The Week In Pop

The Week In Pop: Zedd And Selena Gomez Bleed The Same Light

“I want you to know that it’s our time/ You and me bleed the same light.” That intuitive nonsense is the hook from “I Want You To Know,” the new single from German-Russian DJ-producer Zedd and Mexican-American singer-actress Selena Gomez. Zedd (born Anton Igorevich Zaslavski) is an ascendant superstar in the vein of Calvin Harris and Avicii, a young hit-maker whose monolithic neon thump functions as his voice in duets with whichever singer hops on his tracks. Gomez is a graduate of both the Disney Channel’s pop-star Hogwart’s and Harmony Korine’s artfully debauched Spring Breakers, best known in the tabloids for her doomed romance with Justin Bieber. Allegedly Zedd and Gomez are an item now, so I guess “I Want You To Know” is their “Body Party” (hopefully with a happier ending).

I can’t speak to their romantic compatibility, but musically, these two are a perfect fit. Or maybe it’s just that Gomez’s skill set is extremely malleable and Zedd’s productions are such tidal waves of sound that they sweep any singer into his world. Jezebel’s Julianne Escobedo Shepherd noted yesterday that Gomez is capable of putting her stamp on basically any kind of track, from gleaming Ellie Goulding robot pop to sub-Rihanna fake patois. She scored an inescapable #6 hit with the one-finger beckon “Come And Get It,” a single expressly designed to wipe The Wizards Of Waverly Place from memory. Yet she didn’t really hit her stride until “The Heart Wants What It Wants,” her dark, trip-hop-inflected ballad about how she hates herself for loving Bieber, the one that moved Taylor Swift to tears when Gomez debuted it at the AMAs.

“The Heart Wants What It Wants” was next-level for Gomez, her anti-“Cry Me A River.” That transcendent Timberlake/Timbaland track is in the Gomez single’s DNA, but so are traces of Juicy J’s signature “Yeah, ho!” tag and Lana Del Rey’s noir theatrics. Everybody from the Disney machine needs some defining moment to lift them from kid stuff into the grown-up arena, and though you can make a case that Gomez was already there, “The Heart Wants What It Wants” sealed the deal. (Never mind that its title calls back to a creepy Woody Allen quote; let’s just assume Gomez was citing Emily Dickinson.) She’s ready for her next phase, which apparently includes a clean break from Bieber and a burgeoning romance with Zedd, electronic pop music’s elven prince.

Her new flame’s place on the pop radio A-list was established two years ago with “Clarity,” one of the biggest and best songs of EDM’s top-40 takeover. The masterful blast of radio-ready rave music made Zedd a far bigger star than Foxes, the UK art-pop upstart who lent “Clarity” its exultant vocal. Since then he’s collaborated with Paramore’s Hayley Williams, contributed a song to the Divergent soundtrack, and, most famously, went to #4 with the Ariana Grande collab “Break Free.” He’s a serious brand name now, and though some might file away his electro-house aesthetic as faceless pop-EDM, he’s carved out a distinctive-enough space in the pop mainstream: more of a robo-clusterfuck than Harris’ signature drops, more sleekly futuristic than Avicii’s roots-rave excursions. His beats tend to sound like gorgeously engineered spacecraft that shift into warp speed at the drop, their engines overloading and threatening to disintegrate. Every singer is in danger of getting swallowed up, but those who bring even a little authority to the microphone end up sounding like space-deities.

Gomez holds her own on “I Want You To Know,” lending a genuine sense of affection to Zedd’s harmonic hall of mirrors. She sounds authentically infatuated, which is how you’re supposed to sound when you’re falling in love with your producer after a troubled relationship. Or, like the best singers (and actors), she’s able to infuse her performances with the illusion of human connection. Either way, she’s winning me over with each new track. Zedd, too, is proving to have some staying power; I can imagine a not-too-distant future when the EDM wave has crested but he’s still enough of a big deal to get his songs on the radio. I still don’t know what it means to “bleed the same light,” but even if their love doesn’t last, I’d agree that both performers are “running the same course” — onward and upward, namely.

CHART WATCH

Kelly Clarkson, star of last week’s column, tops this week’s albums chart. Piece By Piece moved 97,000 units (83,000 in sales) to become Clarkson’s third #1. Billboard notes that Clarkson joins Carrie Underwood as the only American Idol grads to notch three #1 LPs. Piece By Piece just barely edged out the Fifty Shades Of Grey soundtrack, which logged 96,000 units and climbed back to #2. Taylor Swift’s 1989 rises to #3 with 77,000 units, followed by Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late at #4 with 73,000 and Ed Sheeran’s x at #5 with 63,000.

Last week’s #1, Big Sean’s Dark Sky Paradise, falls to #6 with 58,000, a precipitous 67 percent drop. That’s followed by a couple vanilla wafers-as-albums, Maroon 5’s V (#7) and Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour (#8), each with about 50,000. Brandi Carlile’s The Firewatcher’s Daughter starts at #9 with 43,000, her best chart ranking ever. Meghan Trainor’s Title rounds out the top 10 with 38,000 units for a #10 finish.

Over on the Hot 100, the “Uptown Funk!” stranglehold continues. Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ hit has now been lodged at #1 for 10 straight weeks, so if there was any doubt that it’s this winter’s “Happy,” that’s been put to rest. Both songs logged 10 weeks on top, bringing artificial sunshine to the bleakest season of the year. (“Uptown Funk!” is better than “Happy” IMO; I still don’t mind when it comes on the radio, though I sense the rest of the world is sick of it at this point.) Billboard reports that only 29 of the 1,041 Hot 100 #1s have lasted 10 weeks; for the first 19 years of the chart, from 1958 to 1977, nobody pulled it off.

Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” follows with a rarer and stranger feat, notching its eighth straight week at #2. More fun facts from Billboard: Shania Twain’s “You’re Still The One” was stuck behind Brandy & Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine” for eight weeks in 1998, and Santana & Rob Thomas’ “Smooth” blocked Brian McKnight’s “Back At One” from the top spot for eight weeks in 1999-2000. But there are actually three instances of the same 1-2 staying put for longer. The longest 1-2 was Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Missy Elliott’s “Work It” for 10 weeks in 2002-03. And there were two previous nine-week runs at 1-2: Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” reigned over Foreigner’s “Waiting For A Girl Like You” in 1981-82, and Los Del Rio’s “Macarena (Bayside Boys Remix)” trumped Donna Lewis’ “I Love You Always Forever” for nine straight frames in 1996.

The rest of the Hot 100: Maroon 5’s “Sugar” at #3, Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” at #4, Rihanna/Kanye/Paul’s “FourFiveSeconds” at #5, Taylor Swift’s “Style” at #6, the Weeknd’s “Earned It” at #7, Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” at #8, Pitbull & Neyo’s “Time Of Our Lives” at #9, and Swift’s “Blank Space” at #10. Also, here’s a strange development: Thanks to guest spots from Dave Grohl and Chris Cornell, Zac Brown Band are making waves on the modern rock chart.

TRACK CITY

Ellie Goulding – “Take Me To Church” (Hozier Cover)
I mentioned recently that I’d enjoy Hozier’s songs more if they were presented with a different aesthetic, and I guess this is the test case. Goulding’s version of “Take Me To Church” is shimmering, minimal synthpop with finger snaps for percussion. The arrangement limits some of the song’s tidal-wave impact, but yeah, I find it less obnoxious in this context, at least until Goulding lets loose with bizarrely enunciated cries of “Amen!”

Jamie Foxx – “Pretty Young Thing” (Michael Jackson Cover)
Foxx teamed with DJ Mustard and 2 Chainz on last year’s good-not-great “Party Ain’t A Party,” and the movie star is back with rap’s reigning producer on this unconventional Michael Jackson cover. At least they did something interesting with it?

Jason Derulo – “Want To Want Me”
Unlike our first two songs, this one is not a cover, and thank God; I don’t think anybody needs Jason Derulo’s take on Cheap Trick. “Want To Want Me” is a new sound for Derulo, though; his previous hits have been sassy, brassy things, but this is synthetic.

Luke Bryan – “Spring Breakdown”
Country bro Bryan has been throwing an annual spring break concert for the past seven years, each one marked by its own commemorative EP. The last one is coming up, and “Spring Breakdown” is its extremely meta single. I didn’t know it was possible to jam this many cliches into a song, yet somehow I find Bryan’s cheese irresistible even when it makes me gag a little.

Miranda Lambert – “Little Red Wagon”
“Little Red Wagon” was the best song on Lambert’s saucy Platinum, so I’m glad it’s getting a proper promotional push. The woman has never sounded more like a boss (and she usually sounds like a boss).

Tiara Thomas – “How It Is”
I liked Thomas’ sultry New Jack Swing throwback “One Night,” which boasted the immortal lyrics “It don’t mean shit/ To a real bitch!” and “I ain’t one of those emo girls who don’t like fashion.” But I’m even more impressed by this simple, beautiful R&B ballad — just Thomas, an acoustic guitar, and a whole lotta sadness.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • After quitting Twitter last month, Iggy Azalea has quit Instagram now too and pushed back her US tour. [Stereogum]
  • John Mayer: “I was never going to wrap my Corvette around a tree. My high-speed crash was an intellectual one.” [Rolling Stone]
  • Mariah Carey signed with Epic and will be releasing a greatest hits album. [Idolator]
  • Christina Aguilera apparently is going brunette for her stint on Nashville. [People]
  • Madonna called Kanye West “the black Madonna.” [NY Daily News]

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