Pop by the Numbers


The remix is an architect’s note on what the fuck’s wrong with r&b: basically, verses and choruses. The Neptunes’ edit of *NSync’s hit “Girlfriend” spends 61 seconds before the first verse: a minimal guitar figure while Nelly rhymes a little. Nelly is on a roll of late. Then the “song” happens: two 61-second verse/chorus packages, boring in exactly the way all contempo-r&b is boring, dodging anything dynamic lest it ruin the supposedly sexy smooveness. As if anyone listens to the radio while fonging. We’re 3:03 in: average single length. Back comes Nelly for a second thrilling visit. Hasn’t made a mistake in 16 months. Then comes a bridge, a tag, and it’s over, almost five minutes. The snoozy verse/chorus occupies 42 percent of the track.

The paired Nelly raps (1) offer a ghetto pass, as only soul stations provide context for tune’s dullness and (2) are mountain ranges. They isolate the “song” into a valley town where nothing ever happens (despite video’s insistence that burg is dominated by hot boy/boy action). Climbing out fast, along a trail of Nelly-namechecked female soul stars, you never have to think about the “song” again. The song is over, the song is over. And then you come to the bridge.

It’s a bridge to nowhere—so melodically different, so formally sealed off from snoozy Versechorusville it might as well be a different song altogether. It sure sounds that way, and if you have any patience left for the boys, Justin and JC skate across the sweetest pop melody in ages: 21-second bridge perfectly beautiful, perfectly desperate to be suspended in midair over some other year, where it actually could be the song, and not some piece of throwaway engineering forced to waste all its efforts just getting us the hell out of there.