By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
By Hilary Hughes
By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
America, you're at a sexual impasse. This business of being really into it, and having to pretend you're not because fucking is somehow really serious voodoo, just gets weirder every year. By this point, dragging the line between fictional erotic promise and even more fictional common decency would take the skill of a trained actor, not a singer. Which explains half the pop stars at the moment. Even Will Smith had to pass a decade of screen tests before he could hit No. 1, a position he just ceded to a bottle-blond teen-aged Hispano-Gaelic quasi-Mouseketeer.
If Christina Aguilera didn't exist, Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez would have to invent her. Or they could just breed: half Latin freestyle, half Disney twerpstyle, all American la bomba. And of course "Genie in the Bottle" makes all the moves: "my body's saying let's go but my heart is saying no . . . if you wanna be with me baby there's a price to pay." Which I don't think means she's a hooker so much as that Doing It always exacts a terrible toll. Meanwhile she's always racing at the speed of light, but that don't mean it's gotta be tonight (well, actually it does: at those velocities, by tomorrow night she'll be 16 billion miles away).
It's bad writing and bad sexual politics and she's just the actor to make it work; twice the stylist of former Disney castmate Britney, with twice the range of La Lopez, she is the queen of double consciousness for this month which should be as long as it takes to make Teen People and a million bucks. I only wonder if she's missing her own point: that genie in the bottle so desperately desired and mysteriously threatening well, it ain't Christina Aguilera.
Over on the Continent, where the centuries have degraded everybody's morals, it's less about delicate negotiations and more about hauling out the calculator. Ann Lee's "Two Times" adds it up over a remedial math beat: "easy come, time to give me more," she chirps with little more character than a Texas instrument, though she is in fact the front of an Italian house. "Eeeaaaasy does it, I'ma get me more. Two times, three times." The European gift for the single entendre is awe-inspiring. (Consider the U.K.'s top dance number of the moment, ATB's "9pm Till I Come.") But even more charming is the unreconstructed sound: if Stardust looped techno seamlessly back to disco (idea courtesy Simon Reynolds), Ann Lee bubbles like it was all a dream and she just woke up in Giorgio Moroder's villa.
Twice is not enough for the Venga Boys babes, who like to party and are going to Ibiza and expect some service when they get there. "Boom Boom Boom Boom," they calculate, "don't wanna double-boom." Is this asking too much? In all history, only John Lee Hooker has promised "boom boom boom boom." Paul Lekakis might just do ("Boom Boom Boom Let's Go Back to My Room"); Pat Travers is barely fit for Ann Lee ("Boom! Boom! Out Go the Lights"); and Christine Aguilera must once again take the Fresh Prince ("Boom! Shake The Room") or perhaps Scritti Politti ("Boom! There She Was").
British neo-diva Beverly Knight's "Made It Back '99" concerns the existential void or a bad record deal (a subtle distinction at best). But it sounds like sex Beverly comes out of the bridge moaning, "Oh my God oh my God oh my God ahhhhhh!" I think that's the God with the boom.
Meanwhile, ponder the fortunes of Zebda, the Eurodudes behind "Tomber La Chemise." A bilingual dictionary would tell you that means "Drop your shirt," but any linguist who'd ever been to a fraternité party would translate it as "Show us your tits!" Despite its French/multi-ethnic source, the song has that sort of Boogie en español vibe which is code for freewheeling physical joy. And I'm sure the song would have made its minimal budget back no matter what; catchy enough in its good-timin' moronic way. Except that a fortnight after it hits the market, Brandi Chastain causes a transnational sexual panic by dropping her shirt! And nobody even mentions that despite Brandi's disingenuous claims about tomber-ing her chemise in a moment of freewheeling physical joy, celebratory shirt-dropping is ubiquitous in men's soccer and the only interesting thing about this move was pondering whether guys would wear famous-maker sports bras if the money was right. Anyway, Nike doesn't need another hero. But Zebda suddenly has the No. 1 song in France, without ever once appearing in a Disney production.