. Other threats to watch: Charli XCX with the surprisingly fast riser “Boom, Clap;” Tinashe with a first-time Top 40 break for “2 On;” the slow creep of Tiësto’s “Wasted.” Also, Pharell’s three-month-old “Come At It Bae,” which features a. Pharell, b. the word “bae,” and c. Miley Cyrus – all of which would indicate that it’s 11-spot jump to no. 69 last week isn’t likely to be just a fluke.