Corny Pop-Rap Will Never Die
Macklemore flopped. We won’t have official figures until a few days from now, but This Unruly Mess I’ve Made is only projected to sell about 50,000 copies in its first week — probably good for a top-5 debut, yet hardly the triumphant return Ben Haggerty and Ryan Lewis were probably hoping for. By contrast, most superstars top 100K in their first week, the biggest stars surpass 500K, and unstoppable monoliths like Adele and Taylor Swift soar into the millions. I thought Macklemore and Lewis were heading in that direction, but it seems their playful larks and stabs at social consciousness aren’t moving the needle like they used to.
The advance singles from Unruly Mess haven’t connected at radio like “Thrift Shop,” “Can’t Hold Us,” and “Same Love” did. Ever since Run DMC and Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” pop radio has always had a place for fun and/or sanitized rap music. The idea has always been to create super-catchy, upbeat music that’s not remotely threatening, the musical equivalent of a wealthy neighborhood walled off from the ghetto. Sometimes a song manages to sneak across that invisible line by virtue of sheer jubilance, like Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” did last year, at which point it gives America’s rich white kids a chance to joke around about the “thug life.”
Much to their ambivalence, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have been one of the leading examples of that phenomenon in recent years, running neck and neck with Iggy Azalea. But judging by how this album cycle has gone so far, they may be receding from the mainstream spotlight back into lucrative cult stardom. Some of the same people who casually enjoyed Macklemore’s prior mega-hits might not even know “Downtown” exists, and “White Privilege II” certainly isn’t about to set the airwaves ablaze. Their career is hardly falling apart, we’re just getting to the point where we can ignore them if we so choose.
Does that mean pop radio is safe from corny, suburban pop-rap? Hardly. At #3 on this week’s Hot 100 singles chart is the #2-peaking “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots, which, regardless of whatever hometown pride I feel towards the duo, is definitely corny, suburban pop-rap. The duo’s ambitious genre cocktail makes for an undeniably white permutation of hip-hop — always a bonus where top-40 radio airplay is concerned — and its precocious platitudes about people-pleasing are directed squarely at an adolescent audience. Furthermore, although there are shades of Limp Bizkit and other late-’90s rap-rock hybrids in the mix, how many rappers in any subgenre sling hooks about wishing they could go back to having their mothers sing them to sleep?
Twenty One Pilots may well have taken over Macklemore’s designated white rapper spot on radio playlists — and frankly, I’d consider that a positive given the former’s penchant for wrangling willfully bizarre experimentation into easily digestible pop framework. They might grate on you, but at least they’re doing something interesting, you know? (Grimes gets it.) Whereas G-Eazy, the other apparent heir to Macklemore’s throne, Mackles almost as much as the original yet without most of the more interesting components.
G-Eazy is a Bay Area white guy who, like Macklemore, rose to prominence by building a massive grassroots audience before finally impacting radio years later. His biggest hit to date is “Me, Myself & I,” a collaboration with suddenly inescapable hook singer Bebe Rexha that rises to #7 on this week’s Hot 100. The song demonstrates an aesthetic critic Al Shipley smartly described as Diet Drake, though G-Eazy has also dabbled in “Diet Future and Diet 2 Chainz among other fizzy, low-calorie MC imitations. He dresses like Yelawolf got a makeover from Deafheaven’s George Clarke and raps like Wiz Khalifa doing his best Eminem impression. Far more than Macklemore, he’s this generation’s closest thing to Vanilla Ice. Expect to see a lot more of him this album cycle.
By now you might be getting the impression that pop-rap is a uniformly caucasian industry, but that’s not exactly correct. Certainly the music targets a white audience, often by pairing a black rapper with a white singer or vice versa: consider Wiz Khalifa Feat. Charlie Puth, Eminem Feat. Rihanna (x2), or pre-flat earth B.o.B. Feat. Hayley Williams. In the case of Ne-Yo and Pitbull, a black/Latino partnership has even proven to do the trick. And if there’s one artist who we could rightfully proclaim the face of corny pop-rap, well, he’s actually a black guy.
Flo Rida has been ruling pop radio for nine years now, which is nine years too long. Ever since 2007, when “Low” became the preferred rap song of people who don’t like rap, the man born Tramar Lacel Dillard has been one of pop’s most reliable hip-hop hit-makers. His top-10 singles since then are legion: “In The Ayer,” “Right Round,” “Sugar,” “Club Can’t Handle Me,” “Good Feeling,” “Wild Ones,” “Whistle,” “I Cry,” “G.D.F.R.” You may not recognize every title, but you’ve definitely hated yourself for absentmindedly singing along. The guy has been richly rewarded for barreling headfirst into lowest-common-denominator party jams.
The latest of these is “My House,” the #5 song in the nation this week. It’s a typically hooky, danceable sing-song that only barely passes for rap music. He’ll probably soon have another top-10 smash now that he’s teamed up with his competently mediocre peer Jason Derulo on “Hello Friday.” Like most of Flo Rida’s singles, these songs are nothing more than flavorless synthetic food jacked up with endless amounts of seasoning, and like most of Flo Rida’s singles, people are eating them up. There may be no accounting for taste, but you can always account for lack of taste — just ask Flo Rida’s accountant!
Somehow, Adele’s 25 is still #1. With another 100,000 equivalent units last week (81,000 in pure sales), the album logs its 10th nonconsecutive week on top. Billboard notes that 25 is one of five albums released since 2000 to spend 10 weeks at #1: “It follows Taylor Swift’s 1989 (released in 2014, 11 weeks at No. 1), the Frozen soundtrack (2013, 13 weeks), Adele’s 21 (2011, 24 weeks) and Swift’s Fearless (2008, 11 weeks).” So two of the 10-week #1s are by Adele, two are by Taylor Swift, and the other is a Disney soundtrack.
After Rihanna and Justin Bieber comes the week’s highest debut, Yo Gotti’s “Down In The DM”-powered The Art Of Hustle, at #4 with 61,000 units (45,000 in pure album sales). Otherwise, it’s a slow week on the albums chart, with longstanding titles from Chris Stapleton, the Weeknd, Twenty One Pilots, Joey + Rory, Kevin Gates, and Bryson Tiller filling out the top 10.
Rihanna and Drake’s “Work” tops the Hot 100 singles chart for a second week in the wake of its double-video premiere last Monday. Numbers 2-6 hold steady too: Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself,” Twenty One Pilots’ “Stressed Out,” Bieber’s “Sorry” at #4, Flo Rida’s “My House” at #5, and ZAYN’s “Pillowtalk” at #6. As noted above, G-Eazy and Bebe Rexha reach a new peak with “Me, Myself, & I” at #7. Adele’s “Hello” slides to a pitiful #8 (why even bother charting, really?), while DNCE’s “Cake By The Ocean” climbs a spot to #9. And rounding out the top 10 is the Chainsmokers and Rozes’ “Roses,” which I continue to love.
DNCE – “Work” (Rihanna & Drake Cover)
DNCE is Joe Jonas’ new band, and they really ought to brush up on this piece by Noisey’s Craig Jenkins.
Fifth Harmony – “Work From Home” (Feat. Ty Dolla $ign)
Is Ty$ the most in-demand collaborator in pop? Either way, he really put his stamp on this new Fifth Harmony track, and for that I am extremely thankful.
Halsey – “Colors”
I don’t even care that this is just a synthpop remake of Taylor Swift’s “Red’ — I like it!
Zedd & Aloe Blacc – “Candyman”
Is this pop’s bleak dystopian future? No, not just the combination of Zedd and Aloe Blacc, though that’s despair-inducing in its own right. I’m referring to the fact that “Candyman” is a 3:20 M&M’s commercial disguised as a mediocre pop song.
Hailee Steinfeld – “Rock Bottom” (Feat. DNCE)
Double the DNCE this week! Sorry, that phrase doesn’t really merit an exclamation point. Neither does “Rock Bottom,” which has a more appropriate title than its writers might have realized. And I had such high hopes for Ms. Steinfeld!
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Here’s Taylor Swift’s maid of honor speech at her friend’s wedding. [HuffPo]
- Here’s Carly Rae Jepsen singing the Fuller House theme song on Ryan Seacrest’s radio show. [YouTube]
- Snoop Dogg’s lawsuit against PBR (long story) will go to trial this fall. [THR]
- Michael Jackson’s estate is suing a popcorn website that’s using the name King Of Pop. [TMZ]
- Kelly Clarkson made an emotional return to American Idol. [YouTube]
- Mariah Carey got wheeled around Caesars Palace because her fabulous shoes were very uncomfortable. [Instagram]
- The girl who played Curly Sue in the ’90s movie Curly Sue auditioned for The Voice and wowed all the judges. [Facebook]
- Lady Gaga joined Elton John at a surprise pre-Oscars concert in LA. [People]
- Adele turned down a spot on the new Macklemore & Ryan Lewis album. [NY Times]
- Upcoming episodes of CMT Crossroads include Jason Derulo & Luke Bryan, Cheap Trick & Jennifer Nettles, Rob Thomas & Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley, and Nick Jonas & Thomas Rhett. [Yahoo]
- Nicole Scherzinger will co-star in ABC’s Dirty Dancing remake. [THR]
- Current V magazine cover star Britney Spears will apparently share new music “any day now.” [WWD]
- Ariana Grande is teasing the title track of Dangerous Woman, which she’ll perform on SNL 3/12. [DangerousWoman.com]
- A New York State Supreme Court judge is urging Madonna and Guy Ritchie to resolve the custody dispute over their 15-year-old son, Rocco, who is stressed about the case. [ABC]
- A Hillary Clinton benefit concert in NYC last night featured Elton John and Katy Perry, who attended with her new boyfriend Orlando Bloom. [Gawker]
- Fetty Wap met the young boy who he inspired to stop wearing a prosthetic eye. [Instagram]
- The teenage son of Backstreet Boys’ Brian Littrell is making his Broadway debut. [ABC]
- Iggy Azalea regrets fighting with Papa John’s on Twitter last year. She still hates Azealia Banks, though. [Elle]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
— Aaron Carter (@aaroncarter) February 27, 2016