Sunday, June 29, 2014

Blake Shelton - Hillbilly Bone

Anyone who adheres to a certain lifestyle or identifies with a particular demographic clearly does so because they think that it is, obviously, the best. One doesn't apply a label to oneself without absolutely believing in the excellence of that identity. So, it goes without saying that those who enjoy Contemporary Popular Country and describe themselves as "country" do so because they think it is the best clique to be associated with. Few demographics feel the need, however, to compose entire songs about how much better being a member of that archetype is than others. When it comes to pointless topics of songs, though, one can never count out CPC.

Yes, yes, yes, Blake Shelton, we know. Everyone (even city-dwelling east coast elitists such as myself) has a secret longing to don a ten gallon hat and attend a rodeo. Back here on planet earth, though, this is not necessarily the case. This may surprise you, Mr. Shelton, but some of us simply don't find the country / redneck / hillbilly lifestyle all that appealing. I can't think of a single characteristic of that stereotype that is in the least bit interesting to me. But, I can understand how, when totally immersed in a certain lifestyle type, you may find it hard to believe that everyone may not want to be a part of that world as well.

Let's talk about this music video for a minute, shall we? Is it supposed to be endearing that these CPC stars are "confused" by the decorum of a "fancy" "city" restaurant? For that matter, what are they even doing there? Shouldn't they be eating at Bubba's BBQ Pit or something? Or, perhaps, you could be procuring your dinner from a major pizza chain, since you are so close with them and all. For the record, I harbor nothing but disgust for people that feel too good for proper manners in appropriate situations. This doesn't make you "real" or "down home" or whatever you are going for. It makes you a classless idiot.

And, yes, Trace Adkins, "bone" is another word for the male genitalia, but since I am no longer in 7th grade, I don't really find it amusing that every time we end up at the refrain you point towards your crotch.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Florida Georgia Line - This Is How We Roll

I have completely neglected this space for far too long, there's no denying it. I am determined to revive this page, though, and plan to write an entry every Sunday. This is a very doable goal for myself because there is no end to awful Contemporary Popular Country out there, and one day a week at my work our local country music station is played, so I am acutely aware of the happenings in that genre.

The song that inspired me to come back here and start writing again is one of the most powerfully awful songs ever set to tape. Each and every aspect of this recording embodies everything I hate with all of my being. That song is Florida Georgia Line's number 1 hit single, "This Is How We Roll". Easily one of the most crass cash-grabs in recent history, this is a benchmark for blatant commercialism and utter lack of substance.

Let's break this down piece by piece, shall we? First, there is the music video. It is our two "sexy" frontmen of this group riding on the top of a tractor trailer while keeping their hands in the general vicinity of their groins, intermixed with unexplained shots of females making eyes with the camera, a party you couldn't pay me enough money to attend, motorcycles, and explosions for no discernible reason. It's like someone wrote down a list of "appealing" characteristics of a hit music video, put them in a bag, shook it up, and just grabbed a handful of items. There's no rhyme or reason to this vomitous display of shallowness. Next, you add a cameo appearance by a big country star to ride their coattails to fame.

And all of that is to say nothing of the song itself.

So, what is the deal here? Is this supposed to be some kind of breed of Contemporary Popular Country and rap? Is that what's going on here? Whatever it is supposed to be, the result is unbearably awful. If I'm supposed to be impressed by the singer's eclectic love of shitty music from all walks of life, I'm definitely not. Hank Williams Jr. (that's the Hank I assume they are referring to, as Hank Sr. is far too excellent for these types, and Hank III . . . I just doubt it) and Drake are both artists that I find completely wretched and have no idea why people enjoy them at all. Having both of these acts on your "mixtape" is not impressing me. Nor is your usage of the phrase "holla at your boy". Tossing that in there is calculated, to be sure, though I'm not sure what the intent really was. Then we have our Luke Bryan cameo, in which he says "Yeah, we cuss on them Mondays and pray on them Sundays". Rhyming days of the week is horribly lazy, and is swearing an un-Christian thing to do? I'm genuinely unsure. I know the bible doesn't condemn swearing because the concept of words being taboo (at least in the English language) arose because of the Battle of Hastings, which was clearly a bit after the life of Christ. Even if we accept that "good Christians" don't use fowl language, what are you saying? That you put on an act every Sunday to appear holy, but don't walk the walk during the other six days of the week? Once again, I find myself unimpressed.

"This Is How We Roll" might be one of the finest examples of precisely how to calculatingly create a number one single in the world of Contemporary Popular Country. The fact that it succeeded in doing just that speaks volumes for the lowest common denominator standards of the core audience for this type of music.

It's great to be back, folks, and I'll see you next Sunday.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Alan Jackson - Drive (For Daddy Gene)

This offering from Alan Jackson is a bit different than most of the ones I've focused on so far. The song itself is not so awful, especially when compared to other singles Alan Jackson released from the same album, for example. No, "Drive (For Daddy Gene)" is a relatively forgettable Contemporary Popular Country song focusing on that time-tested subject of motor vehicles.

(Although, I do have to note that I did grow up in a more rural area than the one where I currently live, and I do know of some parents who would allow their children to take the wheel on occasion because this is cute or something? To me, it seems more irresponsible and terrifying. But, that's just me.)

So if the song itself isn't what's so awful about this single, what can be the factor that is driving this song from bad to intolerable? The nonsense that was slapped together that is supposed to pass as a music video, that's what.

The concept here is pretty straight forward. Alan Jackson is recalling the instances where his father allowed him to operate a boat and a truck, and these memories are brought to life like literal pictures in a dusty old book springing to life. The problem is, that the "pictures" are animated incredibly cheaply and it's just awkward to watch. Just take a look at the young Alan Jackson in the Mario Andretti car at around 2:23 in the video. That's really the best they could scare up for one of CPC's top stars? I am willing to wager that, given a reasonable amount of time, I could have done better than that, and believe me when I tell you that an artist I am not. Seriously, though, that is just awful. And the boat at 1:17 isn't much better.

The thing is, this level of quality of computer animation could be forgiven if this had been released in, say, the early to mid 1990's. But it wasn't. "Drive (For Daddy Gene)" was released as a single in 2002. 2002. Computer animation had already been revolutionized by Toy Story in 1995. That means that the better part of a decade had elapsed since the world at large started taking serious notice of computer animation, and when this video was released. It would be unfair of me to expect a high-quality output from a team assembling a music video (which is hardly going to be as high-budget and quality-oriented as Pixar) if it had been the next year. But nearly a decade later? There is no excuse for this low quality.

And that is how it came to pass that an unremarkable song earned its place here amongst all the other royally crappy songs.

I would like to add, though, that it is really brave of Alan Jackson to continue sporting the mustache and mullet in 2002 in the face of good taste. That man has a story about his looks, and he's sticking to it. And I, for one, applaud him.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Brad Paisley - Camouflage

There is quite a bit of humor to be found in a piece of entertainment (be it a movie, a book, or a song) that has every serious intention, but fails. Whether discussing love, friendship, or finding meaning in every day life, when an artist completely misses the mark, it has the potential to be uproarious. I hope I've highlighted some examples of that here, with at least a modicum of success.

The same can not be said when the intention is to be funny. A failed attempt at humor is nothing short of incredibly awkward. Take, for example, every single movie that ever starred Rob Schneider. There isn't a single one of them that is funny (in the way it is supposed to be), and the viewer can't even hope to find them hilarious in an ironic way. They're simply terrible.

Brad Paisley's latest single, "Camouflage" is not unlike those aforementioned films. Now, I am not one of those types that is turned off by humor in music (as my They Might Be Giants and Dead Milkmen collections will attest). What I am turned off by is songs that attempt to be clever, cute, and/or cheeky and instead come off as annoying. "Camouflage" is just another lousy attempt by a Contemporary Popular Country artist to sell records by appealing to some piece of redneck culture.

I assume the desired reaction from a listener goes something like this: "Huh. I like to hunt, and when I do, I wear camouflage. In fact, a lot of my buddies also wear camouflage. Yeah, camouflage is pretty cool, huh? I think I'll buy this record, right after I finish my Budweiser." Unfortunately, after this song hit my east coast, city-dwelling, elitist ears, my reaction was: "Well, I guess I can't avoid writing about Brad Paisley on my blog anymore. His admittedly formidable guitar chops can't save him from this one."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Justin Moore - Bait A Hook

I'm running a bit behind this week, because the NFL Conference Championships were on this past weekend, but this one is sure worth the wait, let me tell you.

There are few topics a song can focus on that are more vapid, more insipid, more completely wasting of the listener's time than mindless bragging, or, conversely, pointless belittling. It's very unlikely that the listener is going to identify with your boastful statements, so any hopes of having universal appeal is rather narrow. The very best you can hope for is that the audience believes in your self-aggrandizing enough to idolize you. Which is an incredibly shallow goal to have as a songwriter.

Now, that isn't to say that the occasional ego-centric statement doesn't work on occasion. Many rap artists have turned bragadocious banter into an art form, which works because (in many cases) the claims are a calculated combination of incredible creativity and, often, a healthy dose of humor.

Such is not the case in any Contemporary Popular Country song I have ever heard. The claims always focus around the fact that the other guy is one of three things: Wimpy (which is subject to interpretation), not "country" enough, or doesn't have possession of trucks and/or tractors that match the size of the one doing the bragging. I've yet to ever hear a bragging song in the genre of CPC that doesn't focus on one of those three categories. Which is yet another example of the sheer lack of creativity in the world of Contemporary Popular Country.

This particular example of this uninteresting, uninspired, and unoriginal sub-genre is brought to us by Justin Moore. He is, of course, the talented song-spinner that brought us this classic that I posted about a while ago.

There is really only one thing worth mentioning about this particular song that isn't covered by talking about "country bragging songs" in general (because it is so incredibly unremarkable). I find it decidedly exasperating that in order to be a Real Man in the eyes of CPC songwriters, one has to be able to operate some sort of large motor vehicle, or participate in some sort of animal slaughter. ("He cain't even bait a hook! He cain't even skin a buck!" claims Moore in the unforgettable chorus of this timeless-classic-to-be.) I realize that I'm letting my elitist east coast city-dweller perspective show by saying so, but if I can't share it here, well, where can I?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Gretchen Wilson - Work Hard, Play Harder

One thing fans of contemporary pop country love is some sense of "working class roots" in the artists they love. No matter how unbelievably filthy rich they might be now, the fact that they once were not adds some seal of "authenticity" to them, for some reason. Never mind the fact that most recording artists were at some point not incredibly well-to-do (with the exception of people like Lady GaGa or the usually talentless children of other celebrities like Kelly Osbourne), and had to work their way up from the bottom. Gretchen Wilson fits this mold perfectly. According to her Wikipedia page, she grew up in relative poverty with her young, single mother. She dropped out of school at 15 to work in restaurants and began singing in some cover band by the age of 18, at which age she was overheard by some bar manager that booked her to sing cover songs. There is a giant gap between this part of her biography and her signing to a major label in the early 2000's, but who really cares? She was poor, and now she isn't! She made it! And if she can become a giant star because of her karaoke skills then so can you and I!!!

To me, an artist shows what they are worth not because of their upbringing (because that can't be helped), but what they do with their notoriety once they achieve it. Take the excellent example of Mike Watt. Watt also came from humble beginnings, but even though he has performed in many influential bands and appeared with many successful artists (including Sonic Youth), he has still maintained a hard work ethic in his current ventures, and has not allowed his (relative) fame get in the way of his art. Between playing in countless bands (including, recently, Iggy Pop and the Stooges) Mike Watt hosts a podcast that updates on a regular basis and has penned a book. His dedication to his craft is readily apparent, and his working class aesthetic is incredibly genuine because of it.

Such is not the case with Gretchen Wilson. As with basically all contemporary pop country stars, her music is intellectually lazy, catering to the lowest common denominator in order to sell more copies. ("I'm a redneck!", "I like to get drunk!", etc. You get the point.) This is compounded by the fact that she doesn't even write her own music, but rather has a team of songwriters that write for her. Her music videos are nothing more than shoots of parties that her record label is hosting, usually featuring one or more noted celebrities (once again, to sell more copies of the single), from Kid Rock and Hank Williams Jr. to Larry the Cable Guy and other famous people that make my east coast stomach turn just thinking about.

Of all her annoying, lazy songs, there are none that top "Work Hard, Play Harder".

The first thing that strikes me about this song is its inherent dishonesty. While she might have held some challenging jobs in her adolescent years, it has been at least the better part of a decade since Wilson relied on that type of work to pay her bills. I seriously doubt that she looks down at her hands and finds these callouses that she alleges to find there, aside from the ones on her fingertips from occasionally strumming her guitar. This song (once again not penned by her) is a blatant attempt by the songwriting team to appeal to working class folks in the midwest, and sadly, these people go for it. Gretchen Wilson doesn't actually work in a diner and bartend through out the course of her week, only to get dangerously inebriated on Friday nights. In fact, even when she was working in those types of places, she was far too young to be gathering her "rowdy" friends and going to these honky-tonk watering holes she speaks of, so any claims of this being some way of her paying homage to her roots would be patently false as well.

Secondly, there is the laziness of the video that serves as the promotional tool for this song. One would think that in a song about working really hard during the week and cutting loose on the weekend the video would feature Wilson dressed like a waitress "working hard for her money" or something. That would be the obvious choice, and since we have learned that Gretchen Wilson Inc. favors the lowest common denominator, that would be the way to go! Apparently, though, Wilson can't be seen in a music video not donning classic "redneck" attire, so we get nothing of the sort.

Instead, we get scenes of her riding around in a convertible, scenes of her "playing" with her band, and (the one that really gets me) Gretchen Wilson standing by the side of the road, lip-syncing the song while clips from her older videos play on the barn in the background. That's right. They couldn't even be bothered to record enough new footage to fill the three minutes of this song, so they instead recycled footage from older videos, especially the parts that featured the celebrities.

Lastly, if you are a relatively popular recording artist, and you are going to hire people to write your songs for you, you want to make sure that they are not plagiarizing the songs. (For comparison, the Black Crowes song they are alleging that GW Inc. stole is this one, and I have to say, they have a very valid argument.)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Taylor Swift - Mean

Honestly, Taylor Swift barely counts as a country performer. The music that she performs is nothing but bubblegum pop music that is occasionally accented with typical "country" instruments. Her music owes more to Juice Newton's early works than it does to Dolly Parton (how interesting that Juice Newton eventually dragged herself over to country music later in her career).

I don't care for any of Swift's music, but that isn't really surprising. As a 30-year old male, I'm hardly the demographic that the people who market her are attempting to woo. Most of her singles come and go without me even being aware that anything happened, and as far as I am concerned, it's best for everyone that way.

I became aware of the song "Mean" several months ago, when it was up for an MTV Video Music Award for "Best Song With A Message", for which it was up against (among others) Rise Against's fantastic anti-homophobia/bullying song "Make It Stop (September's Children)", a song that I like very much and was quite affected by the video.

Since I was floored that a band that I enjoyed was up for a VMA, I became curious what the competition was like, and I looked into the other songs, one of which was Taylor Swift's own song against bullying, "Mean".

The intention of the song is admirable enough. Taylor Swift is attempting to use her influence to shed light on how bad bullying is, and how it can effect people. The well-intended goal of this song is almost (not completely, but almost) enough to make up for the fact that Taylor Swift clearly has no idea how to play the banjo, since she is strumming it like a guitar in the video (and pretending to play power chords that wouldn't work at all on a banjo because of the way it is strung) and the overall crappiness of the song. Or even the fact that she claims to not be able to wait until she is "living in a big 'ol city" even though she is from a suburb less than half an hour outside of Philadelphia.

The biggest problem I have with the song is the hypocrisy. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, "bully" has several definitions, depending on whether it is being used as a noun, an adjective, or a verb. Under the verb category, the word is defined like this: "to affect by means of force or coercion". I would expand this definition for clarification by adding that the person doing the bullying does so from a position of power, be it physical, mental, or access to influence.

It is because Taylor Swift, as an incredibly popular singer, has a venue to air her opinions that most people don't have, that lines like, "All you are is mean, and a liar, and pathetic, and alone in life" come across as decidedly bully-ish. She is belittling the subject of the song by means of coercion, from her position of power as a popular singer.

There are so many other ways that Swift could express herself and her distaste for the (Real? Imagined?) bully from her past without acting like a bully herself. Her awful means nearly negate any positivity that the song might have had. If your goal is to highlight actions from others that you feel are wrong, it should be understood that you make sure not to participate in the exact same behavior.

Perhaps Swift should leave topical songs to those with a touch more songwriting prowess, and continue focusing on the pop music her fans revere her for.