Tag Archives: pop music

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Billboard Charts 2000!

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

It’s that other, similar but different time of year again: Time for us at SportsAlcohol.com to get together and take a selected tour through the full-year Billboard Hot 100 chart, talking about the singles we love, hate, and swear we’ve never heard in our lives. About the length of a killer mix tape, this episode crams in analysis, nostalgia, tangents, and everything else, covering, I don’t know, like 30 different pop songs across genres and tastes. It’s like what we did in 1999 and 1996, only this time it’s the YEAR 2000, BABY! So join Rob, Jesse, Marisa, and Jason on a wild ride through the first and/or last year of the millennium! And the Willennium! And the time when terrible pop-country dominated the charts!

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

TRACK MARKS 2019: “Want You In My Room” by Carly Rae Jepsen

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Back when Carly Rae Jepsen was really blowing up, by which I mean gaining popularity with some of the more idiosyncratic and picky pop-music fans and/or nerdy music critics circa her middling-selling 2015 album Emotion, I, as a picky pop-music fan and nerdy movie-not-music critic, found myself trying to explain why I liked CRJ so much. (I challenged myself not to cite her haircut at any point in this exercise.) I landed on this: She is old.

Not old by normal standards—she’s five years younger than I am, and I’m still young, right? Right?!—but for a pop singer having her big (which is to say medium) 40,000-copies-in-six-months moment, CRJ was kind of on the old side. She was nearly 30 when Emotion came out; even when her actual megahit “Call Me Maybe” took the world by storm in 2012, she was in her late twenties, and a full nine years younger than Justin Bieber, the beloved pop singer who gave her a major commercial boost. Listening to Emotion, I had the distinct sense that this was a person who had lived with herself—her personality, her disappointments, her music tastes—a little longer than the barely-formed kiddos hailed as ingénues and prodigies at 17, 18, 19, the normal (which is to say insane) age for coming of age as a peppy new pop star.

That might seem absurd, because Emotion does include as one of its highlights a song called “I Really Really Really Like You.” By most standards and by her own design, CRJ’s musings are not overly sophisticated. She captures crush-rush and shruggy-emoticon break-ups and fleeting empowerment; she’s not introspective and melancholy and wry, like Jenny Lewis (to cite another singer I’d follow anywhere at this point). But the craft of Jepsen’s songs is often sophisticated, and that’s especially noticeable on “Want You In My Room,” a cut from her hotly anticipated 2019 record Dedicated.

I get the sense that Dedicated received a relatively muted reception from some of the CRJ faithful—though anyone faithful enough to see her in concert could see the new songs greeted with appropriate rapture. It’s not quite as bouncy or immediate as Emotion, and feels a little more, well, yeah, mature. A little more MOR, if we’re feeling unkind. But the album’s many highlights reveal themselves; it just happens a little slower than it did on Emotion. And the great thing about “Want You In My Room” is that it’s not especially tasteful. CRJ kicks it off with kind of an exaggerated seductive-baby voice, giving way to sultrier-toned come-ons in the next verse, and then a robo-voiced chorus stating her desires plainly: “I want you in my room,” the voice I visualize as Robo-CRJ robo-sings. “On the bed, on the floor,” Regular CRJ adds. There’s a falsetto “I wanna do bad things to you!” and an invitation to “slide on through my window.”
Continue reading TRACK MARKS 2019: “Want You In My Room” by Carly Rae Jepsen

TRACK MARKS 2019: “Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince” by Taylor Swift

Jeremy Beck runs the website MovieManifesto, where he writes many, many movie reviews that nobody reads.

Track Marks is a recurring SportsAlcohol.com feature that invites writers to briefly discuss a song that is meaningful to them in any way. As usual, we’re closing out the year by talking about a bunch of songs that we loved over the past 12 months.

Given that she’s one of the biggest pop stars in the world, it should be difficult for Taylor Swift to don the cloak of the underdog. But among her many gifts as a songwriter is a knack for immersion, the way she can use a sharp hook or a snappy phrase to instantly pull you into her filigreed worlds. Lover is a massive album (18 tracks!) that was massively successful (double platinum!), but when “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince” kicks off, Swift is just another shattered teenage girl again; she effortlessly conjures a familiar high-school dystopia, the modest drums combining with her slightly breathy vocals to yank you back to a time of adolescent heartache. The lyrics are characteristically simple but evocative: She’s ripped up her prom dress, she’s running through rose thorns, she’s fending off whispers from judgmental classmates about how she’s a bad, bad girl. It’s The Scarlet Letter by way of Mean Girls.

Of course, “Miss Americana” is more than just another of Swift’s teen-centric fairy tales, like “White Horse” or “Love Story”; it’s also a cri de coeur in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. “Boys will be boys, then where are the wise men?” she asks rhetorically while staring helplessly at “American glory faded before me,” and her despair is palpable. There’s even a whiff of gerrymandering/voter suppression (“The whole school is rolling fake dice”), but mostly she’s just left helpless and depressed, learning of the election results (via a football scoreboard, naturally) and then running for her life. When the bad guys are exchanging high fives, all that’s left to do is paint the town blue.

Here’s the thing, though: None of that political metaphor is essential to appreciating “Miss Americana” as a kickass song, a finely constructed ballad that builds to a soaring conclusion. Swift is such a phenom, it’s easy to overlook just how skilled she is, how she approaches her work with sincerity and craft. It’s there in the spondaic shouts of “OH-KAY!” that punctuate several lines, and in the light piano that pops up in the chorus, meshing with the throbbing synths. My favorite part of the song is the bridge, where backup singers shout the last word of each line: “And I don’t want you to GO! / I don’t really wanna FIGHT! / ‘Cause nobody’s gonna WIN!” That sounds like surrender, but listen closer; after three crushing repetitions, Swift suddenly inverts the lyrics, promising that she’ll never go, that she’s staying to fight, that she’s determined to win. It’s a lightning-quick flip—from compliance to defiance, from desolation to resolution—and it turns this once-despondent ditty into a roaring battle cry. So sure, maybe it’s tough to accept Taylor Swift as the underdog, but only because—as this intricate, ecstatic song proves—she doesn’t know how to lose.

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Billboard Hits of 1999

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

The SportsAlcohol.com editorial core has kind of a thing for the ’90s. But sometimes just talking about the best of that decade isn’t enough; sometimes we need to travel back in time exactly 20 years and go through the good, the bad, and the ugly of the annual Billboard Hot 100. We did it for 1996, and in this anniversary year for 1999, we’re at it again! Shania Twain, Smash Mouth, Third Eye Blind, Brandy and/or Monica, N’Sync and/or Alabama (whoever they are)! They’re all here and you’ll never guess which ones Rob and/or Jesse and/or Marisa love and/or hate! You’ll have to listen to fin dout.

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

Sorry, Pop Fans: ‘A Star Is Born’ Thinks Ally’s ‘Why Did You Do That?’ Is Bad

Gripes
There are contrarians, there are iconoclasts, and then there is SportsAlcohol.com co-founder Marisa. A contraiclast? Her favorite Springsteen album came out this century, so she is basically a controversy machine.

Also, she is totally not a dude!
Marisa
Gripes
Latest posts by Marisa (see all)

I feel like I have to correct the record on something. Ever since A Star Is Born came out, there’s been a lot of analysis about the soundtrack, especially one song on it in particular: “Why Did You Do That?”

“Why Did You Do That?” is the song that a post-fame, pop-repackaged Ally performs on Saturday Night Live. A sampling of its lyrics: “Why do you look so good in those jeans? Why’d you come around me with an ass like that? You’re makin’ all my thoughts obscene.” Later, Jack derides her for these words.

The analysis I’ve seen around the song usually takes the form of two questions: 1) Is “Why Did You Do That” a bad song outside of the universe of the movie? 2) Within the world of the movie, does the movie believe it’s a bad song, or is it just Jack who doesn’t like it? The first question can’t have one definitive response. Either that type of music works for you, or it doesn’t and that’s fine.

But the second question has a concrete answer, and yet the conclusion I arrived at isn’t really the one drawn unanimously, much to my confusion. But  A Star Is Born really, truly thinks that “Why Did You Do That?” is bad. My proof:

It’s So Different From Ally’s Other Songs

Ally is so talented that Jackson can’t help but be taken in by her. He falls in love with her through her songwriting. But “Why Did You Do That?” sounds nothing like the tunes that kick-started their romance. Before her big pop-career launch, even the catchier songs she wrote, like “Look What I Found” (which I personally like a lot better than “Why Did You Do That?”), come rooted in a much more singer/songwritery place. If we’re supposed to believe in the transformative power of Ally and Jack’s love, and they express that feeling through music, how are we supposed to see the change in her sound as anything but a betrayal of that love?

She Refuses the Dancers

Okay, artists evolve. Things change. If you believe A Star Is Born is about Jackson’s desire to manage Ally’s artistic work and stifle her creativity, I think that’s a truly cynical reading of the movie, but you can read his dismissal of “Why Did You Do That?” through that lens. But my big question to you: Why did she refuse to have backup dancers at her first performance? 

The answer is she turned the dancers away because that’s not how she sees herself as an artist. This, to me, is the biggest clue into what Ally thinks of her pop image. If those songs truly came from her developing sense of self, she  would’ve embraced the dancers at her debut and in her SNL performance. Instead, she said she didn’t think she needed them.

And Jack had nothing to do with that. She doesn’t get rid of them because she’s afraid Jack won’t like it. It’s because, in her heart, she knows she’s a songwriter and  not a pop product.

Diane Warren Co-Wrote It

Actually, this probably runs counter to my point. Warren has written some of the most successful songs ever.

Jackson Hates It

This is where we veer into a bit of subjectivity: If the hero of our romantic story says mean things about the song, does that look bad for him, or for the song? This time, I think it’s both. His criticisms come at a point in the movie where it’s clear he’s on a downslide, and could potentially take Ally down with him. But he’s also heralded by the movie as a musical genius, and he knows what he’s talking about.

For what it’s worth, I think this is a departure from the other versions of A Star Is Born. (The biggest departure after changing her name from Esther Blodgett, which I’m gutted they did. Esther 4-Eva!) You’re supposed to think Judy Garland is an acting tour de force. You’re supposed to think Barbra Streisand is a consummate performer. I don’t think you’re supposed to think Janet Gaynor is untalented. James Mason, Kris Kristofferson, and Fredric March never impugn Esther’s talent. I kind of like that Bradley Cooper does.

You Only Get a Sideways Glance at It

When Ally does perform “Why Did You Do That?” on Saturday Night Live — with dancers — the performance isn’t really the focus of the scene. It’s something happening in the background. If A Star Is Born was really behind this evolution in Ally’s career, and really thought the audience should consider it an unambiguously good song,  it would’ve had a moment as powerful as “The Shallow.”

There is no moment for “Why Did You Do That?” The movie doesn’t want you to consider it a triumph. Whether you do or not is up to you, but the movie’s thoughts on it are pretty clear to me.

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Best Music of 2017

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

It’s the end of the year, and you know what that means: music publications published their year-end coverage approximately one to three months ago. We here at SportsAlcohol.com do not have a list of our 200 Favorite Albums That Came Out Between January and Mid-October, though we will have some individual write-ups of songs we love throughout the rest of the month and maybe into January. But Marisa, Sara, Rob, and Jesse did sit down to talk about our faves (and other opinions) from this year in popular musics. (They also took selfies. See above.)

For our best music of 2017 wrap-up, we decided to take a different tactic and take a roughly chronological trip through the various live shows we all attended, together and apart, throughout the year, and let the discussion spring from there. You’ll find out who we went to see because we’re afraid of death, whose live show exceeded their disappointing album(s), which band(s) Sara cannot deal with right now, and which show got Rob feeling real emotional in a rough year.

We are now up to SIX (6) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

Track Marks: “Younger Now” by Miley Cyrus

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

For the impending end of 2017, some of our writers are going back and talking about beloved songs from this year, especially from artists not covered on our upcoming podcast.

Is it really so ridiculous that Miley Cyrus would sing about feeling young? It might seem redundant, I guess, because she’s only 25, which to me, racing toward 40, sounds so impossibly fresh and dewy now. But I don’t know that I felt that way about 25 when I actually was 25. Bless anyone who maintains uncomplicated feelings about aging for 25 whole years.

Moreover: Miley Cyrus has been making music for a decade. Yes, she’s the kind of showbiz lifer who was born into it and made a beeline for the Disney machine, but Younger Now, the 2017 record whose title song I adore, is her sixth album. It’s the first one I’ve ever bought; I got Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz from whoever was kind enough to rip a free mp3 version from the free streaming version that was the only version available for a while (it’s now available as a paid download, and honestly, I kind of recommend it). I bought “Wrecking Ball” but not all of Bangerz. I downloaded “Party in the USA” from a music blog that encoded its source album as Shit Guys, Miley’s Done It Again!

There was a time when that fake title was only half-ironic. People like “Party in the USA” and especially “Wrecking Ball.” In the annals of teen or teen-like stars getting grown-up and weird, people do not so much like Dead Petz, the album where she fronted the Flaming Lips and (I assume) smoked a lot of pot, displaying a lot of vulnerability – and genuine, not overproduced, weirdness – in the process. People do not so much seem to like Younger Now so much, either. I gather that it’s considered kind of a clumsy, opportunistic pivot back to pop-country after a series of failed cultural appropriations. Though the record is country only insofar as it sounds kind of country-ish compared to the Flaming Lips, it is inarguably uneven. Miley Cyrus is not a savant who makes Top 40 pop that we wish actual Top 40 pop sounded like, like Carly Rae Jepsen. But then, Carly Rae Jepsen is 32. She knows things. This is why we (Rob and I, anyway) love her.

Which brings us back to “Younger Now.” Like the album of the same name, it’s not perfect. It has at least one production touch I actually hate: the fake or fake-sounding drum-ish fills that sound way too much like the fake record-scratching noises everyone started using around 1997 or so. (Again: I am not 25.) The lyrics are rife with clichés, especially in the chorus: “No one stays the same.” “What goes up must come down.” “Change is a thing you can count on.” But as on Dead Petz, the weakness and awkwardness in her music now feel achingly sincere, and both the melody and sentiment of “Younger Now” soar with an unforced wistfulness, and faux-drum stutters aside, the production lets that wistfulness breathe, showcasing Cyrus’s vocals. She’s never sounded more confident or comfortable or hopeful. You know, like how you feel for a few fleeting moments when you’re young, if you’re lucky.