Pray for America. In the early weeks of 2016, a disturbing development has come to pass that exposes some dark truths about the US population. A figure from this country’s past, one who represents our culture’s basest instincts and poorest taste, has somehow bounced back from relative obscurity and risen to a new level of prominence. Once laughed off as a punchline with a bad haircut, this figure has exhibited a startling endurance on the national stage. He swaggers through life with a boorish self-confidence, and a discouragingly large subset of the people are buying what he’s selling. It seemed like a joke at first, but it’s not funny anymore. For the sake of the children, this person must be stopped.
Donald Trump? Sure, yeah, stop him too. I’m talking about Brendon Urie, the Las Vegas musician whose band Panic! At The Disco just earned their first #1 album, by a wide margin, by delivering “this mix between Sinatra and Queen, if that makes any sense.” It does not, and neither does this: 190,000 equivalent units and 169,000 in pure sales means Death Of A Bachelor was not just a fluke #1 on a slow week. These MySpace-era survivors, the junior varsity version of Fall Out Boy, are legitimately popular. Just look at how many people came out to see them play Kimmel’s outdoor stage earlier this week:
It’s easy to trick yourself into believing America is entering a new golden age of good taste with regard to rock music. David Bowie’s bizarre final album debuted at #1. Public mockery of both Creed and Nickelback has become standard practice. Have we as a society taken steps toward a superior aesthetic? Don’t buy it — and for God’s sake, don’t buy Death Of A Bachelor. This thing is wretched, and its massive popularity suggests the American people still have a hearty appetite for empty bombast.
This latest iteration of Panic! At The Disco sounds like Times Square looks, a million disparate moving pieces and flashing lights piling up to infinity. It is Michael Bay’s Transformers starring Brandon Flowers’ Frank Sinatra impression. It is Muse, Justice, and the Bryan Setzer Orchestra playing an especially violent game of King Of The Mountain. It is the musical equivalent of SNL’s “Taco Town” short, the faux fast food commercial in which a hardshell taco is wrapped in a flour tortilla and refried beans, then that’s wrapped in a corn tortilla with cheese sauce, then that’s wrapped in a deep-fried gordita shell with “guacamolito sauce,” all of which is baked in a corn husk filled with pico de gallo, wrapped in a savory Parisian breakfast crepe, rolled up in a Chicago-style deep-dish meat lovers pizza and then a blueberry pancake, dipped in batter and deep-fried, then served up in a commemorative tote bag filled with spicy vegetarian chili. Only in this case the ingredients are “Champagne, cocaine, gasoline/ And most things in between.”
To Urie’s credit, he’s got this kind of clenched-sphincter maximalism down to a science. Just about any Death Of A Bachelor track could work as a single and/or new millennial jock jam. They all have that same overstuffed, super-compressed, ultra-hooky quality that seems to be the only way a rock band can get on pop radio these days — that sense of someone shouting in your face while beating you over the head with their cleverness in one hand and several hundred ProTools tracks in the other. Panic! At The Disco’s peers Fall Out Boy famously sang “This ain’t a scene, it’s a goddamn arms race,” and the two bands really do seem to be competing to see who can pile on more sonic artillery. Both acts end up with massive, metallic tracks, not songs so much as Pacific Rim robots. Urie isn’t so far off when he posits, in that smug and overwrought style unique to bands of this vintage, “If crazy equals genius, then I’m a fucking arsonist, I’m a rocket scientist.”
The whole ordeal might even be impressive if it didn’t seem so desperate to impress. The music strains with every ounce to convince you of its ingenuity. The lyrics wink with the weight of a million overblown egos. The exclamation point! Panic! At The Disco’s tryhard blowhard qualities are nothing new, of course — this is the band that wrote a song called “There’s A Good Reason These Tables Are Numbered Honey, You Just Haven’t Thought Of It Yet” — but now that they’re back and bigger than ever, the threat they pose to this country cannot be ignored. We must band together and take a stand before it’s too late. Say “No!” to Panic! At The Disco.
Although Panic! At The Disco’s #1 album is a real eyebrow-raiser, the biggest chart news this week belongs to Justin Bieber. With “Sorry” spending a third straight week at #1 and “Love Yourself” rising to #2, the Biebs becomes the 17th artist in Hot 100 history to hold down the chart’s top two spots and only the 11th to do so as the lead artist on both songs. (Iggy Azalea, for instance, did it with her own “Fancy” and Ariana Grande’s “Problem” in 2014.) The fact that the Weeknd pulled off this feat just four months ago with “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills” should not diminish the rarity of Bieber’s achievement. Per Billboard, here are the other nine acts in reverse chronological order: the Black Eyed Peas (2009), T.I. (2008); Akon (2006), Mariah Carey (2005), Usher (2004), OutKast (2004), Nelly (2002), the Bee Gees (1978) and the Beatles (1964).
It’s quite possible “Sorry” and “Love Yourself” could switch places next week, giving Bieber three #1 singles on Purpose. Meanwhile, the album’s first #1 “What Do You Mean?” holds strong at #10 this week, giving it a record-tying 21 consecutive weeks in the top 10. Only Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” (2012) and Maroon 5’s “Sugar” (2015) have debuted in the top 10 and stuck around that long.
Other big Hot 100 movers: Alessia Cara’s “Here” ascends to a new peak of #5, continuing its slow, steady rise. And speaking of slow-burn hits, the Chainsmokers’ tremendous Rozes collaboration “Roses” finally hits the top 10 this week, jumping from #11 to #8. Also per Billboard, the Chainsmokers’ track is now the highest-charting song called “Roses” in Hot 100 history, topping Outkast’s 2004 #9 hit of the same name.
Back to the Billboard 200: Besides P!ATD’s chart-topping debut, the only other new entry in the top 10 is Kidz Bop 31 at #6 with 45,000 units. Adele holds strong at #2 with 145,000 units, a figure that would be good for #1 on many weeks. Bowie’s Blackstar falls to #4 (sandwiched between Bieber and Twenty One Pilots, what a world).
Rihanna – “Work” (Feat. Drake)
“Work” is inferior to Rihanna’s previous Drake collabs “What’s My Name?” (a contender for the best Rihanna song) and “Take Care” (a contender for the best Drake song). But it’s still two of pop’s most reliable hitmakers going in over a brisk, minimal beat that somehow finds adrenaline in the space between dancehall and Radiohead’s computer-blip fantasia “Worrywort,” so I am pretty OK with it.
Charlie Puth – “We Don’t Talk Anymore” (Feat. Selena Gomez)
Why you gotta do this to me, Selena?
Steven Tyler – “Red, White & You”
I want Tyler’s plunge into mainstream country to be more colorfully outrageous, but really it’s just sad and mundane. Not a single “Ohhhh yeeeaaaahhhhhh!” in this track.
Jess Glynne – “Ain’t Got Far To Go”
The girl from Clean Bandit’s great “Rather Be” finally has a killer single to call her own.
Grace Mitchell – “White Iverson” (Post Malone Cover)
“White Iverson” has already generated almost as many thinkpieces as radio spins, both for its alleged minstrel-show qualities and videos that surfaced of Post Malone using the N-word. Now here’s a cover by Weeknd-loving pop upstart Mitchell, which, OK. Either way, it’s one of the catchiest chillwave-rap singles in recent memory.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Zayn Malik’s debut solo album is called Mind Of Mine, and lead single “Pillowtalk” is out Friday. [Billboard]
- Charli XCX will finish recording her new album next week. [Twitter]
- Mariah Carey is engaged. [Daily Mail]
- Miley Cyrus is (re-)engaged, too. [E!]
- John Legend and Juanes performed at Eloy Detention Center as part of a campaign to call for an overhaul of immigrant detention. [YouTube]
- Here’s the trailer for Hailee Steinfeld’s new movie Term Life, which co-stars Vince Vaughn. [YouTube]
- Demi Lovato campaigned for Hillary Clinton in Iowa. [YouTube]
- Ariana Grande got spanked by Madonna at her Miami tour stop. [Glamour]
- Some Redditor’s grandma looks kinda like Taylor Swift. [Us]
- Macklemore talked to Rolling Stone about his controversial “White Privilege II. [Rolling Stone]
- Kesha sang “Amazing Grace.” [Jezebel]
- Before his untimely death, Wiz Khalifa freestyled a stoner version of Adele’s “Hello.” [YouTube]
- Duets announced for next month’s Grammy ceremony include including James Bay and Tori Kelly, Andra Day and Ellie Goulding, and Sam Hunt with Carrie Underwood. [Grammys]
- Diplo invested in Arizona United Soccer Club. [Arizona United]
- J. Cole released a surprise live album for his birthday. [Twitter]
- 1D’s Louis Tomlinson is a dad and the kid’s name is Freddie Reign. [TMZ]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
— CNN (@CNN) January 23, 2016