The Week In Pop

The Week In Pop: The 10 Worst Crimes Against Music On Owl City’s New Album

Ever since Adam Young hijacked the Postal Service’s laptop-emo aesthetic and turned it into cloying, hollow-headed pap, Owl City has been one of music’s most disreputable artists. It’s been six years since “Fireflies” went to #1, and although Young lingered in the pop cultural consciousness for a while — Taylor Swift wrote 2010 album track “Enchanted” about him, and his 2012 single “Good Time” helped Carly Rae Jepsen avoid becoming a one-hit wonder — by 2015 he seemed safely out of view. Like me, you might have blissfully concluded that Owl City had disappeared forever.

I’m here to inform you that you were sadly mistaken.

Owl City’s fifth album, Mobile Orchestra, arrives this Friday, and it contains the worst music he’s ever made. It might be the worst music anyone has ever made. Mobile Orchestra is so atrocious that you might find yourself thinking, hey, maybe “Fireflies” wasn’t so bad after all. Subjecting yourself to it will likely lead to physical discomfort, emotional distress, and a despair that runs deeper than words. It’s the kind of album that inspires avowed pop fans to reconsider rockism as a life philosophy.

Readers of this column know that I try to stay openminded, that I try to find something redeemable about even the least-defensible garbage. And I could do that here: I could praise Owl City’s remarkable ability to get melodies stuck in my head. I could marvel at how often I unknowingly start tapping my foot when Mobile Orchestra is on. On some sick level, I could even appreciate how low the project sinks in pursuit of cheap pandering and artificial thrills.

I will not do that. Instead, I have decided to level charges against Owl City. Here they are, ranked from egregious to unspeakably egregious.

10. “Verge” further encourages Aloe Blacc’s pursuit of mediocrity. Last year I lamented that Aloe Blacc got famous by siphoning all aspects of originality from his music. Opening song and lead single “Verge,” a collaboration with Blacc, keeps that money train rolling. It’s basically “Wake Me Up” part deux, only with lots more faux-U2 electro-mewling.

9. There’s a song called “Bird With A Broken Wing.” Dawg.

8. Every track is the sonic equivalent of a frozen dinner. A lot of amazing pop songs sound like they were manufactured in a laboratory, but those songs indicate that the scientists involved were interested in coming up with something special and state-of-the-art, forging ahead into breathtaking sonic territory. Mobile Orchestra feels lab-concocted too, but in the most sterile possible sense, as if somebody was trying to figure out how little your foodstuffs can resemble actual chicken while still calling them chicken.

7. There are now five Owl City albums in the world, and still only one Postal Service album. The injustice multiplies.

6. “Back Home” brings in Jake Owen for a craven attempt at a country song. Owen is one of country’s biggest stars, and his presence here is an excuse for Young to make a bid for country radio by adding Southern-fried guitars and rattling off the Down Home lyrical signifiers that have become country’s stock-in-trade.

5. “I Found Love” contains the lyric “When the fairy dust fell over us.” It also makes me sad that I’m not listening to “We Found Love” instead.

4. “Thunderstruck” besmirches the name of AC/DC and the sound of Daft Punk. “Thunderstruck” is not an AC/DC cover, but if you’re going to jack that song title from Australia’s ballsiest rockers, you’d better have mighty good reason. Instead, we get something far from mighty, a warmed-over Discovery-era Daft Punk/pseudo-blog-house monstrosity that hints at musical value before shaming you for entertaining the thought.

3. The two Christian songs are everything awful about the Christian music industry. Two tracks on the album, “My Everything” and the Britt Nicole duet “You’re Not Alone,” are basically Christian worship songs run through the Owl City filter. Hallelujahs, the whole deal. All the nonbelievers out there will find these songs contemptible, but as someone who considers himself a Christian, I’m willing to bet they’re even more distasteful for me. I got into this a few years ago when analyzing Sufjan Stevens’ five-disc Christmas album: “There’s a massive worship music industry built around U2-style swells designed to whip people up into an emotional frenzy… If that’s your speed, fine, but does all worship music have to sound like the same genre — the same song, even — echoing blithely and breathlessly into infinity?” So much music of this ilk is calculated, saccharine, and fucking fake, and Owl City’s contributions feel especially gross.

2. The Hanson collaboration assigns new meaning to the phrase “lowest common denominator.” “Unbelievable” lives up to its name, piling on Hanson, whistling, a children’s choir, and an interminable list of ’90s kid nostalgia signifiers: Jurassic Park, laser tag, Goosebumps, Mentos, Pogs, Nintendo, Power Wheels, “2 Legit 2 Quit,” VHS, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. The lyric “McDonald’s fries, those were the best” is uttered. Also, the whistled melody rips off Young’s own “Good Time,” which is lazy as all hell.

1. Adam Young’s voice is butt. Even when this guy comes up with a half-decent idea, it’s desecrated the moment he opens his mouth. Young’s vocals are truly musical poison, and they’re by far the worst thing about Owl City. Without fail, he employs a breathy, Auto-Tuned emo whine sapped of all aggression, character, and humanity. I’d say he sounds like a sad little robot boy, except I’d kind of like to hear an album by a sad little robot boy, and I never want to hear Young’s voice again.

CHART WATCH

Programming note: As Billboard points out, because Friday is the newly instituted international release date as of this week, this is the last week the album and singles charts will operate on the traditional Monday-Sunday model. From now on, sales, spins, clicks, and everything else will be measured on a Friday-Thursday scale.

Last week in Status Ain’t Hood, our own Tom Breihan wondered aloud if Meek Mill had “finally broken through to that upper rap-stardom level.” Given the first-week numbers for Meek’s long-delayed Dreams Worth More Than Money, I’d say yes, he most definitely has. The album racked up a staggering-for-2015 246,000 equivalent units (215,000 in pure sales) to debut at #1, far surpassing the 165,000 first-week figure for 2012 debut Dreams And Nightmares and giving Meek the fourth-best first-week frame this year after Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Mumford & Sons.

The gap between Dreams Worth More Than Money and everything else this week is massive. Meek’s album sold five times as many copies as Miguel’s WILDHEART, which enters at #2 with 48,000 units (41,000 sales). That makes it Miguel’s highest-charting album yet even though it sold 30,000 less copies than #3-debuting Kaleidoscope Dream managed in its first week.

By comparison, Taylor Swift’s 1989 tallied 48,000 units this week despite being released almost eight months ago, good for a jump back up to #3. Ed Sheeran’s x is back at #4 with 39,000, followed by James Taylor’s Before This World at #5 with 33,000. Last week’s #1, Breaking Benjamin’s Dark Before Dawn, racked up 31,000 units in its second week to fall to #6. Then comes another debut, with rockers X Ambassadors securing 30,000 units of their album VHS. Sam Hunt’s Montevallo stays at #8 with 29,000, just barely beating out the Christian rockers August Burns Red’s #9-debuting Found In Far Away Places. Closing out the top 10 on the strength of 26,000 units is the Magic Mike XXL soundtrack.

Over on the Hot 100, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” stays on top for a 12th nonconsecutive week, tying Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” for the longest run at #1 by a rap song. Given the way “See You Again” bounced back after being temporarily dethroned by Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar’s “Bad Blood” remix, you’d think the thing would be a shoo-in to break the record next week, but OMI’s “Cheerleader” climbs to #2 this week, and Billboard reports that Khalifa and Puth’s margin of victory was extremely narrow. Just behind them at #3 is 17-year-old Silento’s rapidly surging “Watch Me,” which zooms up four spots from #7.

Swift’s “Bad Blood” falls to #4, followed by Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” at #5. The Weeknd’s great “Can’t Feel My Face” stays at #6 after launching into the top 10 out of nowhere last week. Walk The Moon’s “Shut Up And Dance” descends to #7. A high-tech video helps Skrillex, Diplo, and Justin Bieber’s excellent Jack Ü track “Where Are U Now” jump from #17 to #8, becoming the first top-10 hit as a credited artist for both Skrillex and Diplo and the first top-10 hit for Bieber in two and a half years. The David Guetta/Nicki Minaj/Afrojack/Bebe Rexha monolith “Hey Mama” is at #9 this week. And Rachel Platten’s Swift-approved inspirational-pop anthem “Fight Song” rises to #10, closing out the top 10.

TRACK CITY

Tove Styrke – “Number One”
A commenter recently pointed out that despite this column showing massive love to Tove Lo, we’ve been silent regarding Tove Styrke, another rising Swedish pop star named Tove. That’s a fair point considering what a gem Styrke’s reggae-inflected 2014 hit “Borderline” was. Her new single “Number One” is good enough to get there.

Krept & Konan – “Do It For The Gang” (Feat. Wiz Khalifa)
The South London duo behind the Jeremih-bolstered “Freak Of The Week” bring us another sex-crazed club-rap track. This one features Wiz Khalifa, which is a significant downgrade, though the most egregious lyric comes courtesy of either Krept or Konan: “If she ain’t fuckin’ then it’s ‘Bye Felicia.'”

BIGBANG – “Sober”
Our K-pop authority Tom Breihan recently sang the praises of BigBang’s delightfully over-the-top “Bang Bang Bang” video. “Sober” isn’t quite as insane, but it will jolt your pulse up anyway.

Cody Simpson & Tinashe – “Express Yourself”
Tinashe, you’re better than this.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • New documents from the Kesha-Dr. Luke lawsuit claim Luke threatened to have Kesha’s dog euthanized, remove songwriting credits from Kesha’s mom, and blackmail his own wife into having an abortion. [TMZ]
  • Here’s an interview with a woman Rihanna cast in her “Bitch Better Have My Money” video after spotting her on Instagram. [Vice]
  • Puff Daddy has announced his allegedly final album, No Way Out 2, a sequel to his 1997 debut. [Rap-Up]
  • Kelly Rowland is joining the cast of Empire for season 2. [E!]
  • You, too, could be in Empire season 2 if you win their singing contest. [Billboard]
  • Britney Spears reportedly hit the studio with DJ Mustard. [Billboard]
  • Meanwhile, Zendaya has been in the lab with immensely successful industry songwriter Diane Warren. [Billboard]
  • Charli XCX says her next album will be poppier and more electronic than Sucker. [i-D]
  • Taylor Swift’s great “Blank Space” video has become the first clip to surpass 1 billion streams on Vevo. [NME]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME