The Week In Pop

The Week In Pop: In Praise Of Pop-Not-Rock Bands The 1975 And The Neighbourhood

“We’re not a pop band.” When frontman Matthew Healy utters those words at the outset of the 1975’s sleek, dolled-up “Girls” video, we’re to take it as a joke. He doth protest too much, we think, knowing full well what sort of luxuriantly glossy neon guitar music his band specializes in. Never mind the bollocks, nor the guitars: These guys are Britain’s foremost bubblegum manufacturers, and they are very good at what they do.

Our latest evidence of the Manchester combo’s pop prowess is “Love Me,” the first single from their upcoming second album I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it. Even more so than “Girls,” “Love Me” carries the torch for INXS, expertly mimicking the funky new wave of “Need You Tonight” with a lot more self-awareness and a little less bite. (Between these guys, Deerhunter, and Tame Impala, INXS are having a huge year.) But as you might surmise from their album title, the song is also supposed to be, like, deep. How’s this for a pre-chorus: “We’ve just come to represent a decline in the standards of what we accept!” The gaudy and salacious “Love Me” video premiered this week, and it too is intended as satire. Per a press release, “the video’s deliberately post-ironic self-indulgent performance parodies rock and roll in the digital age and the self-constructed mythology of the iPhone generation.” This involves lots of cardboard cutouts and hot tub sexploits and Healy doing his best Brandon Boyd impression.

Coming from a band crazy huge enough in the UK to land a #1 album and open for the Rolling Stones, the drive to say something with their platform is admirable, but it’s definitely jarring considering the group’s calling card up until now has been charming state-of-the-art ditties about young love. Thankfully, the shift towards topicality doesn’t involve compromising their pleasure-center instincts. Their debut album excelled at low-stakes, high-reward music that reminded me of It’s Never Been Like That-era Phoenix as re-imagined by Simon Cowell. Even the transcendent “Chocolate,” a Bonnie & Clyde story about two robbers with “guns hidden under our petticoats,” hits with all the danger of an ABC Family drama. Sonically, though, it’s a work of impeccable pop craftsmanship and gleaming production that makes me feel like I’m a kid at a waterpark in the age of Crystal Pepsi.

That sense of nostalgia is not coincidental. The 1975 are a throwback to a certain breed of band we haven’t seen hit it big since the early ’90s. They specialize in pretty pop songs with clean guitars and friendly rhythms, chipper and outgoing music that tinged with melancholy at its soft edges. They’re far from a boy band but definitely a pretty boy band. They shamelessly embrace their identity as a pop band, and they’re all the better for it.

Whereas most guitar-oriented groups in the pop sphere keep one foot in rock — think Warped-core titans Fall Out Boy or Hot Topic pinups 5 Seconds Of Summer — the 1975 are not trying to convince you that they rock. Grantland’s Steven Hyden recently wrote that “in another era, 5SOS would’ve made a very good hair metal band.” In that same era, the 1975 would be peers with the aforementioned INXS and Duran Duran.

Over here in America, we’ve produced another kind of unabashed pop band, one with distinct charms of its own. That “u” in the Neighbourhood’s name might trick you into thinking they’re Brits too, as would an occasionally snotty vocal presence that reminds me of Richard Ashcroft or Alex Turner. In fact they hail from the Los Angeles suburb Newbury Park. Like the 1975, these handsome young white men with tattoos play guilelessly catchy guitar songs. But whereas the 1975 feel like a welcome visitor from another era, the Neighbourhood are a distinctly modern entity. They sometimes abbreviate as NBHD. Their music is downcast and bleary-eyed, fleeced with static and heavy traces of hip-hop, R&B, and atmospheric electronica. They even released a mixtape last year with guest verses from YG, DeJ Loaf, and Danny Brown; the single was “#icanteven” featuring French Montana.

Before you run screaming at the prospect of some godawful Crazytown monstrosity, what if I told you they had more in common with Frank Ocean, Miguel, and the Weeknd? Wiped Out!, the album the Neighbourhood unveil tomorrow, feels like a close cousin to WILDHEART or Beauty Behind The Madness, so deftly does it navigate the seams between genres and the dark back alleys of the soul. And when Jesse Rutherford emotes over arpeggios, his reverence for Ocean could not be more clear. No one is going to mistake Rutherford for any of those visionaries, but Wiped Out! deserves props for actually pulling off the dysfunctional suburban California noir aesthetic they unsuccessfully aimed for on 2013 debut I Love You.

It’s a fascinating sound, partially because for all the band’s stylish urban trappings, they still present as White Dudes With Guitars. As a result, even though they’re much more a product of their times than the 1975, it’s even less clear where they fit into the modern musical landscape. But both bands obviously fit somewhere, maybe even together to some extent. They toured together in 2013, and their modestly successful US chart placements are almost identical (#25 for I Love You, #28 for The 1975). Although they’ve yet to achieve their brazenly commercial ambitions, they are carving out some kind place for themselves, and I’ll take either of them over Imagine Dragons any day.

CHART WATCH

Two huge upsets atop the charts this week! First, Drake’s “Hotline Bling” fails to surpass the Weeknd’s “The Hills” atop the Hot 100, likely because Apple Music doesn’t report video streaming numbers to Nielsen. Sad for Drake! And with Adele’s “Hello” vaporizing all other songs within earshot, it seems poor Drizzy will remain without a coveted #1 single. Maybe he’ll start acting like his feature on Rihanna’s #1 “What’s My Name” counts after all? Elsewhere in the top 10, Shawn Mendes’ “Stitches” and Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” reach new peaks at #4 and #5 respectively. Fuse TV’s Jason Lipshutz points out that Silento’s #9 “Watch Me” has been going strong in the top 10 for a solid four months, which is impressive. And One Direction’s “Perfect” enters at #10, which Billboard notes is the group’s fifth top-10 debut. (1D also had a non-album song called “Home” debut at #97 this week.)

The other upset is maybe not so surprising given that people really, really love Pentatonix. Still, I didn’t expect the a cappella group to outsell Demi Lovato’s Confident. The margin was extremely narrow: Billboard credits Pentatonix with “slightly more than 98,000 equivalent album units,” while Confident nabbed 98,000 — and it turns out Pentatonix owe their margin of victory to Cracker Barrel. In terms of pure sales, though, Pentatonix easily defeated Lovato 88,000 to 77,000. It’s the group’s first #1 album but fifth top-10 debut following a slew of successful EPs and/or Christmas collections. Confident, meanwhile, is Lovato’s fifth straight top-5 debut, so she at least can claim that small victory.

Other top-10 debuts include Machine Gun Kelly’s General Admission (#4, 56,000), the Game’s The Documentary 2.5 (#6, 48,000), and Coheed And Cambria’s The Color Before The Sun (#10, 32,000). But overshadowing those releases is Swift, whose #9 1989 completes a full year in the top 10. As previously reported, only four other albums can claim that distinction: Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A., Celine Dion’s Falling Into You, and Adele’s 21.

TRACK CITY

Adele – “Hello”
“Hello” takes no risks, and that should make it dull, but it doesn’t. It’s exactly the kind of tearjerking MOR ballad Adele’s voice was surgically repaired to obliterate, and hearing her do so is exhilarating. Bring on 25! (Also, this gave a lot of people the same meme idea, including Lionel Richie himself.)

Kelly Rowland – “Dumb”
“Dumb” is Rowland’s blatant attempt to mimic her Destiny’s Child associate Beyoncé’s “7/11,” only with Mustardwave bounce synths and glassy keyboard sounds. But you know what? Ripoff or not, it’s fucking awesome. The chorus sounds like bells — a little throwback to “Bills, Bills, Bills”? — and the production is insane.

Alessia Cara – “Wild Things”
Cara’s soulful introvert anthem “Here” gained her fame and acclaim because it struck a chord. The played-out rebellion talk of “Wild Things” is a lot less distinctive, and its hook is far less memorable.

The Chainsmokers – “New York City”
I advocated very strongly against the Chainsmokers’ gimmicky, attention-grabbing “#SELFIE” and very strongly in favor of their genius minimal synthpop jam “Roses.” Their latest, “New York City,” falls in that in-between zone where “Kanye” and “Waterbed” resided; it’s a well-done electropop song, but it doesn’t take my breath away like “Roses,” a song that turned big-drop EDM inside out. Still, “Roses” was so good that I’ll give anything by the Chainsmokers a chance from now on, and you should too.

Charlie Puth – “One Call Away (Remix)” (Feat. Tyga)
Man, public enemies #1 and 2 right here.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Rihanna’s former publicist admitted to circulating a false rumor that Jay Z cheated on Beyoncé with Rih. [NY Daily News]
  • In true Rihanna news, she has a big part in the new Luc Besson movie. [Twitter]
  • Demi Lovato kicked Adam Lambert off her tour to make room for Nick Jonas. [TMZ]
  • Katy Perry campaigned for Hillary Clinton in Iowa. [The Daily Mail]
  • Nick Cannon says Chris Brown is like Michael Jackson and 2Pac rolled into one. [Complex]
  • Macklemore probably did not find this blinged-out pear at the thrift shop, unless Rick Ross sold it. [Instagram]
  • Adele announced a BBC special. [BBC]
  • The Weeknd is not eligible for Best New Artist at the Grammys because he was featured on a nominated Wiz Khalifa song. [Fuse]
  • Blake Shelton and Vanilla Ice are in Adam Sandler’s controversial new Western. [YouTube]
  • Kacey Musgraves became the 1st country act to headline the Apollo. [Vulture]
  • Carrie Underwood is playing Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve With Ryan Seacrest. [ABC]
  • Chvrches will perform on next year’s Paramore cruise. [Parahoy]
  • Justin Bieber revealed the Purpose tracklist, including a song with Halsey, via graffiti. [Popcrush]
  • Bieber also walked out on a Spanish interview. [Billboard]
  • And Bieber stormed off the stage in Oslo. [The Daily Mail]
  • The next AMEX Unstaged concert is Ellie Goulding in NYC directed by Scarlett Johansson. [YouTube]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME