Fox's "American Idol" XIII Finale - Show

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

Comments (43)
  1. Paramore simply work best as a full-on pop-rock band rather than trying to entertain some faction of bastardized punk. I love their new album. The best part about “Ain’t It Fun” cracking the Billboard Top 10 is that it put the CD version of album on sale for $5.99 at Amazon and Best Buy last week, and you bet I scooped that up so fast.

    The thing that confuses me, though, is that they also played the song live on last season’s finale of The Voice, so it’s weird that the less watched / nearly dead version of the singing competitions is the one that drove the song to be a hit.

  2. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • Holy shit guys, get a grip. Stereogum isn’t here to flatter your smug disavowal of silly music.

    • Then I’m going to start saying this every week:

      Stop complaining about Stereogum having a weekly article on pop – it doesn’t break my heart, but it is crap.

  3. Maybe it’s hard to take seriously any cries of “sellout,” but will you take my “ugh, Paramore” statement seriously?

  4. Maybe it’s because I used to live in Atlanta and did the Tomahawk Chop at quite a few Braves games, but I found it worthwhile to point out that I made it farther into that atrocious video (2 minutes) than I did Steven Tyler’s “OMG-ARE-MY-EYES-BLEEDING?? ‘Crazy sing-a-long’” (20 seconds).

  5. A few weeks ago I posted in here in a fruitless attempt to find a pop song that I had a dream about but couldn’t remember the name or most of the details about it. Luckily, loud headphones guy on the subway the other morning answered the question for me.

    The song is “Fly” by Nicki Minaj featuring Rihanna. Makes sense since I thought the singing in the chorus sounded like Rihanna. I thought she was singing “Toniiiiiiiiiiiiiiight” instead of “Flyyyyyyyyyy” which is why it was so hard to find the song.

    Good song. Thanks loud headphones guy. No thanks to whoever suggested it was “We Are Young.” Fuck that song.

  6. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  7. marko  |   Posted on May 22nd -15

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  8. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • I’ll give you this: “Ain’t it Fun” is easily the 2nd-best song on their last album. But that doesn’t put it near the top 10 Paramore songs.

    • Totally disagree with your assessment of ‘Ain’t It Fun’, but I do agree that they’ll be remembered for more. ‘Misery Business’ and ‘That’s What You Get’ are JAMS.

  9. ““Can I” sounds like a classic.”

    Probably because it makes liberal use of The Honey Dripper’s Impeach the President.

  10. Love these articles, but my major critique this week is your assertion that “‘Hey Brother’ was a vast improvement…” on anything. That song makes my skin crawl. And if you’re interested in other charts that could impact what’s happening on the Hot 100, I’d suggest Shazam’s tag chart. It isn’t directly linked to the Hot 100, but I generally find that the songs that chart high there almost always end up becoming big hits. Not sure if the high placement on the Hot 100 makes people “tag” songs more, or if a song being tagged more leads to it becoming a bigger hit.

    And yeah, “Ain’t It Fun” is one of those songs that sneaks into your consciousness. I dismissed it at first, but with time it’s slowly converting me.

  11. Sorry ‘Gum but Ain’t It Fun isn’t touching That’s What You Get, which is probably one of my favorite pop songs ever.

  12. Not Paramore’s biggest fan but ‘Misery Business’ will forever be an absolute tune.

  13. ITT: more people complaining because Stereogum has this column.

  14. Hell yeah to Chromeo ft. Solange on Spotify’s viral top ten! Great song and Solange has such a sexy voice, I thought True was great and am hoping she puts out an album soon!

  15. Congrats to Tori on making it in the top 10 once again. Unrepentant Geraldines is really, really good.

  16. Have ya’ ever spent the big cheddar and taken that “special someone” out to a 4 or 5 star dinner? Gussied yerself all up and stuff? Feeling (and lookin’) like a million bucks and whatnot? So there you are enjoying your meal and a nice bottle of wine and from the back of the room some jackass couple has decided that this would be the PERFECT time to bring their screaming infant out to dinner?

    There’s a time and place for everything. And I THOUGHT Stereogum didn’t allow screaming babies.

  17. 1.love “the week in pop”
    2.am i the only one who is into this ed sheeran song??? digging the ‘justified’ sound and the snl performance was great.

  18. I don’t like much of the music covered here, but it’s kind of nice to get an overview of what’s popular from an indieish perspective. Sometimes I find a song or two that doesn’t make we want to puke for my guilty pleasures playlist, and then I forget the mainstream exists again as soon as the article is over.

    But seriously, what can we do to make War on Drugs, Sun Kil Moon, Cloud Nothings and other great bands as popular as this stuff? How can we convince American Idol to invite Mark Kozelek to sing?

  19. “Vastly improved” Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody”?? Erm, no. They made a good cover, didn’t vastly improve it though >.>

  20. That “Love Dollhouse” song is just Shaggy – Luv Me, Luv Me:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvk23jmrIPE&feature=kp

  21. Good to know that pop music still sucks and never gets old.

  22. Man, I’m stoked on all the Sylvan Esso love on that Spotify viral list! Well-deserved.

  23. I don’t know who is the girl with the black hair singing with Paramore, but I do know that she should not be singing on TV… or even singing

  24. I don’t actually think Aint it fun by paramore works…I can see what they were doing ….making an inner city African American influenced song…but it sounds second rate….not like the real deal..when I first heard it I did not suspect it was paramore and at the same time I was like “meh”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post, reply to, or rate a comment.

%s1 / %s2