The Week In Pop

Lukas Graham Is The New Ed Sheeran Is The New Jason Mraz Is…

Lukas Graham loves singing about his parents, which is appropriate because your parents are about to be asking you if you’ve heard of Lukas Graham. And now you have, though surely you’ve encountered this phenomenon in the wild before today. Technically the name Lukas Graham denotes a Copenhagen soul-pop band fronted by a man named Lukas Graham Forchhammer, the way Alice Cooper is a band fronted by Alice Cooper, but all further mentions of Graham will refer to the man himself — the former child actor whose massive hit “7 Years” has climbed all the way to #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart and whose self-titled debut album drops this Friday. That’s April Fool’s Day, and it seems this year the joke’s on us.

Graham is the latest in a lineage of peppy young white guys slinging folky pop songs that both teens and their adult chaperones can appreciate, often with a dull hip-hop edge. In other words, he is the new Ed Sheeran, or Jason Mraz, or Gavin DeGraw, or Jack Johnson, or John Mayer. But like most of those dudes, he is his own subtle variation of the mold. He’s Danish, for one thing. And although his music courses with the Irish folk his father grew up on, it also brims with the flavorless pizzazz of adult contemporary showmen Michael Buble and Sam Smith, albeit in casual urban attire rather than the usual suits and ties. It’s a commercially potent combination, and with the help of Warner Bros., the guy’s about to (as one song title on his album puts it) “Take The World By Storm.”

“7 Years,” the song that made Graham inescapable on American radio, is a sentimental ballad that tracks his life through various milestones past and future (ages 7, 11, 20, 30, 60) interspersed with platitudes like “I only see my goals, I don’t believe in failure.” Sonically, it could almost pass for a weepy Damien Rice coffeehouse anthem if not for the rap-like cadence Graham employs, a trick we’ve heard before on hits like Sheeran’s “Don’t” and Mraz’s “The Remedy.” The “7 Years” video brings that subtle shading further into focus with lots of flat-billed baseball caps and goofy hand motions. Also, three minutes into the video Graham dramatically walks away from an explosion; I still can’t tell if it’s sincere or ironic and which one would be more of a head-slapper.

One thing that’s clearly genuine is Graham’s love for his family. It’s the prevailing theme of “7 Years” — reflecting on his parents’ advice from when he was a kid, carrying on their dreams, hoping his kids have a similarly tight relationship with him when they grow up — and although the delivery system for those sentiments is cloyingly saccharine and emanates the obnoxious self confidence of a sloshed fraternity brother, they’re great sentiments! You can’t miss Graham’s paternal devotion throughout the album; “Mama Said,” “Happy Home,” and a tribute to his late father called “You’re Not There” all reflect real affection for the people who raised him. His brotherly love for his longtime buddies is evident too, including on one mournful piano ballad about an imprisoned friend called “Better Than Yourself (Criminal Mind Pt. 2).”

It seems growing up in Copenhagen’s Christiana community, an “autonomous neighborhood” of less than 1,000 people, created a fierce loyalty in him. I imagine a lot of listeners will identify with that loyalty, and just as many will vibe with the overzealous way Graham glorifies the party life. “Drunk In The Morning,” one of the band’s first viral YouTube hits from nearly five years ago, is a jaunty piano-pop ditty about being, yes, drunk in the morning. On “Funeral,” a song about, yes, his funeral, Graham insists, “Everyone I know better be wasted.” And “Strip No More” finds him asking a former stripper, “How come you don’t strip no more?” and proclaiming, “No tips if you don’t strip!”

Modern pop is built on that kind of indulgence, but rarely do we hear it in the context of such conservative music. Consider it the lyrical equivalent to Graham’s hypebeast wardrobe, a sign of our looser, more casual times. Watching MOR pop evolve along with a generation’s mores is wild. Gracing straitlaced traditionalist tracks with lyrics about blazing, boozing, and back-room sexual encounters is going to make Graham an icon among people who think it’s totally awesome when Ed Sheeran covers a rap song on acoustic guitar. It’s not hard to imagine a certain meta scenario playing out repeatedly this summer, young professionals group-texting each other similar “We were so drunk last night!” messages after pounding Bud Lights during outdoor Lukas Graham concerts at sundry outdoor pavilions.

In fact, that’s almost certainly going to happen. Watching Graham perform at YouTube’s SXSW event two weeks ago, his star power was evident. He doesn’t look like a traditional celebrity — and I kind of respect the way he shows off his paunchy abdomen in the “7 Years” video — but he carries himself like a celebrity, working the stage with confidence and singing the hell out of every corny lyric. His band, the marvelously named Mark Falgren, Magnus Larsson, and Kasper Daugaard, played with road-tested polish. They are extremely good at what they do, and what they do is like crack for large portions of the population. So even though I walked away unmoved, I was also impressed. His daddy would be proud.

Gwen Stefani

CHART WATCH

Turns out going the mature aka bland route worked out pretty well for Gwen Stefani, whose This Is What The Truth Looks Like… has become her first #1 album. Based on 84,000 equivalent units (76,000 in pure sales), Stefani scored her best chart debut ever, though the figure is somewhat misleading. Per Billboard, 2006’s #3-debuting The Sweet Escape sold 243,000 in its first week, and 2004’s Love. Angel. Music. Baby. debuted even lower (#5) but had even better first-week sales (309,000). So interest in her work actually seems to have degraded, just not as steeply as album sales in general have degraded. (She plays SNL this Saturday, by the way.)

Another The Voice affiliate, former contestant-turned-Christian pop sensation Jordan Smith, enters at #2 with 54,000 units (52,000 sales) for Something Beautiful. Other top 10 debuts include the soundtrack to Fox’s live teleplay The Passion: New Orleans (#8, 31,000/28,000) and country singer Kane Brown’s Chapter I EP (#9, 28,000/22,000).

Over on the Hot 100, Rihanna and Drake’s “Work” reigns for a sixth straight week, and as previously noted, Lukas Graham’s “7 Years” reaches a new peak at #2. Meghan Trainor’s “No” climbs to a new peak of #6 after the premiere of its video, while Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman” falls out of the top 10 to #13 in its second week on the chart.

POP FIVE

Nick Jonas – “Close” (Feat. Tove Lo)
It might be the captivating video talking, but “Close” feels like another winner from Jonas, who is building himself the beginnings of a solid greatest hits collection five years down the line. (“Jealous,” “Chains,” and “Levels” would also be on the tracklist.) Seriously though, what a video. It makes you feel the tension and anticipation the whole time.

Meghan Trainor – “Watch Me Do”
As Meghan Trainor songs go, this is palatable — at least until “I got nice breasteses.”

Fifth Harmony – “The Life”
“Work From Home” sent my expectations for Fifth Harmony’s next album through the roof, and despite its somewhat dated Mustardwave production, “The Life” is not diminishing those expectations.

Dead 7 Cast – “In The End”
The theme song from the boy band zombie western is not nearly as eccentric as it should be.

K.Flay – “FML”
This is way different from Kanye West’s “FML,” and I like it just as much — which is to say, a lot.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Jennifer Hudson will perform on the series finale of American Idol. [American Idol]
  • Little Steven’s wife slammed J.Lo after she forgot his name on American Idol. [Celebuzz]
  • Speaking of J.Lo, she did James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke. [YouTube]
  • Chris Brown mocked Kehlani’s suicide attempt on Twitter. [The Daily Beast]
  • Mariah Carey cancelled a show in Brussels over safety concerns. [USA Today]
  • Adele apologized on Twitter after a chain fell on a fan at her Glasgow show, resulting in a trip to the hospital. [Twitter]
  • Lady Gaga celebrated her 30th birthday with Taylor Swift, Nick Jonas, Lorde, John Legend, Lana Del Rey, Pharrell, and other pop and movie stars. [E!]
  • Kendrick Lamar, Twenty One Pilots, Jason Derulo, Lukas Graham, Fall Out Boy, Maroon 5, Pibull, Flo Rida, and more will play the 2016 NCAA March Madness Music Festival. [NCAA]
  • A fan thew dollar bills at Rihanna while she was performing in Detroit. She was not pleased. [YouTube]
  • “Burning House” singer Cam appears in a PSA about actual house fires. [YouTube]
  • Silento was escorted from the White House during a lockdown due to a gunman at the Capitol. He later returned and performed as scheduled. [Twitter]
  • Diddy is opening a charter school in Harlem. [NY Daily News]
  • Snoop Dogg will be Inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame. [WWE]
  • Beyoncé reportedly received a surprise visit from Hillary Clinton while filming a new music video. US Weekly also claims the album is likely coming next month. [Us]
  • Fetty Wap welcomed his third child to the world on Tuesday. [TMZ]
  • Brandy is suing her record label over the right to record new music. [ABC]
  • Flo Rida has been sued for $390k for not attending a charity event (though his “obnoxious” entourage came). [THR]
  • The University Of Adelaide in Australia is naming a music institute after Sia. [The Guardian]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME