The Week In Pop

The Week In Pop: Bobby Shmurda Is A Pioneer, But Also A Traditionalist Of Sorts

Bobby Shmurda is a pioneer several times over. The Brooklyn rapper’s breakout hit “Hot Nigga” — or “Hot Boy,” as it’s known to the radio programmers who’ve roundly embraced it — reached a new peak this week, climbing to #6 on Billboard’s definitive singles chart, the Hot 100. It’s the kind of mixtape track Lil Wayne made his name on, where a rapper goes wild on a beat from a pre-existing song and tries to supplant the original. (Remember when Wayne took Beyoncé’s “Upgrade U” to new, star-consuming heights?) In this case Shmurda, born Ackquille Jean Pollard, rapped on the beat from Lloyd Banks’ 2012 castoff “Jackpot” and hit the jackpot with it. That makes “Hot Nigga” a throwback in one sense and an anomaly in another: Rappers rarely come up rapping on other people’s beats anymore, and it’s hard to remember a song of that nature ever crossing over like “Hot Nigga” has.

There’s also nothing particularly “pop” about Shmurda’s breakout hit from a sonic standpoint which makes his rise all the more impressive. Whereas his new EP Shmurda She Wrote (ha) predictably sees Shmurda venturing over slicker, more melodic productions, “Hot Nigga” is raw, grimy, hookless gangster rap. There is no chorus. There is no melody. It’s nothing but three minutes of vicious bars over an ominous Jahlil Beats production — the sort of thing that might set various pockets of the rap internet on fire but rarely burns bright enough to make an impact on pop culture at large. “Hot Nigga,” though, went supernova well before it hit the top 10. And although it’s a great song that deserves a mass audience, the reason for its mainstream ascension had very little to do with its musical quality and almost everything to do with the funny dance Shmurda does in the video.

That funny dance is the Shmoney Dance, and it made Shmurda ubiquitous on Vine throughout the summer and into fall. Like its most recent counterpart, the vague gyration known as the Harlem Shake (yes, I realize it’s not the real Harlem Shake), the Shmoney Dance caught on in part because it’s not particularly well defined. Shmurda has explained how to do it, but as demonstrated by Taylor Swift, almost anything passes for the Shmoney Dance as long as “Hot Nigga” is blasting. Thus, like the Harlem Shake, anybody can do it, and almost everybody has. Ever since the “Hot Nigga” video debuted in March, Shmurda’s signature move has been slowly, surely making its way into the mainstream, with everyone from U.S. Army soldiers in the desert to Rihanna on a yacht to Elmo in space posting their own Shmoney Dance videos. Drake Shmoney Danced at Dave & Buster’s on his birthday, which was peak Drake but not necessarily peak Shmoney Dance. By that point the trend had already made it all the way from impoverished, black East Flatbush to America’s lily white, visor-equipped, almost certainly filthy rich Junior Ryder Cup team. They even let an ESPN reporter keep on believing they invented it; how’s that for cultural appropriation?

There’s something inherently modern about an underground song blowing up by becoming a social media dance meme. As noted earlier this year, Sage The Gemini and FiNATTiCZ scored rap hits largely thanks to Vines of women twerking to their songs, and last year Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” achieved Ice Bucket Challenge levels of everybody’s-doing-it cultural dominance. Go back a few more years and notice that “Teach Me How To Dougie” was tailor-made for Vine before Vine even existed. And if you follow the thread a little farther, you’ll see that “Hot Nigga” hearkens back to another gifted young amateur who kept it raw: Soulja Boy’s “Crank Dat (Soulja Boy)” and its accompanying dance are the clearest precursor to what we’re seeing with Shmurda. (Incidentally, Schmurda’s new #ShmoneyGram app, which allows you to “Shmurda yourself” in the same way you might “elf yourself,” is also entirely of its time.)

Five years later, Supermanning-that-ho seems like a prophetic roadmap to viral success. Yet if Soulja Boy’s breakthrough was the Big Bang for hip-hop dance memes in the YouTube era, it’s hardly the first song to ever hit big thanks to a funny dance. As long as pop music has existed, novelty dances have proliferated, from the Charleston to the Twist to the Macarena. The show that did more than any other to define the shape of American pop music, American Bandstand, was just footage of young people dancing to pop songs, i.e. that thing we watch in six-second loops on our smartphones. Just before the dawn of YouTube, Fat Joe had his biggest mainstream moment with Terror Squad’s “Lean Back” and the Rockaway — an anti-dance of sorts, and well before “viral” became a buzzword, but a viral dance craze nonetheless. The medium has evolved since then, but the content is the same. In that sense, the Shmoney Dance ensures that for all its hardscrabble tendencies, “Hot Nigga” is as pop as pop can be — and that despite Shmurda’s rightful reputation as a trailblazer, he’s a traditionalist too.

CHART WATCH

Noted Knicks fan Taylor Swift’s record-breaking 1989 did what very few #1 albums this year have pulled off: stayed #1 for a second week. In fact, the 402,000 copies 1989 sold in its second frame is more than any album sold in its first week. Swift’s nearest competition, Now 52, holds at #2 with 59,000. That means the week’s biggest debut is Bette Midler’s girl group tribute It’s The Girls, which sold 40,000 copies to enter at #3. Jason Aldean’s Old Boots, New Dirt is back up to #4 this week with just over 35,000, followed closely by another debut, Calvin Harris’ Motion, at #5 with 35,000. The next three titles are familiar to the top 10: Florida Georgia Line’s Anything Goes (#6, 30,000), Barbra Streisand’s Partners (#7, 28,000), and Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour (#8, 27,000). Brantley Gilbert’s former #2 Just As I Am shoots back up to #9 from #62 by selling 26,000, which Billboard credits to a 99-cent sale at Google Play. Rounding out the top 10 is Sam Hunt’s Montevallo with 25,000.

Swift’s “Shake It Off” stayed #1 on the Hot 100 this week too, giving her a personal best four nonconsecutive weeks on top. (Her only previous #1 hit, “We Are Never Getting Back Together” spent three nonconsecutive weeks on top in 2012.) Billboard notes that despite Swift removing her music from Spotify, she raced up the streaming charts this week due to user-generated videos featuring “Shake It Off,” particularly the viral clip that matched the song with footage of championship aerobics from 1989 (the year, not the album). Swift’s follow-up single “Blank Space” climbed to #13 this week, and that happened before the video came out. Considering the video is rapidly approaching 20,000,000 views, “Blank Space” should easily crash the top 10 next week.

As for the rest of the top 10, Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” holds at #2, and Maroon 5’s “Animals” reaches a new peak at #3, which means Tove Lo’s “Habits (Stay High)” is back down to #4. “Bang Bang,” the resilient Jessie J/Ariana Grande/Nicki Minaj hit, holds at #5. As referenced above, Shmurda’s “Hot Boy” (FKA “Hot Nigga”) reaches a new peak at #6. Largely thanks to the debut of its video, Grande and the Weeknd’s “Love Me Harder” shoots up from #24 to #7, becoming Grande’s fourth top 10 hit of the year; she’s the only artist who can claim that feat this year. Another new peak: Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” is up to #8. Finally, Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora’s “Black Widow” is down to #9, and Jeremih/YG’s “Don’t Tell ‘Em” declines to #10.

TRACK CITY

Quvenzhané Wallis – “Opportunity”
Sia and songwriting partner Greg Kurstin did the music for the new Annie remake, and “Opportunity” is one of their new original songs for the film. This footage of Quvenzhané Wallis singing it is powerful; makes me think the movie might be worth seeing for the music alone.

Lenny Kravitz – “New York City”
In which Kravitz castrates “Foxy Lady” and serenades NYC with platitudes that really make you appreciate the depth and nuance of “Welcome To New York.”

Jessie J – “Masterpiece”
Is this song specifically designed to shut up people like me and Scott Lapatine who keep wondering when Jessie J is going to admit defeat and go away? It sure seems like it.

Bastille – “Weapon” (Feat. Angel Haze)
It is possible Bastille is more fascinating than I previously believed.

Calvin Harris – “Outside” (Feat. Ellie Goulding)
When I last posted about the latest Calvin Harris/Ellie Goulding collaboration, I hedged a little bit. Now that the video’s out, I’m all in. It’s not that the domestic drama here is particularly compelling, nor Goulding kneeling in the street or Motocross bikes levitating in the sky. But the strings that were bolstering my appreciation before have completely consumed me. “Outside” laces EDM-pop with classical touches far more persuasively than most of the decent Clean Bandit album.

Mr. Probz – “Waves (Robin Schulz Mix)” (Feat. Chris Brown & T.I.)
Speaking of songs we’ve posted before, here’s a new remix of Mr. Probz’s breakthough UK hit featuring Chris Brown and T.I. designed to help push “Waves” over the top in the U.S. market. I think it will work.

Nickelback – “Got Me Runnin’ Round” (Feat. Flo Rida)
Welp, this exists.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Randy Jackson is leaving American Idol after 13 seasons. [Reuters]
  • Taylor Swift revealed her three favorite emojis. [Buzzfeed]
  • Lorde helped Jennifer Lawrence reign in a stray boob at a Hunger Games party. [Gawker]
  • Fergie has been in the studio with Rae Sremmurd. [Rolling Stone]
  • Ariana Grande said she would “literally give a limb” for her fans. [Gossip Cop]
  • Speaking of Grande, she and Jessie J are remaking Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine” under the supervision of original producer Rodney “Darkchild” Jenkins. [Grantland]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME

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