Generally I become more and more skeptical about what's "hot." This is also known as "getting older" or, to paraphrase Chris Rock, not wanting to be the old guy in the club. But for me that skepticism has always come with a certain morbid curiosity about what makes some songs so popular and why. This time it was "Blurred Lines."
All the coverage surrounding the No. 1 song (or its supposedly controversial video, mostly) these past few weeks eventually got the better of me. I listened to it, I loved it, I downloaded it. Whether or not they lifted the idea from Marvin Gaye, Robin Thicke and his collaborators have created an irresistible piece of ear candy that also happens to be a pretty complex bit of musical engineering. It's fun, sophisticated, sexy; in other words, everything I assumed Top 40 radio had abandoned in the wake of all that twerking and po-faced acoustic folk-pop.
Thus I decided I would spend an entire workday listening to 104.1 KRBE -- a familiar musical barometer from the days it played Tina Turner and Prince all the way through Depeche Mode and New Order, as well as a station I had not listened to for more than a few minutes in years -- and keep a journal. I announced my intentions to a colleague, and he rightly said, "Why would you do that?"
Hell, I don't know. I couldn't help myself. I tried it last Thursday and accidentally deleted the notes I had been keeping after a couple of hours, but the second time took. Yesterday I learned that Bruno Mars is legit, electric guitars are almost obsolete, and the Geneva Convention should take a serious look at that "Clarity" song. This is one Thursday I'll never get back; I'm not sure I want it back, but it wasn't a complete waste.And why not?
9:15 a.m. My computer's streaming connection finally goes through to reveal none other than "Blurred Lines." Maybe this time will go a little better.
9:20 a.m. A sad day for the Roula & Ryan family: it's Ethan the Intern's last day on the popular morning show before he moves to L.A.. Recently R&R sent him and another intern to meet women at an area coffeehouse. Ethan, toting a guitar, was apparently much more successful than the other guy. He keeps threatening to break into Kenny Loggins, but instead tries to improvise a song about older women. Down in flames.
9:33 a.m. Computer crashed and I had to turn on an actual radio. (How retro.) The song is Selena Gomez's "Come & Get It," which is so packed with processed synths it sounds like it needs an inhaler. Like those Advair commercials old people like us watch on CBS.
9:49 a.m. Lady Gaga's "Applause." When did every pop song's trajectory become the 50-yard-line of the average NFL stadium to one of the seats someone such as myself could afford?
9:58 a.m. Justin Timberlake's "Take Back the Night." "Thriller" Part 2, in other words. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
10:06 a.m. On the other hand, it is definitely odd to hear a band obviously influenced by MGMT on mainstream radio. Say hi, Capital Cities' "Safe and Sound." I heard this at least five or six times the rest of the day.
10:54 a.m. An oldie for KRBE, Timberlake's "Sexyback." Far, far ahead of its time -- not only does Timbaland's production still sound cutting-edge, the lyrics have an early reference to "twerking."
11:22 a.m. Florida Georgia Line's "Cruise," including Nelly's rap. (So there he is.) There's enough Autotune to make this KRBE-friendly, because other than that I am learning that the main difference between country and pop these days is that country still uses guitars. However, if you're the Lumineers or that "Home" dude, you will never, ever make country radio.
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11:36 a.m. Someone at NASA is asleep at the switch -- the space agency is missing a golden opportunity not using Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive" in a new "Hey, remember us?" PR campaign. This song just sounds like outer space, but maybe it's the title that's keeping the astronauts away.
11:50 a.m. There's a band called Far East Movement, who has a song called "Rocketeer" featuring a rapper named Ryan Tedder. I know this because I had to Google the lyrics; I mistook it for Maroon 5, or maybe a rapper with Adam Levine singing the hook. #YOLO
12:05 p.m. Has anyone ever actually seen a fire burning on the dance floor? Is this "Shawty" OK? That sounds like something that would go viral, like that fake Jimmy Kimmel twerking video. That was Sean Kingston's "Fire Burning." I dug it.
12:52 p.m. Computer just crashed. At least it's not KRBE's fault. Cannot remember a single song that has come on since this document autosaved that was worth remembering, except Miley Cyrus. Has anyone ever said that "no" to that girl, like, ever? Maroon 5 was in there too. (This is also "homework" for next Thursday's Woodlands show; of course I'm just going to see Kelly Clarkson.) Just missed Taylor Swift, and now "Safe and Sound," aka MGMT Jr., is on again. So we're back up and running.
12:55 p.m. Tegan & Sara's "Closer." Now this is a surprise. Not because of the song, an Icona Pop-like blast, but because I will forever associate these two with the White Stripes' "Walking With a Ghost."
12:59 p.m. "Blurred Lines" redux. I am excited to hear this come on again, which immediately marks me as someone who almost never listens to the radio. I'm sure it's been on several times a day for the past two or three months, in which case any right-thinking person would be sick of it.
1:02 p.m. Another oldie, Britney Spears' "Toxic." Boy, that is funny to type. When I tried this last week, I wondered if KRBE did any kind of "flashback lunch" hour. Guess not.
1:39 p.m. This is the third time Lana Del Rey's "Summertime Sadness" has come on today, after twice during last week's aborted experiment The first time I heard it and found out who it was you could have knocked me over with a feather; I thought she was supposed to be some sort of indie queen. But this is indistinguishable from Katy Perry or "Clarity," except slower. God help me, it's growing on me.
2:22 p.m. First stringed instrument in quite some time turns out to be the ukulele that opens Train's "Hey, Soul Sister." Sigh.
2:34 p.m. Lady Gaga's "Applause." I don't mind this song at all, despite its simultaneous appearance as a Kia commercial. But is she saying "put your pants on"? I hope so.
3:24 p.m. Miley and "Can't Stop" again. I just now noticed how sad she sounds in this song. Somebody tell me -- is "Wrecking Ball" this morose?
Almost done, but there's a happy ending. Promise.
3:39 p.m. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "Same Love" is the only song I've heard all day that addresses something beyond partying, material gain, self-empowerment (aka narcissism) or some kind of romantic issue. Although civil rights for same-sex couples is very much a romantic issue, of course, this is still far and away the bravest tune I've heard all day.
4:40 p.m. KRBE has finally all but faded in the background after hours of what seemed like nothing but Maroon 5 and Katy Perry -- "Roar" several times, "Firework," a KP wannabe or three -- when something comes on that legitimately makes my ears perk up. Slow, stately, aloof, Lorde's "Royals" has the kind of subtlety and sensuality all great pop music should. Lorde probably snuck on because Adele hasn't released any new music in a while, but never mind. She said nothing about any eyes of the tiger anywhere, which is all right by me -- in fact, it's a sly but firm critique of pop's runaway materialism, which makes it that much better.
So that's my eight-hour day, and all I can take of KRBE by half. I'm not sorry I did it at all. Outside of a few distinct bright spots, it was a great lesson that while I may never love music that aspires to do little more than sell downloads and/or advertising, I am still a little fascinated with it and can tolerate it for a workday. One workday.
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