The Week In Pop

The Week In Pop: Ain’t Paramore Fun?

By Chris DeVille / May 22, 2014

The question is not so much “How did Paramore end up on American Idol?” as “Why did it take them so long to get there?” As I explained at length last month, the Warped Tour scene that carried Hayley Williams and company to stardom was very much a pop star delivery system, and if anyone from that scene exuded star power, it was Williams. But loud guitars and violent drums like the ones that helped “Careful” blast off have a way of scaring off the Ryan Seacrests of the world, so Paramore never quite made a splash in the top 40 sphere despite Williams’ powerful voice, melodic gift, and abundant charisma.

Williams herself, it should be noted, has previously grazed the top 40 via hip-hop and EDM trojan horses; she scored a #2 single in 2010 by singing the hook for B.o.B’s “Airplanes” and went to #18 last year with the Zedd collab “Stay The Night.” It should also be noted that Paramore proved themselves more than capable of adopting a pop-friendly sound when they vastly improved Kings Of Leon’s “Use Somebody” with their much-circulated 2009 acoustic rendition, not to mention their own ballad “The Only Exception.” And it especially bears mentioning that Williams was originally signed to Atlantic as a solo act in 2003; the label intended to market her as a teen pop singer, but Williams wanted to rawk. So they shuffled Paramore to Fueled By Ramen and we got three albums of bracingly triumphant mall-punk that managed to land Paramore on the Hot 100 eight times without really establishing a signature song. Then, after touring the world in support of 2009’s glorious Brand New Eyes, the Farro brothers quit the band, calling it “a manufactured product of a major label.” In their absence, Paramore finally made a record capable of conquering the pop charts.

That record was “Ain’t It Fun,” a song that most certainly is. The lead single from last year’s Paramore, the more explicitly rock-oriented “Still Into You,” managed to match Brand New Eyes ballad “The Only Exception” at #24, but “Ain’t It Fun” will probably be the song most people remember Paramore by, and rightfully so. Back when the video debuted in January, I declared, “This song is crack.” Earlier this month it became Paramore’s first top 10 hit on Billboard‘s Hot 100, and last night it struck Idol in a flash of yellow. Judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and Harry Connick Jr. were all grooving awkwardly with giddy grins, and I have to believe a large swath of Americans were doing the same thing. All it took to put Paramore in front of so many brand new eyeballs was an ’80s pop-rock groove, a gospel choir, vocal tics lifted from Michael Jackson, and an outfit seemingly borrowed from Miley Cyrus.

It just goes to show how much aesthetics matter. Even back on 2005 debut All We Know Is Falling, Paramore was cranking out the kind of anthems that could bring stadiums together. 2007’s RIOT! made them feverishly beloved cult favorites, and Brand New Eyes rendered them legitimate rock stars and (for what it’s worth) critical darlings. They climbed almost as far as a rock band can climb today, all while Williams dabbled in side projects that suggested she could rocket to a new level of stardom by leaving her bandmates behind. Instead, she brought them along with her — the ones who weren’t freaked out by the notion of going all the way pop, anyhow — and explored a wide variety of sounds the mall-punk’s sonic dress code wouldn’t have allowed for. Even more so than their occasionally garish labelmates Fall Out Boy before them, Williams, Jeremy Davis, and Taylor York nailed those genre experiments. The best of them, “Ain’t It Fun,” hit on the right formula to sneak them into Idol, an environment typically associated with manufactured pop stardom. But there’s nothing milquetoast or predictable about Paramore circa 2014, and the way Williams bounced and smiled through her Idol performance suggested her heart is in this music 100 percent.

It should be! Paramore was not a move toward mainstream pop so much as an expansion in all directions. The album is recognizable as the work of the same old band — crushing layers of overdriven guitar, soaring choruses, winsome earnestness galore — and songs like “Now” and “Be Alone” could have worked on any of their previous LPs. But over the course of 17 tracks, Paramore apply their skills to something far more satisfying than adhering to strict genre parameters: Joyous, freewheeling evolution.

The peppy “Still Into You,” with its charming keyboard and guitar interplay, is a brighter ray of sunshine than Paramore has previously beamed into the world, but “Part II” is correspondingly dark, accessorizing the band’s sound with rigid Fab Moretti drums, digital skitters, liquid New Wave guitars, and chilling Drive soundtrack synths. “Anklebiters” suggests what Archeticture In Helsinki’s dainty indie-pop might sound like if they ever learned to rage, while “Last Hope” is a study in alt-rock singer-songwriter grandeur. “Future” segues from ghostly acoustic guitar to ghoulish doom metal bombast, and a series of interludes present Williams beating Zooey Deschanel at her own ukulele-strumming game. “Hate To See Your Heartbreak” is one pedal steel solo away from the country charts, and tumultuous opener “Fast In My Car” is a genre unto itself. There are plenty of candy-coated rockers throughout the tracklist –“Grow Up,” “Daydreaming,” and “Proof” among them — but even those feel more like creative victories than concessions. And in “Ain’t It Fun,” they’ve concocted the most infectiously wonderful bit of pop-rock to crack the charts in recent memory. In short, Paramore is exactly the sort of opus for which the term “tour de force” was coined. It’s hard to take seriously any cries of “Sellout!” from fans, haters, or former band members when Paramore seems to be blasting out of its narrowly defined identity and having a blast doing it.

ED SHEERAN’S SING VIDEO: AS AWFUL AS THE SONG

I already dedicated an entire column to wondering why Ed Sheeran made a single so ill-suited to his skill set. Now there’s the video, which features Sheeran, puppet Sheeran, and Pharrell embarking on a night of debauchery. I was hoping this might redeem the song a little bit, but it only makes things worse.

Nice Beats product placement there.

CHART WATCH

Who says talking shit doesn’t pay off? That is, who’s to say the 7,000-unit margin by which the Black Keys’ indulgent Turn Blue beat Michael Jackson’s L.A. Reid’s indulgent Xscape to debut at #1 isn’t attributable to Patrick Carney’s well-timed war of words? (Hey, at least Jackson’s posthumous release won the chart battle in the UK, where they usually can’t get enough American garage rock.) Or maybe Carney’s Xscape diss benefitted both his and Reid’s boat funds: With 164,000 and 157,000 in sales respectively, the Keys and Jacko’s ghost tallied two of the best sales weeks of 2014 so far. Turn Blue is Carney and Dan Auerbach’s first #1, following El Camino‘s #2 debut in late 2011. Billboard notes that Xscape represents Jackson’s tenth visit to the Billboard 200 top 10.

The pair of relative blockbusters suggest that the Frozen soundtrack’s icy reign might finally be over; that album falls to #4 this week with 73,000 in sales, bested for a second straight week by Now 50 (#3, 82,000). Other top 10 debuts include Rascal Flatts’ Rewind (#5, 61,000, giving them only one less top 10 album than Michael Jackson, which is insane), Dolly Parton’s Blue Smoke (#6, 37,000, giving her only her second ever top 10 album, which is also insane), Tori Amos’ Unrepentant Geraldines (#7, 20,000), and Michael W. Smith’s Sovereign (#10, 16,000). I remain mystified that we live in an era when 16,000 units sold gets you a top 10 album.

Over on the Hot 100 singles chart, John Legend’s “All Of Me” is #1 for a third week, but the top 10 has some new (old) faces in Michael Jackson and Coldplay. The late MJ’s Justin Timberlake collab “Love Never Felt So Good” shoots up from #22 to #9 this week, making Jackson the only artist to have top-10 singles in five straight decades. Coldplay’s Avicii team-up “A Sky Full Of Stars” makes an even more impressive leap from #43 to #10. Iggy Azalea’s Charli-XCX-featuring “Fancy” and Ariana Grande’s Azalea-featuring “Problem” are at #2 and #3, respectively. Top 10 mainstays “Happy,” “Turn Down For What,” “Dark Horse,” “Talk Dirty,” and “Not A Bad Thing” round out the top 10 at 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.

One of the components that informs the Hot 100 formula is online streaming, so Spotify’s stats play a part in it. But it can be fun to isolate those factors too, so check this out:

The most streamed songs on Spotify:

The most shared songs on Spotify:

Fascinating, right? This portends well for Porter Robinson’s eventual Billboard chart domination. Speaking of Robinson…

TRACK CITY

Bassnectar – “You And Me” (Feat. W Darling)
I’m still not entirely sure where we draw the line between EDM and “post-EDM” as demonstrated wonderfully by Robinson’s “Sad Machine” last week, but I’m pretty sure this new Bassnectar single fits the bill. There are still flashes of the Decepticon electro-gargle that typified the height of dubstep, but “You And Me” feels at least as pop as it does dance, more notable for its monolithic wall of sound than for its block-rocking beat. Bassnectar shows are already EDM’s closest thing to a rock concert, and I see no reason he can’t take over arenas now, especially if he’s borrowing guitar lines from the Edge.

Love Dollhouse – “Can I”
We haven’t seen a successful R&B girl group the likes of TLC or Destiny’s Child for some time now. Here’s hoping Ryan, Jasmine, and Chelsea from Detroit are about to change that. “Can I” sounds like a classic.

Avicii – “Lay Me Down”
Hey Brother” was a vast improvement on the folk/EDM formula Avicii established with “Wake Me Up,” but this latest crossover attempt joins “Addicted To You” in the reject pile.

William Orbit – “Alien Insurrection”
Orbit wrote “Alien,” which appeared on Britney Spears’ Britney Jean, but allegedly he wasn’t happy with what producer will.i.am did to the track, so he made this remix. Apparently he wanted it to sound more like “Ray Of Light.”

Mr. Probz – “Waves (Robin Schulz Remix)”
One thing I learned from toying around with the Spotify chart widget, which you can toggle between countries, is that “Waves” is the most-streamed song in the UK. I can see why; there’s a winning chemistry between Dutch singer Mr. Probz’s weary vocal grit and the moody glide conjured by German DJ Robin Schulz.

HS87 – “No Talkin'” (Feat. Hit-Boy, Rich Boy & PeeJ)
Hit-Boy’s collective HS87 is releasing a compilation called We The Plug next week, and “No Talkin'” is on the tracklist. There’s a lot going on here, but I think my favorite part is either the Black Rob homage or when the female singer comes in all angelic-like over all those spazzy drums at the end. Hard to imagine a song this scattered becoming a hit, but I dig it.

Austin Mahone – “Next To You”
Judging from his new Funny Or Die sketch, Mahone is beginning his inevitable Bieber-like evolution from squeaky-clean teen pop star to the world of grownups. The song isn’t as entertaining as the sketch, unfortunately.

K Camp – “Cut Her Off” (Feat. 2 Chainz)
The effortlessly great “Money Baby” has the potential to become this generation’s “Money (That’s What I Want)” (or at least this generation’s “Ride Wit Me”), but the flip side of reveling in your love of cash is downer jams like this one about no longer being quite so generous with that cash. Even 2 Chainz seems a little bummed out.

5 Seconds Of Summer – “Don’t Stop”
If your reaction is more like “Don’t! Stop!” you’re out of luck. These guys might not attain Beatles levels of longevity (WTF Billboard?), but they aren’t going anywhere in the near future.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Lana Del Rey is rumored to be performing at Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s wedding. (You may recall that Kanye had an orchestra play Del Rey’s “Young Forever” when he proposed.) [The Mirror]
  • Beyoncé and Jay Z fans are circulating a petition asking them to actually make the action movie they teased in their tour trailer. [MTV]
  • Speaking of Bey, apparently Destiny’s Child will reunite (sort of) for the new Michelle Williams video. [Beyoncé Legion]
  • Mariah Carey’s comically titled Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse is streaming. [iTunes]
  • The Voice‘s winner this season is Josh Kaufman. [Idolator]
  • Lady Gaga thinks lip-syncing is not acceptable for pop stars. [Gossip Cop]
  • Home, the animated movie starring Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez, has been bumped to 2015. [Deadline]
  • Speaking of J.Lo, she’s writing a novel. [Pink Is The New Blog]
  • Pitbull is now selling his own cocktail called the “Pit Bull.” [Digital Spy]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME