The Week In Pop

Hey! People Still Like The Lumineers

The year was 2012. Mumford & Sons, whose slow-burn 2009 blockbuster Sigh No More was still selling like crazy, released a sophomore full-length called Babel and basically took over the world. Slinging passionately howled, foot-stomping acoustic anthems and dressed in old-timey garb, they became one of those bands so pervasive and so polarizing that among music snobs, admitting you liked them required a lengthy defense. The Mumford sound — a streamlined composite of Fleet Foxes’ woodsy folk-rock, the Avett Brothers’ untamed roots-rock, and the Decemberists’ bookish cosplay, among other ancestors — so completely infiltrated the pop mainstream that even American Idol winner Phillip Phillips ended up copying it.

In the midst of all this emerged a group from Denver called the Lumineers. On the strength of their massively successful, #3-peaking single “Ho Hey,” they became the Scottie Pippen to Mumford & Sons’ Michael Jordan, the band destined to always be rattled off second whenever this period of music history is revisited. They toured and toured, building steam behind their self-titled debut album and follow-up single “Stubborn Love,” and then they disappeared just in time for the post-Mumford folk wave to crest. With even Mumford & Sons leaving behind their signature sound on last year’s electrified Wilder Mind, I figured the Lumineers, who already dressed like a historical artifact, had actually become one. But every musical fad has its tentpole bands that survive the changing tides, and the people have spoken: The Lumineers might be in this for the long haul after all.

Cleopatra, the band’s long-gestating sophomore LP, debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart this week, accumulating a very respectable 125,000 equivalent units (108,000 in pure album sales, adjusted for track sales and streaming). It’s bolstered by lead single “Ophelia,” a song that has not approached the saturation level of “Ho Hey” (it topped out at #66 on the Hot 100) but nonetheless has been a radio mainstay. The song represents an evolution of sorts without abandoning what made the Lumineers famous. It’s got a floorboard-knocking 4/4 rhythm and an unshakable hook, but it’s built around piano rather than acoustic strums, with plaintive chords in the verses giving way to a playful melody in the chorus. And while Mumford & Sons retreated from their aesthetic by turning into Coldplay, “Ophelia” finds the Lumineers making a far less radical departure, opting for subtlety rather than singing at the top of their lungs.

“Ophelia” could easily exist on top-40 radio in between spins of Lukas Graham and Twenty One Pilots, and “Ho Hey” did break into that pop sphere for a while, climbing to #2 on Billboard’s Pop Songs and Radio Songs charts and finishing up at #12 on the year-end Hot 100. But “Ho Hey” got its start at modern rock and alternative stations, which is where “Ophelia” is doing its damage. That feels odd because the Lumineers don’t really rock, their music is hardly modern, and their sound is far too centrist to really qualify as alternative. But thanks to the continued bizarre evolution of the music business, those radio formats are where bands like the Lumineers live now.

Billboard’s Top Rock Songs chart, where “Ophelia” currently sits at #5 and three more Lumineers tracks follow in the top 20, is such a strange amalgamation of styles. It’s a place where Panic! At The Disco and Coldplay and Disturbed and Twenty One Pilots coexist in the top 10. Rock Airplay (“Ophelia” at #7) and Alternative Songs (“Ophelia” at #4) offer a similar head-scratching mix. It’s this bizarre convergence of artists that seem to have very little in common beyond being almost entirely straight, male, and white. And in that sense, I guess they constitute an alternative the way a Donald Trump rally constitutes an alternative.

Maybe that generic homogeny is enough to qualify them as the last safe punching bags of the self-superior music fan. At a time when pop has become hip and many of the biases that used to drive stereotypical music snobbery have been revealed as sexist, racist, or homophobic, it remains culturally acceptable to shit on white bro bands. Now, I’m not saying it’s advisable to make fun of anyone’s favorite band — a practice of which I am occasionally guilty — but if you want to define yourself that way as a person, you can get away with trashing the bands that rule rock radio today. They are the new Nickelbacks, widely reviled yet wildly popular, a litmus test that reveals wide gaps in American culture. It’s why a critic like me can be shocked at the Lumineers’ staying power, and why that staying power exists at all.

CHART WATCH

He’s got broads in Atlanta, and also the #2 song in the country! Although Rihanna and Drake’s “Work” holds onto to the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart for a ninth straight week, Desiigner’s transcendent Future rip-off “Panda” surges up to #2. It’s a new peak for the 19-year-old New Yorker. New peaks also for Mike Posner’s “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” (#6) and Fifth Harmony’s Ty Dolla $ign-featuring “Work From Home” (#7), plus DNCE’s “Cake By The Ocean” rebounds to #9. Also, “One Dance,” which just became Drake’s first #1 as a lead artist in the UK, is up to #13 stateside this week.

As indicated above, the Lumineers lead the Billboard 200 albums chart with 125,000 equivalent units (and 108,000 in pure sales) for Cleopatra. Well behind them at #2 are Deftones with 71,000 units (69,000 sales) for Gore. Per Billboard, it’s their highest-charting album since 2003, although it only sold 4,000 more copies than 2012’s #11-debuting Koi No Yokan. Last week’s #1, Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo, slips to #4 with 47,000 units, but impressively, only 1,000 of those are from album sales.

POP FIVE

Ariana Grande – “Let Me Love You” (Feat. Lil Wayne)
It feels right, and like Ariana, I don’t mind.

Meghan Trainor – “I Love Me” (Feat. LunchMoney Lewis)
Here’s another example of producer Ricky “Wallpaper” Reed making me like a song that I had no intention of liking. Trainor remains obnoxious, yet the song’s irresistible groove overpowers her obnoxiousness. Shout out to LunchMoney Lewis too — love that guy.

P!nk – “Just Like Fire”
P!nk’s name never comes up when people are discussing the biggest pop stars in the world, but she’s been a remarkably persistent presence on pop radio for almost 20 years. This soundtrack schlock is not one of her better songs, though.

Flume – “Say It” (Feat. Tove Lo)
Big week for Tove Lo! She completely showed up Nick Jonas on SNL, hopped on a decent Flume track, and I learned there’s more than one way to pronounce her name.

Little Mix – “Hair” (Feat. Sean Paul)
Super fun song, super fun video. And now I really want a pizza.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Zac Brown hit up a Palm Beach hotel room party with strippers that was the site of a drug bust, but starstruck cops agreed to keep only him out of the police report. [TMZ]
  • Lifetime is developing an autobiographical drama about Selena Gomez. Really. (And Kevin Spacey is executive producing!) [Deadline]
  • Speaking of Gomez, rising teenage singer Bea Miller will be an opening act on her Revival Tour. [Billboard]
  • Oh, and DNCE covered Gomez’s “Hands To Myself.” [BBC]
  • Surprise pop star performances at Coachella’s first weekend included Kesha (joining Zedd), Brendon Urie (joining Halsey), Rihanna (joining Calvin Harris), Daya (joining the Chainsmokers), and Lorde and Sam Smith (joining Disclosure). Taylor Swift, Haim, Katy Perry, and Lana Del Rey attended the fest, too. [Refinery29]
  • Rihanna is developing a makeup line for LVMH called Fenty Beauty. It’s expected to launch fall 2017. [WWD]
  • Ariana Grande announced the Dangerous Woman tracklist. [Instagram]
  • John Legend welcomed his first child with wife Chrissy Teigen. [E!]
  • Nick Jonas will receive the Hal David Starlight Award at this year’s Songwriters Hall Of Fame gala, which, OK. [People]
  • Gwen Stefani announced a summer US tour. [Gwen Stefani]
  • Stefani also sang a song about friendship on Sesame Street, and it’s a pretty good Gwen Stefani song! [YouTube]
  • Tina Fey seems to have snuck in some Taylor Swift shade in the new season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, though I got lost trying to dig through the references necessary to understand it. [Vulture]
  • A judge ruled that Blake Shelton’s defamation case against In Touch (who falsely claimed the country star was in rehab for alcoholism) will move forward. [TMZ]
  • According to a survey from Rover, the “Airbnb for pets,” Bieber is a very popular name for cats these days. [E!]
  • Bruno Mars hit the studio with Missy Elliott. [Twitter]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME