Saturday, September 4, 2010

God Bless The USA: Beauty In The Beat

Thank you, Lady Gaga. Not since Madonna catapulted on the scene nearly 30 years ago has a single artist had such impact on popular music. In the early 1980s, however, Madge was riding an already bombastic wave of joyously uptempo music (Michael Jackson, Wham! Thompson Twins, Duran Duran), whereas it took Gaga to convince radio—like it or not, still the dominant force field in determining pop trends—that young ‘uns would adore pop and dance, if only given an opportunity to hear it. By god, it’s a battle cry I fired on deaf ears for a good five years as Billboard’s Singles Reviews Editor.

Certainly, Rihanna deserves an equally robust round of applause, for following her producers’ cues with such finger-snapping fare as “Umbrella” and “Don’t Stop the Music”—but then she turned dark on us, remained in an unhealthy relationship and tarnished her pop tiara.

In any case, at last, the decade-plus dominance of homogenized rap/hip-hop has been forced to share the air, thanks in large part to Gaga’s cascade of dance hits. Following surprise breakthrough “Just Dance,” in 2008, the hooks kept coming: with “Poker Face,” “Paparazzi,” “Bad Romance” and “Alejandro” (I’m forgiving hideous misstep “Telephone,” with Beyonce shrieking alongside). Collectively, Lady Gaga has not only become the biggest-selling female of the day, but a blessed love-her-or-hate-her-but-you-know-her pop culture phenomenon.The bigger picture here is how she has returned uptempo, unashamed dance rhythms to critical mass. The singles charts today reflect a gorgeous, brave new world.
Mike Posner’s breakthrough “Cooler Than Me” is a merry melodic romp; “Bulletproof” from La Roux offers an overt tribute to ‘80’s synth duo Yaz; Enrique Iglesias has his first top 10 hit in nine years with the bumpin' “I Like It”; and Bruno Mars—another shining new star—makes magic with Travie McCoy on reggae-splashed “Billionaire.” Adam Lambert has been allowed multiple hits, I'll be damned, staying true to his brand of rapid-fire dance fare.

Even Ke$ha, the most ham-handed gimmick since rotten-to-the-core Black Eyed Peas, is handing out hooks that one can’t help but sing along to. “TiK ToK” may belong at the trailer park block party—but I’ll take some more fried chicken, please. And “First Kiss,” in which she sings with newbies 3OH!3, is simply Sugar Ray reincarnated: fine frat party music with a giddy beat.

God bless me, I’ve even taken to Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie,” with Rihanna. It’s the beat, baby. Maroon Five, Jay Sean, Kevin Rudolf, David Guetta, Katy Perry, Kylie Minogue, Robyn… keep it coming.I’d love to think that now, with this new vibe pervading radio and the web, there’s finally no room for the likes of Black Eyed Peas' silly goo-goo output. Enough with the vocoder trend. Christina Aguilera and Shakira, sex without hooks doesn’t cut it anymore (though the former’s ballad “”You Lost Me” is lovely); and I will never understand Justin Bieber. Ever.

It’s a new world order out there. And you can dance to it. God bless America… for finally sounding like Europe.