The Week In Pop

Elle King Is Swaggering Out Of Her Father’s Shadow

When you’re related to a celebrity, it’s easy to get attention but hard to earn respect. So when Elle King shared her “Ex’s & Oh’s” video last May — after initially releasing the song way back in September 2014 — I barely even processed the music. The only thing I could think was, “Rob Schneider’s daughter is trying to be a pop star. Huh.” Never mind that King was slinging an unconventional sound (by 2015 pop standards), or that her single boasted one of the most unshakeable hooks of the year, or that referring to old flames and flings as “Ex’s” and “Oh’s” respectively was really quite clever, or that her performance in the video was bursting with personality. That’s the breaks. Legacy invites scrutiny, especially when a bit part in Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo is your legacy.

We can all probably forget about King’s father and start talking about her on her own terms now. “Ex’s & Oh’s” has slowly but surely taken over three radio formats, it went platinum, it cracked the Billboard top 10 last month, and this week it earned two Grammy nominations. The song’s blooze-pop stylings grate against my personal taste, but via forced exposure King has been winning me over one smoky rasp at a time. The winking wordplay, the shuffling drums, the swaggering overdriven lead guitar — it all works. So does the video’s willfully trashy trailer-park desert sunbathing party, a smart visual representation of King’s sound. And while she may yet turn out to be a one-hit wonder, the rest of her album Love Stuff seems primed to keep her on the radio throughout 2016.

King, born Tanner Elle Schneider, doesn’t sound original exactly so much as fresh, alive, and completely self-possessed. Her music mostly exists at some amorphous intersection of blues, country, rock, soul, and big-budget pop — notably, “Ex’s & Oh’s” gained its nominations in the Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song categories — and she sings about such time-honored topics as bad men, worse behavior, and bouncing back from both. Although plenty of musicians have been working in a similar sonic space for decades, rarely does music of that ilk seep into a top-40 radio environment currently ruled by electronics, hip-hop, and MOR balladry. Girls with guitars don’t usually make headway in the pop mainstream these days, and the last one who did apparently felt the need to set her instrument aside.

Usually when rootsy/bluesy/twangy stuff does break through, it’s grafted to some of those more synthetic genres, often in the form of admittedly gauche hybrid hits like Sam Hunt’s “Take Your Time” or Florida Georgia Line and Nelly’s “Cruise” or David Guetta, Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rexha, and Afrojack’s “Hey Mama.” Love Stuff mostly pulls off a subtler version of the same trick: It all scans as pretty straightforward pop-rock, but underneath the shiny surface there’s a lot going on — stomping Led Zeppelin homage, swooning ukulele ditties, some Lana Del Rey, some Amy Winehouse, a lot of Janis Joplin and Kesha. Despite the skeezy bad-girl image King seems to be aiming for, her album is actually quite tasteful and inoffensive for the most part. Her songwriting is strictly classicist, and uber-producers like Jeff Bhasker and Dave Bassett make sure her biting persona always goes down with a chaser.

That said, there is one song on Love Stuff that embraces mad-scientist maximalist cheese, and it’s probably King’s best chance at landing a second smash hit. “America’s Sweetheart” crossbreeds rootin’-tootin’ EDM a la Avicii and Aloe Blacc’s monogenre monstrosity “Wake Me Up” with euphoric synthpop in the vein of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” Brisk banjo fingerplucking and a relentless post-Mumford kickdrum coexist with a pleasure-center keyboard surge and flute trills, layers upon layers of sound piling up into what should be the most egregious, unlistenable mess of 2015. But like “Ex’s & Oh’s,” “America’s Sweetheart” just works. And unlike “Ex’s & Oh’s,” I unabashedly love it. “What do you want from me?” King sings. “I’m not America’s sweetheart, but you love me anyway.” That about sums it up.

Adele
CREDIT: Alasdair McLellan

CHART WATCH

Adele continued to run the charts this week and made more history in the process. After selling a record-demolishing 3.38 million copies in its first week, 25 became the first album in the SoundScan era (since 1991) to sell a million copies in multiple weeks, moving 1.11 million units on its way to an easy second week on top of the Billboard 200. As Billboard points out, 25 was already the bestselling album of 2015 after less than a week on sale, and now it’s the bestselling album in any year since Adele’s previous album, 21, sold 5.8 million copies in 2011. Also, its 4.49 million two-week total accounts for 30 percent of all US album purchases during that period. And after its third week on sale, which ends today and will be reflected in next week’s chart, 25 has surpassed 5 million. Adele Adele. Adele Adele Adele.

Most of the rest of the top 10 albums comprise Adele’s fellow superstar mainstays: Justin Bieber, Pentatonix, One Direction, Swift, the Weeknd, Carrie Underwood, Fetty Wap, Michael Bublé, and the Now 56 compilation. No top-10 debuts this week.

Over on the Hot 100: More Adele! “Hello” holds on to #1 for the sixth straight week, topping a singles top 10 that is almost as stagnant as the upper reaches of the albums chart. Hits by Bieber (x2), Drake, the Weeknd, Shawn Mendes, Alessia Cara, and Meghan Trainor/John Legend return with only minimal shuffling. The only new arrival in the upper tier is Selena Gomez’s long-climbing banger “Same Old Love,” up to #10. Congrats to Bieber for holding down the top two spots on Spotify (“Sorry” and “Love Yourself”) during this period of Adele domination, though.

Probably the most notable singles-related stat this week, via Billboard: The Weeknd has had a top-10 hit for 42 straight weeks, tying Santana (1999-2000) and Mariah Carey (1995-96) for the third-longest streak of all time. In case you’re wondering, Ace Of Base (48 weeks, 1993-94) and Katy Perry (69 weeks, 2010-11) are the only longer streaks. Given that the Weeknd’s “In The Night” is on the rise (#40 this week) and its video just dropped, Ace Of Base’s #2 spot seems well within Abel Tesfaye’s grasp; even if “In The Night” doesn’t climb like I suspect it will, the “The Hills” may well linger in the top 10 another seven weeks.

POP FIVE

Foster The People – “The Unforeseeable Fate Of Mr. Jones”
I once accused Foster The People of ripping off MGMT, but whatever they lifted from those guys doesn’t compare to the wholesale thievery on display here. This is basically the Christmas card version of Radiohead’s “Jigsaw Falling Into Place.” I kinda sorta like it, though, the same way I liked Muse’s “Muscle Museum.”

LunchMoney Lewis – “Ain’t Too Cool”
This guy is a national treasure.

Christina Milian – “Rebel”
“Rebel” is kind of a chillwave R&B song, and it sounds like the writers had someone like Jhene Aiko in mind, but Milian does nice work with it.

Allie X – “Sanctuary”
If Allie X’s career never gains traction beyond the mellifluous praise of pop bloggers and Katy Perry, I’m guessing she’s going to have a killer career as an industry songwriter. “Sanctuary” slays.

3OH!3 – “My Dick”
Stop overcompensating.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Allison Williams ranked the tracks on Adele’s 25 for BJ Novak’s The List app. [The List]
  • After a delay, Coldplay’s new album is coming to Spotify on Friday. [Yahoo]
  • Robin Thicke and Pharrell are appealing the “Blurred Lines” decision. [EW]
  • CeeLo appeared on Steve Harvey this week and said his drug case was “blown out of proportion.” [The Wrap]
  • Beyoncé is taking acting classes and “looking for an iconic dramatic role.” [Us]
  • Lindsay Lohan made a surprise appearance on stage with Duran Duran. [EW]
  • Four of the five most retweeted tweets of 2015 were by members of One Direction. (The other was by Obama.) [Twitter]
  • Ed Sheeran is having ear surgery next month because he “stupidly jumped off a yacht really high up and smashed it.” [Contact]
  • Charlie Puth previewed his new song with Selena Gomez; why, Selena, why?! [Instagram]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME

HOLD ON, WE’RE STILL GOING HOME