The Week In Pop

You Gotta Respect Fall Out Boy’s Commitment To Being A Little Much

Fall Out Boy have always been a lot. God gave singer-guitarist Patrick Stump indestructible musclebound vocal cords that cannot be contained, and he fully indulges their powers. Musically, his songs tend to be big and bold, often dispensing with conventional notions of good taste in their pursuit of stadium-sized glory. As a lyricist, bassist Pete Wentz is similarly over-the-top, prone to gleefully snide and/or horny flights of fancy such as “You wouldn’t know a good thing if it came up and slit your throat” and “Can I lie in your bed all day? I’ll be your best-kept secret and your biggest mistake.” As for their zealously smarmy song titles… quick, guess which of these are authentic early Fall Out Boy compositions and which ones I just came up with:

  1. “I’ve Got A Dark Alley And A Bad Idea That Says You Should Shut Your Mouth (Summer Song)”
  2. “The Worst Days And The Best Decades Feel Like Hand Grenades, Wouldn’t You Say?”
  3. “Darling, Keep Quiet And Pass Me The Waffle Fries Before This Shit Gets Serious”
  4. “I’m Like A Lawyer With The Way I’m Always Trying to Get You Off (Me & You)”
  5. “Word On The Street Is That Amateur Wrote You A Poem, But Babe, You Belong In The Pros”
  6. “You’ve Never Seen Politics Quite Like Scene Politics, Bandito”
  7. “I’ve Got All This Ringing In My Ears And None On My Fingers”
  8. “It’s Hard To Say ‘I Do,’ When I Don’t”
  9. “Are You Seriously Asking Me That Question Right Now (Please Back Away Slowly)”
  10. “I Slept With Someone In Fall Out Boy And All I Got Was This Stupid Song Written About Me”

Oh, to be kings of pop-punk in the time of MySpace! But Fall Out Boy were far hungrier than that — far thirstier, too — therefore their career has comprised a series of escalations both craven and respectably ballsy. After 2005 sophomore album From Under The Cork Tree crossed them over from Warped Tour celebrity to A-list pop stardom, they embraced the part. Stump, who has traditionally handled the musical side of the songwriting, began to experiment with sounds far beyond the band’s initial punk template. By incorporating whichever trends were ruling the radio and even working with producers like Babyface and Pharrell, Fall Out Boy’s music mutated into ever weirder forms without sacrificing their initial intensity. (As we’ve already established, these guys are nothing if not intense.) They also mingled with the pop scene in more literal ways: Wentz dated and eventually married Ashlee Simpson and took a role as himself on teen drama One Tree Hill, and the band apparently never turned down a photo op with a famous rapper.

In the case of 2007’s Infinity On High and especially 2008’s Folie à Deux, Fall Out Boy’s mainstream entanglements resulted in some genuinely rewarding pop-rock excursions. These projects also yielded the sort of widespread pop radio infiltration Rivers Cuomo has experienced only in dreams. A four-year hiatus ensued, after which the band returned with two more albums pushing more of a jock-jam aesthetic. I mean that quite literally: Comeback single “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up),” from 2013’s Save Rock And Roll, worked its way into heavy rotation at my local soccer stadium, while “Centuries,” from 2015’s American Beauty/American Psycho, was inescapable during ABC’s coverage of the inaugural College Football Playoff. Indeed, no matter how hard you try, it will not be possible to forget that song for many hundreds of years.

These post-hiatus tentpole singles were massive in both sound and popularity. They allowed Fall Out Boy to walk right back into the thick of the top-40 radio landscape, though not nearly as gracefully as they once lumbered. I once compared latter-day Fall Out Boy hits to Pacific Rim robots — their humanity encased in giant metallic avatars built for destruction on a blockbuster scale — and my response to them reminds me of another old Wentz lyric: “I don’t blame you for being you, but you can’t blame me for hating it.” (To which Wentz might reply, “I don’t care what you think as long as it’s about me.”) Yet even at the height of “Centuries” saturation, I had to admire their brazen commitment to crossover success at all costs. Even more so than the sadly unproductive Rich Homie Quan, they will never stop going in.

Which brings us to this:

When Fall Out Boy released “Young And Menace” last spring, my colleague Pranav Trewn wept for what his childhood idols had become. But as someone with no emotional investment in this band, mainly I was impressed with how extra they were willing to be in order to one-up themselves. Continuing their last album’s trend of building Frankenstein cyborg anthems out of recognizable samples — Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” in “Centuries,” Jack Marshall’s Munsters theme in “Uma Thurman” — this time they bombarded lyrics and melody from (yes!) Britney Spears’ “Oops!… I Did It Again” with arena-rock drum fills and dubstep drops. I suspect this audio theme-park ride is the most audacious song they’ve ever recorded, which would be a remarkable achievement.

“Young And Menace” is the opening track on Fall Out Boy’s new Mania (or M A N I A, if you wish to share in their madness). The album was supposed to come out last fall, but it was pushed back to January so that they could make sure it was their “very, very fucking best work.” I have to believe they were also waiting to see if any of the five singles they’ve spun off it so far would become a hit, which, so far, no dice. The Sia-assisted “Champion,” their baldfaced attempt to secure further exposure at sporting events, managed a not-gargantuan #18 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart, and “HOLD ME TIGHT OR DON’T,” their entry in the burgeoning field of songs that sound like Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You,” topped out at #34 on the Pop Songs chart. None of them have yet cracked the Hot 100, a first for a Fall Out Boy album since their indie 2003 debut Take This To Your Grave.

Still, Mania easily became Fall Out Boy’s fourth #1 album this week, outpacing the wildly popular The Greatest Showman soundtrack. This suggests there’s still a large audience out there excited to bask in this band’s outsized idiosyncrasy. So why haven’t any of these tracks caught on yet? It may be that pop radio only has room for a small number of behemoth rock-infused pop projects, and right now those are the resurgent Imagine Dragons and Jared Leto’s somehow-also-resurgent Thirty Seconds To Mars (whose “Walk On Water” took over the College Football Playoff gig that once belonged to Fall Out Boy). It could be that Fall Out Boy have finally become extreme enough to alienate the general audience they used to woo. Or perhaps the industry apparatus behind them has simply failed to get the word out with the proper sync.

Whatever the reason for this band losing its radio foothold, it’s not for lack of potential hits on Mania. If Fall Out Boy are going down, sugar, they’re going down swinging. The album is as clobberingly catchy as usual, full of Stump’s signature body-clenching melodies and Wentz’s usual blunt sarcasm obscured by poetic abstraction. Consider this Addams Family-inspired zinger: “I know it’s just a number but you’re the eighth wonder/ I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color.” That’s a line from “Wilson (Expensive Mistakes),” the album’s newly released fifth single and, to these ears, its best. Built around a simple chord progression that resembles the Clash sample from M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” it floats along to a looser, slower tempo than your average Fall Out Boy song but still leaves a strong impression. Could it be this band is finally learning to exhale?

Not really. Not for any significant length of time. You heard their Britney Spears dubstep-rocker, right? Mania also includes the relentlessly pounding “The Last Of The Real Ones,” a Charlie Puth piano-pop tune on steroids. It contains the even more relentless “Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea,” an actually-quite-exhilarating rock track that sounds like an EDM festival sinking into the ocean. And it has “Church,” another hyper-compressed sledgehammer of a song, this time with gothic choir for maximum drama. Whether dealing in gospel or reggae or emotive movie-soundtrack bluster, the album gives 1000%. And although this tendency may strike you as overkill, it ensures that no matter how far Fall Out Boy stray from their original sound, they remain absolutely true to their original ethos.

Drake
CREDIT: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Adult Swim

CHART WATCH

The most exciting times for chart freaks are when an album or song holds onto #1 so long as to become historically significant or the periods of constant upheaval when #1 is frequently changing hands. We’re in one of the latter phases this week: After Camila Cabello and Young Thug’s “Havana” finally broke through to the top of the Hot 100 last week, Drake’s “God’s Plan” has arrived this week with a #1 debut. A second new Drake song, “Diplomatic Immunity,” debuts at #7. Here’s what I had to say about all that earlier this week:

Despite operating as rap and R&B’s center of gravity for most of this decade, Drake struggled long and hard to score a #1 single as a lead artist. He hit #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 with 2009 breakthrough “Best I Ever Had” and probably would have gone #1 with “Hotline Bling” in 2015 if he’d released the meme-ready music video to YouTube instead of Apple Music, which doesn’t report video streams to Nielsen. Along the way he went to #1 twice as a featured artist on Rihanna tracks (“Say My Name” and “Work”), but he didn’t reach the summit as a lead artist until “One Dance” in 2016. And now, seemingly without even trying, he has a second #1 single to his name.

Billboard reports that “God’s Plan,” one of the two songs Drake released two weekends back as part of an EP called Scary Hours, has entered the Hot 100 on top. It’s the 29th song to debut at #1 in the history of the Hot 100 and the first since DJ Khaled’s “I’m The One” last year.

The other Scary Hours track, “Diplomatic Immunity,” begins at #7, making Drake the first artist to debut two songs in the top 10 simultaneously twice. Previously he debuted More Life tracks “Passionfruit” and “Portland” at #8 and #9 last April. The only other artist to debut two songs in the top 10 simultaneously is Ed Sheeran, who did so with #1 “Shape Of You” and #6 “Castle On The Hill” in January 2017. I once wrote that he and Drake have a lot in common.

Elsewhere in the top 10, Ed Sheeran and sometimes Beyoncé’s “Perfect” holds at #2, “Havana” drops to #3, Post Malone and 21 Savage’s “Rockstar” slides to #4, and Bruno Mars and Cardi B’s “Finesse” falls to #5 — though I wouldn’t be surprised to see it experience another climb soon thanks to Mars’ massive night at the Grammys last weekend. Halsey’s “Bad At Love” declines to #6, Dua Lipa’s “New Rules” remains at its #8 peak, Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder” slips three spots to #9, and the G-Eazy/A$AP Rocky/Cardi B hit “No Limit” descends to #10. (Yes, this is the first time in five weeks Cardi only has two songs in the top 10 rather than three.)

Over on the albums chart we also have a new #1. As mentioned above, it’s Fall Out Boy’s Mania, which earned 130,000 equivalent album units and 117,000 in traditional sales in its first week. Per Billboard it’s the band’s fourth #1 album and third in a row. There were no further debuts in the top 10, which also comprises The Greatest Showman soundtrack at #2 plus releases from Ed Sheeran (#3), Camila Cabello (#4), Post Malone (#5), Kendrick Lamar (#6), G-Eazy (#7), Lil Uzi Vert (#8), Taylor Swift (#9), and Bruno Mars (#10). Again, I’d expect Mars’ 24K Magic to see a major boost next week thanks to its Album Of The Year win and all the other awards he nabbed Sunday night.

POP FIVE

Why Don’t We – “Trust Fund Baby”
Ed Sheeran wrote this track for aspiring boy band Why Don’t We, and you can really tell. It has all of his rhythmic, melodic, and lyrical signatures and basically sounds exactly like you’d imagine a boy-band single written by Ed Sheeran would sound. So it will probably be a massive hit, even if the premise of the song is completely obnoxious: “I don’t really want a trust fund baby/ I like my women independent/ I don’t really want a trust fund baby/ Save your money, don’t spend it.” Miraculously there is no mention of avocado toast.

Lady Gaga – “Joanne (Where Do You Think You’re Goin’?)” (Piano Version)
Tearful piano ballad “Million Reasons” was the only song off Joanne that really connected with the greater public, so it’s no surprise Lady Gaga has generated a piano version of the title track in an attempt to ride that wave. It’s a powerful showcase for Gaga’s vocals, and if you’re the sentimental type, it will get to you even if it does very little to distinguish itself from other songs in this genre.

Pink – “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken”
Pink’s performance of this song at the Grammys was pretty solid, even if I wished she’d brought her usual award-show acrobatics. The video is more of the same, a minimalistic portrait that lets the song speak for itself. And as emotional piano ballads go, it’s… fine? About as good as these Gaga piano ballads? If it tugs enough people’s heartstrings to earn a nice pile of money for UNICEF, good on her.

Kylie Minogue – “Dancing”
At first I thought Kylie Minogue was going country, and I was here for it, and I am even more here for the cross-genre party jam “Dancing” evolves into. Hook this to my veins.

X Ambassadors – “JOYFUL”
Honestly if these “a little unsteady” butt-rock goobers want to keep making gospel-inflected Elton John homages, that would be a lot more palatable than what we’ve come to expect.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Cardi B got a fan letter from Bono at the Grammys that said she’s the biggest thing in Ireland. [Instagram]
  • Justin Timberlake, Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Stormzy, and Rita Ora are among the performers at the BRIT Awards on 2/21. [Music Week]
  • In other Dua Lipa news, she’s the new face of Adidas. [Twitter]
  • John Legend and Chrissy Teigen donated $200,000 to Time’s Up on behalf of US gymnasts. [People]
  • Aaron Carter’s first album in 15 years, LøVë, is out 2/16. [Instagram]
  • Sam Smith covered Oleta Adams’ “Get Here” for his Spotify Singles. [Spotify]
  • The 1975 singer Matty Healy cut his hair and died it purple. [NME]
  • Jack Antonoff broke down Bleachers’ “I Miss Those Days” on the Song Exploder podcast. [Song Exploder]
  • Logic allegedly pretended to be a teen making a school project in order to avoid location fees for a 2016 music video shoot and now it’s a whole thing. [Spin]
  • “My dream of dancing at the Super Bowl came true. And then I became Left Shark.” [WaPo]
  • Following sexual harrassment claims, Republic Records president Charlie Walk has been nixed from Fox’s The Four, where he was a judge alongside Sean Combs, DJ Khaled, and Meghan Trainor. [Billboard]
  • Here’s Adele in a Dolly Parton costume for some reason. [Twitter]
  • And here’s Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, & crew singing “No Scrubs” backstage. [Twitter]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME