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Sonically Speaking (9/29/2010)
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I think shitty music should be wiped clean from the earth. Especially the kind made by insensitive cultural freeloaders like Diddy. But the attempts to reconcile the difference between the way the culture is and the way you think it should be never ends, which is one reason — I know from experience — why people become boozehounds and drug addicts.
Pop music kinda works like drugs: You know when it’s great but when it’s horrible you might flatline. If music doesn’t merit some toe-tapping or a longing to be someplace else, or inform in a way that makes you see, or want to see, things differently, or make you want to move or fuck or simply give up the goosebumps, then what’s its purpose? To annoy? Below are the last decade’s most annoying records "created" by the some of the most overrated folks.
One of the greatest d’bags in the history of pop music, to be sure. Here’s a rich white kid who stepped into inner-city Detroit, copped its music wholesale from its rappers — without proper credit — made DJ shtick (oh, the irony!) of it, and then later paraded around, hair-tossing and burping up song-after-gratuitous-song of self-congratulatory horseshit. I mean, it’s perfectly fine to like yourself — God bless you if you actually do — but to be completely in love with yourself? Now that’s fucking scary. It’s as if everything in Kid Rock’s life and songs has been designed specifically to show others just how sweet Kid Rock is. Well, I learned early on in life that self-pimping assholes can create careers of talking about how great they are, but they’re the same ones with absolutely zero greatness in them. With Cocky, Rock nailed a new low in narcissism, in title alone.
The rich kid from rural Michigan got all trailer on us and then we saw him on stage in front of a Confederate flag, like he’s all down with Skynyrd now. After Rock ditched the lame rock-rap and slipped into white trashin’, we knew it was an easy route to big bank deposits. I saw this and went, "Oh. My. God. Why isn’t everyone pointing to this guy and screeching, ‘We’re being conned and manipulated and this guy blows! He’s a fucking sock puppet in a nice Republican coat!’"
Press Play (Bad Boy Records)
Find a picture of Sean "Puff Daddy" Diddy Combs, or whatever his name is, preferably one that sees him wearing those unsightly 18kt gold Avocets and a white linen suit, and stare at his mug for five seconds. Now, just feel your IQ points fall. … He’s powerful like that.
Diddy boasts friendships with both the pornoific (but over-aerobicized) Fergie and the super definition of alpha-white dud Michael Bolton. (What was it with lame rappers hooking up with or sampling limp and soulless white guys?) He also palled around with scuzzball Donald Trump. A theory: This private-school-weaned mouth-breather’s presence was allowed only to soothe the silky white guilt of those lighter-skinned millionaires. If dude wasn’t dressed in white linen, walking on UES shoes with gold laces, if he wasn’t of African-American descent, where do you think he’d be? Not in some mahogany backroom burning blunts with Trump, that’s for certain. Here’s a guy who’s woefully short on magnetism (ever seen him perform? It’s like karaoke featuring the dude who delivers Whirlpool Duets for Rent-a-Center, only wearing a fancy getup) and sophistication (J-Lo? Shootings?), who lucked into a position to actually do some good with his money but instead basically sold out his race to want to be, and then hang out with, the ultimate symbol of greedy white assholes, Donald Trump. (Diddy, in fact, tripped all over himself to act as a human footstool to Trump.)
Would people tolerate Diddy if he, say, didn’t lift the songwriting work of others and pass it off to unsuspecting legions of 12-year-olds who didn’t know better back in the late ’90s? (Remember his debut No. 1, "Can’t Hold Me Down"? Matthew Wilder’s chorus from "Breakin’ My Stride" meets Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s brilliant "The Message"?) His "songs" were generated in the minds of more creative others, and then move them around on a Mac screen with an added beat and a lame interpolated rap. For that he’s been called a "genius" producer and songwriter. At one point, Tupac saw through Diddy’s shit and goofed on him. But Tupac’s no longer with us.
Diddy was, in fact, all things music-biz ugly. He was a concert promoter, a marketing whiz, and a label exec (Bad Boy Records). OK, so why on earth would anyone give a flying fuck what a label exec would have to sing or rap about? What does Diddy have to say that any kid in America should care about? The greedy desire for easy wealth? Could you imagine, say, if Tommy Mottola put a band together and made a "statement" album of soft rock songs? Hell, if Mottola wanted to rap he could surely shell out for, and stand on the shoulders of, Big Boi, Nas, Kanye and Cee-Lo to make Press Play.
And here’s another reason to hate Diddy: He coined the phrase "ghetto-fabulous."
At one point, when countless newspaper critics and, in particular, the boomer egomaniacs at Rolling Stone, began calling Justin Timberlake a musical force to be reckoned with, it was to time retreat and live an eerie and solitary existence, beer in hand. Who can forget that magazine’s sycophantic Timberlake cover shot for a story that fellated FutureSex/LoveSounds so hard you could spot the singer’s hardened nipple? The portrait, in fact, made Timberlake look less like a pop star and more like a West Hollywood gay porn star/personal trainer who worked himself down to L.A. after hustling the Polk Street Gulch. (Rolling Stone even placed this album on its top 100 of the decade list.)
Critics glommed onto the world’s biggest male pop star, one whose career arc was simple whoring up, and hailed him as brilliant. They needed to feel in sync with, um, what? The kids? That "beat from the street"? What? That unmistakable quantized sound of twentysomething multimillionaires wanking?
Look, Timberlake sang country on Star Search. He starred in ’N Sync. He was a Mouseketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club. I mean, Annette Funicello was good and all, in a very ironic and twisted Oedipus-y kinda way, but Christ, it was still all gooey. Locked-up criminal and alleged pedophile Lou Pearlman sidled up to Timberlake, placed him sweetly on lips of prepubescents the world over, before ripping him off blind. The national gaydar went gaga with whispers and hush-hushes over that one. Timberlake’s a media hooker too; for one thing, he bedded McDonalds for a sweet $6 mil (remember his singing on those "I’m Lovin’ It" ads back in ’03?). Yeah, Timberlake’s cool, all right. Bah. His is merit-free, forever stained with the stench of prepackaging for mass consumption; erase Timbaland from the equation here and what have you got? An aging Mouseketeer with a worked-out torso who wanted to sound something like Coldplay (?!) and who was influenced by INXS (?!) on songs that, in truth, were only as good as their production? And since when were Coldplay and INXS ever any good?
Elephant (Warner Brothers)
Yep. Jack White. Yeah, he’s a pretty man: a rock star, a true ass-magnet in the classic sense. He’s a guitar hero too, and he knows how to get a record to sound great. All that’s awesome for him. But I hate this record because, when it came out in 2003, everyone and his sister jizzed all over it. Ev-errree-y-one, as Gary Oldman would say. When I listened to Elephant, all I heard was White’s high-pitched ego — a guy trying far too hard to be heard as the New White Hope/Messiah who’ll save rock ’n’ roll. Sure, ego and grandiose ambition are part of rock ’n’ roll, and informed everyone from Chuck Berry to Queen to Dylan to Justin Timberlake, but this … my god, the way everyone fawned all over it, and talked and talked and talked and talked about it.
Well, the Stripes are constructed on colorful novelty and this record wouldn’t have sold based on musical value alone, stripped of its packaging, and I’d wager that in 10 year’s time there won’t be a soul on earth singing one single song from this, with exception of the Bacharach-David ditty.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stadium Arcadium (Warner Brothers):
Pop stars, for the most part, lie and preen and put a spin on everything, especially when they're telling you that they're telling the truth. The Chili Peppers think they're great and, on a platform made of white-boy chicken-butt funk and bad punk rock, they put out what has to be one of the most boring records ever recorded. Ever. Be awful, be brilliant, just don't be boring. Stadium Arcadium's
Sprawling, 28-song, ego-stroking set of teste-crimping experimental pop gazes just inward enough to warrant the band getting called the Emerson Lake & Palmer of the '00s.
Radiohead, Hail to the Thief (Capitol): Since when did sleep apnea equal smart or, for that matter, good?
Conor Oberst, Conor Oberst (Merge): He's an overrated pussy who can't write a chorus.
Paul McCartney, Driving Rain (Capitol): Poor memory, self-absorption, tunnel-vision ... the list goes on. Someone please give that man a cholinesterase inhibitor!
Brian Smith is Metro Times managing editor. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.