Grading the iTunes Hits, Again


I bet this guy skipped Coachella too. (Actually, no, he probably didn’t.)

When I first did one of these things last month, I had this idea that the iTunes singles chart was this total batshit free-for-all, and I’d have to write these entries all the time just to keep up with the constant flux. Turns out that actively watching this chart is a fairly boring exercise. Little hits, for reasons explicable and not, will flit briefly through the top ten’s lower reaches. Trace Adkins’s transcendently goopy maturity-ballad “You’re Gonna Miss This” had a moment because of something to do with the celebrity version of The Apprentice, and American Idol launched at least one dead Hawaiian ukulele player into the top ten for a week or so, but the top spots have been stuck in a “4 Minutes”/”No Air”/”Lollipop”/”Bleeding Love” stasis for weeks now. In the past few days, though, there’s finally been a bit of movement, or at least enough for me to do another of these things.

Chris Brown: “Forever.” This comes from one of those bullshit special-edition album-reissues where a sputtering record industry tacks another track or two onto one of their few earners and sends it back out into the world in the hopes that it will convince a few dumb kids to re-buy the thing. Contemptible origins aside, though, this is a pretty good example of the R&B radio’s sea-change shift toward Euro trance-pop. That shift remains endlessly fascinating to me: Hey, look, we now have a post-race strain of pop music! And it’s not very good! This is OK, though. I’ll take CB’s doe-eyed vulnerability over T-Pain’s mechanized squeak every time, and here he’s even more fake-naive than usual. Polow da Don produces and, as usual, steals whatever he wants from the last two years of Timbaland: clippity-clop woodblocks from “Say It Right,” dippy emo house-bleeps from “My Love.” Vocoder isn’t excessive. Lyrics concern dance as personal liberation, which never gets old. Questionable lyric: “Tonight is the night to join me in the middle of ecstasy”; that grammar just looks wrong. Someone stands to make a whole lot of money from this song. 6.1

Jesse McCartney: “Leavin’.” A pattern emerges. A sub-Lachey teenpop late-arrival, trying to stay alive in a post-Summerland world, enlists “Umbrella” writer/producers Tricky and The-Dream to give him a trance-pop song. Jesse McCartney cowrote “Bleedin’ Love,” so he shouldn’t need to pay top dollar for someone who’s going to tell him to rhyme seen with man, but I guess we’re stuck with The-Dream for a little while longer. Needless to say, that guy’s stuttered bleats reappear here. If someone told me this was actually a J. Holiday single, I wouldn’t bat an eye. If you can get past the tinny music-box steel-drums and synth-whistles, you’ll find McCartney urging you to leave your man and go flying on his G5. (Jesse McCartney, I’m thinking, probably doesn’t own a G5. Maybe The-Dream does.) Opening pickup line: “Baby girl, I’ve been watchin’ you all day / Man, that thing you got behind you is amazing.” Pretty smooth! He also says “Walk it out.” 3.8

John Mayer: “Say.” Mayer last showed up on the iTunes chart doing his best to shred his way through Fall Out Boy’s cover of “Beat It,” so it’s oddly refreshing to hear him leaving tabloid-pop behind for a minute and getting quiet again. Here, he plucks out a spindly, delicate little guitar line while a string-section tiptoes tastefully behind him. “Say what you need to say,” Mayer entreats over and over, his voice a nasal quaver. He doesn’t actually say anything himself, of course, but that just reminds me of Green Day’s “She,” that line about screaming at me until my ears bleed just so you’ll feel better. It’s about sad, grown-up resilience, and it’s about the last thing I expected to hear from this guy. I haven’t heard nearly enough John Mayer songs to call “Say” the best John Mayer song ever, so I’ll just call it the best one I’ve ever heard, though maybe I just like it because it isn’t trance-pop. 7.9

Natasha Bedingfield: “Pocketful of Sunshine.” More trance-pop, except this time with a big belted chorus and an acoustic guitar so processed that it might as well be another strobing synth. Bedingfield crows meaningless pastoral bullshit about the happy mental place she goes to where nobody cries and there’s only butterflies. (Really!) I’m not mad at this sort of motivational-speaker silliness, but without a moment as magical as the gospel choir coming in for the last chorus of “Unwritten,” it doesn’t exactly sell itself. And that goddam flanged-out trance keyboard sound has reached saturation point and then some; I’m eagerly anticipating a day when the world’s expensive producers move onto some other noise. Still, this one has absolutely no Sean Kingston, which has to count for something. 4.3

Danity Kane: “Damaged.” Hey, remember Dream? Bad Boy girl-group from back when everyone was making severe bleepy-bleep Rodney Jerkins robo-pop? Puffy was maybe cheating on his wife with one of them? “He Loves You Not”? “This Is Me”? They were pretty good! They’ve been pretty much erased from Bad Boy history, though, and now Diddy has a new made-for-TV girl group. “Damaged” has been lingering just outside the iTunes top ten for weeks now without ever breaching it as far as I know, and I almost feel bad for them. “Damaged” toes the trace-pop line, but it drifts further into Jerkins territory than most of its predecessors. Normally this would be a good thing, but we need some actual human beings to counteract the R2D2 blips, and Danity Kane sound like animatronic mannequins even when they’re asking a boyfriend how he’s going to deal with all their baggage. The best part is Diddy’s pseudo-profound mumbled outro: “Sometimes you gotta go through the pain to experience the joy. This too shall pass. Danity Kane. This too shall pass.” I hope so! 3.6