The Week In Pop

The Week In Pop: How OMI’s 3-Year-Old “Cheerleader” Finally Made It In America

The name Omar Samuel Pasley probably doesn’t ring any bells. Girls haven’t begun to dub themselves as their boyfriend’s “cheerleader” yet in Instagram captions. Oh, but they will. Omar — aka OMI — is the breakout Jamaican pop star behind “Cheerleader,” a three-year-old late-entry for this year’s song of the summer. The original track was co-written and co-produced primarily by OMI himself and his manager Clifton “Specialist” Dillon. Dillon is one of the most instrumental figures in Jamaican music industry. He’s groomed dancehall artists like Shabba Ranks, Patra, Alborosie, and Ky-mani Marley over the years, shaping their sounds and introducing local stars to international audiences. If “Cheerleaders”‘s current trajectory is any indication, Dillon and OMI are destined for success far beyond their native island. Initially released in Jamaica back in 2012 via Oufah — Dillon’s management/label hub — the original song became a hit in Jamaica, as well as in Hawaii. You can listen to that version here.

It wasn’t until two years later, though, in the summer of 2014, that German DJ Felix Jaehn’s rework of the track began to gain serious international momentum. OMI was signed to Ultra by the label founder and head of Sony’s electronic music division, Patrick Moxey, who heard the song in 2013 while in Canada. Moxey enlisted Jaehn, whose remix breathed new life into the original’s pop-reggae fusion. Jaehn sped it up a bit, sprinkled in some feathery trumpet and saxophone here, some lightweight conga there, and finished it off with a tinkling piano section. The original video was recut to match Jaehn’s new edit, and released in November of last year. That clip, which you can watch below, has over 150 million views to date.

By January 2015, the track was designated Sony’s “Song Of The Month” and had the full heft of a major-label promotional campaign behind it. Next, a viral video of Simon Cowell deadpanning the song emerged in late April, along with a brand new, decidedly Americanized video — more on that later. Any attention from Cowell generally helps emerging artists, but his decision to release the remix of the song in the UK via his Syco label had even more of an effect. Between Cowell’s capers and his co-sign, the song made a rapid rise in the UK a few months ago. It debuted during the week of 4/12 and hit #1 just three weeks later by the week of 5/3. That initial week of May was when the song finally hit the Hot 100 in the U.S. for the first time, and by then, it had already gone to #1 on various equivalent charts in 20 different countries.

Will “Cheerleader” have the same success in the US? It certainly seems so. The song has been slowly but steadily climbing the ranks ever since, and this week, it ascended another spot up to #3. Currently, it’s only behind dream-team Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar’s “Bad Blood” remix, and Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s reigning mediocrity-pop ballad “See You Again.” “Cheerleader” making it to #1 feels inevitable due to a number of factors, both objective (Shazam data) and subjective (its Caribbean inflections and chirpy brass snippets). The charts’ tendency to gobble up songs that mildly pull from foreign genres and mix those exotic sounds with more digestible pop elements are time-tested. They’re slower to catch on, but they eventually hit big. Such was the case for this year’s other oddball success story, Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen,” which officially came out in March of last year. “Trap Queen” has been lurking around #2 and #3 slots for several weeks this summer, and it seems likely that either that song or “Cheerleader” will knock “See You Again” off the throne. Furious 7 is almost out of theaters, right?

At this point, though, OMI has the full momentum of the corporate-pop music machine behind him. The dramatic differences between “Cheerleader”‘s first video and its new one double down on this in glaring terms. In the initial clip, OMI and his cheerleader — dark-skinned, dreaded, and fierce — rob a bank together and then drive down a freeway gleefully throwing cash in the air. The video does much to mitigate his somewhat narrow lyrics; she’s the one that drives the car, seduces the unsuspecting bank teller, and pulls off the heist. She’s dressed in a collared shirt and long pants the entire video, and she sizzles. In the original, the lyric “Mama loves you too, she thinks I made the right selection” corresponds to a mom sitting mobster-style by a blazing fire, nodding calculated approval while clutching a dalmatian across her lap. The correlation between mother-mobster of authority and clever girlfriend henchman is both powerful and hilarious. It subverts the idea that this woman who masterminded their heist is merely a cheerleader; here, she’s the quarterback.

The brand new video, viewable above, strips all of these intricacies away in favor of pure sex appeal. In this version, the locale has been moved to a stereotypical idyllic island beach setting. Let’s call the new female protagonist “caramel” with nary a dread in sight. She wears the tiniest of booty shorts and a barely-there crop-top and remains draped around OMI like a feather boa for half the video. The other half, she’s shaking her ass, sometimes in sync with two other girls identically outfitted. She’s literally a cheerleader. If this was the first video, I probably wouldn’t have blinked; it’s pretty standard pop fare. But watching the videos in succession really drives home their disparities. The gender essentialism in this new video is part of what will guarantee OMI his success. The year-old video has over 150 million views, but in 2 months the new one has garnered a third of that with approximately 45 million views.

Without the sly tension of the first video the track’s narrow lyrics are emphasized, and they leave much to be desired. As Bustle pointed out a few months ago, the apple of the narrator’s eye is a model who grants wishes on command, emerges only to support or encourage, and is constantly available whenever is most convenient for her man. Factor in the apparent nonstop hollering of countless other girls whom he’s only “not really” tempted by, and you’ve got the gist of the narrative. Actually, it follows a similar formula as Andy Grammer’s “Honey, I’m Good,” which is currently #9 and climbing.

Technically, both songs are about a relationships, but they also both focus primarily on a man denying the sexual invitations he receives while out alone, choosing to stay loyal to the good-lovin’ woman he’s got back home. The tension works beautifully; men relate to the stud who can barely fend the women off; women relate to the cherished beloved at home; and the song manages to be about flirting instead of the boring status quo that relationships, truthfully, often end up in. But it’s the flirting matched with a sense of unabated male loyalty that makes this song work. It’s a somewhat unfamiliar narrative in pop music, and the fact that there are two songs with nearly identical stories currently in the top 10 is interesting. The closest thing I can relate it to is One Direction’s “Steal My Girl,” but that song featured the woman as the object of desire, not the man — a pretty clear fan-pandering move on their part. There’s something similarly cynical about “Cheerleader and “Honey, I’m Good” too, though. These songs seem to have been built with the express purpose of stroking the egos of anyone who encounters them, suggesting a perfect self in an imperfect world, and using sex, traditional gender roles, and self-satisfaction to deliver that flattering reflection to the listener. In that respect, the game being played here is sort of a distasteful one, but if anyone is going to succeed at it, I’m glad it’s a native Jamaican with a joyful, bubbling voice — vapid lyrics, sexist new video and all.

Personally, the only cheerleader song I’ll ever use for Instagram captions is this one.

CHART WATCH

Debuting as the #1 album this week is Breaking Benjamin’s Dark Before Dawn. It’s the first chart-topping album for the band, and its 141,000 equivalent units make for one of the year’s largest first-week sales figures. Oddly enough, their first album in six years only features a single band member from previous lineups, the band’s namesake Benjamin Burnley. At #2 is R&B-leaning pop singer Tori Kelly’s debut Unbreakable Smile with 75,000 units. Kacey Musgraves earned a #3 debut, moving 60,000 units of her second major label album Pageant Material. It was such a strong week for new debuts that Taylor Swift’s unstoppable 1989 dropped from #2 to #4 at 54,000, and last week’s #1 James Taylor’s Before This World came in at the #5 slot with 50,000.

Leon Bridges debuted at #6 with his first album Coming Home tallied 42,000 units, and he topped two genre-specific charts, R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and R&B Albums. Ed Sheeran and x dropped to #7 with 35,000, and Sam Hunt’s Montevallo is just behind at #8 with 30,000. Maroon 5’s V stayed at #9 with 27,000. Rounding out the top 10 is a weird newcomer: Walt Disney Records’ Teen Beach 2 TV soundtrack, which comes in at 24,000 units.

TRACK CITY

Demi Lovato – “Cool For The Summer”
Demi Lovato kissed someone with her “body type” — and she liked it! The week after the SCOTUS orders on the legality of gay marriage is perfect time to drop a bi-curious pop song. That snarling guitar solo on the chorus doesn’t hurt, either. The whole “don’t tell your mother” line is a bit distasteful, but I guess you can’t have everything.

Maroon 5 – “This Summer’s Gonna Hurt Like A Motherfucker (Alesso Remix)”
What did Maroon 5 at their most hedonistic need? A remix from Swedish dance superstar Alesso, of course. This song hurts like a… OK, I won’t do it. But Jane probably cringes when this comes on the radio.

Jason Derulo — “Cheyenne”
First, Lorde co-signedWant To Want Me” which is currently #8 on the Hot 100. Now, “Cheyenne” a hyper-speed funk-freakout. This is almost enough to absolve him of the atrocious album title Everything Is 4.

Robin Thicke — “Morning Sun”
As Scott quipped when this dropped, Thicke is barking up a different R&B legend’s tree these days. Banal, but not bad. If you like it, buy it on iTunes; after the losses from that lawsuit, Thicke could use the $1.29.

Donald Glover — “Marry You”
Former Community star covers infectious Glee song by Bruno Mars for Magic Mike XXL. If you somehow still believe in love you will like this. The artist otherwise known as Childish Gambino is just a mediocre rapper, but his crooning is A+.

Avicii – “Broken Arrows (Feat. Zac Brown)”
EDM-Country is here. On Avicii’s forthcoming album Stories includes a collaboration with reigning fried-chicken-and-blue-jeans king Zac Brown. Will you shake your fist at the cloud or embrace the future? I’d like to point out that the Swedes already came for this pre-1861 track back in 1995. In a way, this hybrid truly is Avicii’s heritage.

Mumford & Sons – “The Wolf” Video
Mumford & Sons have a new video for one of their new rock songs. They are dressed as animals/fantasy characters and running through Bonnaroo. No wolves, though.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Katy Perry is a business, man. [Forbes]
  • Jessie J is not OK, OK?[Billboard]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME