About 18 months ago, I listened to the the Top 10 songs on Billboard's Hot 100, and offered my thoughts on them. I've meant to revisit the project on numerous occasions, but haven't followed through. At one point, half of the Top 10 was so nauseating that I considered doing the UK Top 10 instead, only to discover that it was just as awful. But with that behind me, it's time to check in with the pop landscape...
Billboard Top 10, Issue Date December 11, 2010
1. Pink, "Raise Your Glass"
A while back, I read something by (I think) Maura Johnston that really nailed the Pink persona. Pink plays the rebel, Johnston noted, but her music always remains just pop enough to score success among the fans of the artists she's supposedly edgier than. "Raise Your Glass" is a good example of that, a song that celebrates outcasts but that will sound at home on Top 40 and Adult Contemporary stations. Musically, there's nothing to object to: this is assembly line Max Martin pop, assembled well. 2.5/5
2. Katy Perry, "Firework"
After the coy, annoying single and the prom night single, the good folks at EMI have deigned to grace us with the inspirational single. This minor Perry, even considering that all Perry is minor Perry (I say this as a fan of "Hot N Cold"). "Firework" sounds too small to achieve grandeur, and Perry, lacking a set of pipes like Mariah's, can't carry the chorus convincingly. 2/5
3. Rihanna, "Only Girl (In The World)"
Rihanna has reached a point where her hits resemble other Rihanna hits, and "Only Girl (In The World)" shares some of the DNA of 2007's M.J.-sampling "Don't Stop The Music." "Only Girl" isn't nearly as compelling, but it shares the sense of anxiety and merciless dancefloor stomp. Rihanna's still not a great singer, but she's distinctive, which can be just as good. 4/5
4. Bruno Mars, "Just The Way You Are"
We covered a Bruno Mars guest spot in the Beatdown, and I have the exact same feelings about this that I did about "Nothin' On You." It's lite rock with percussive nods to hip-hop. Let's not get into the lyrics: this is pure treacle, no way around it. 1/5
5. Rihanna feat. Drake, "What's My Name"
On the fantastic "Rude Boy," Rihanna was a woman out to get hers. I can't help but hear "What's My Name" in the shadow of that jam, and in comparison it sounds docile--"You're so amazing/you figured me out" is not a lyric I ever want to hear, especially about a dude who provides a verse as lazy as Drake's. The production--itself nothing mind-blowing--is the saving grace, airy with a stuttering rhythm. 3/5
6. Ke$ha, "We R Who We R"
This was apparently written in the wake of this fall's string of suicides by bullied, gay teens. Not sure how to feel about that--Ke$ha is probably in a better position to address suicidal teens than most people, but this weak dance-pop does the message no favors, and "We R Who We R" gradually becomes just another song about clubbing. There is something craven in its inability to actually, y'know, acknowledge that subject, or to differentiate itself from Ke$ha first hit in any way. 1.5/5
7. Far East Movement, "Like A G6"
I wish I could tell you that "Like A G6" excoriates earth's six largest economies for their catastrophic hubris, but of course it doesn't. This G6 is some sort of expensive private plane. No, the Far East Movement--the first Korean-American rappers of note--celebrate how fucked up you can get on cough syrup. The beat is minimal-ish, and kind of woozy, but these guys would probably get laughed out of Houston. 2.5/5
8. Nelly, "Just A Dream"
In a list that features "Firework," "Just The Way You Are," and "What's My Name," being the cornball anthem is an accomplishment, and not a good one. I could've swore Nelly's career was dead even before that Akon collaboration, but it seems that a song about being in love with your ex-wife has reignited it. This is pop-rap, but it's not hip-hop. 1.5/5
9. The Black Eyed Peas, "The Time (Dirty Bit)"
With the Black Eyed Peas, you know it's going to be cynical and generic, you just don't know what angle they're going to take. "The Time" forces together a power-ballad chorus, lifted from "I've Had The Time Of My Life," with a bloopy beat not particularly distinct from "Boom Boom Pow." I don't mean to insult B.E.P. fans--the one I know is in second grade, and she's cool--but that music this unimaginative continues to captivate Americans...it just makes me sad. 0/5
10. Bruno Mars, "Grenade"
I'll give props where they're due: Mars was a co-writer of Cee-Lo's magnificent "Fuck You," which was at Number 9 last week (it's since fallen to 17). "Grenade" is no "Fuck You," but its certainly more dynamic than "Just The Way You Are," and the vocals here are alright. I even detect a hint of Jeff Buckley in its phrasings. "Grenade" is the only the third song in this week's Top 10 that I don't actively dislike. Props. 3/5