By Jonathan Hicks
Summer is for stupid people.
At least that is what I would assume if I only had popular “summer music” by which to judge. Let me explain.
Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” is lauded by countless music critics as the “song of summer 2010.” Perry’s competition—as considered by music critics—for that meaningless title includes dance-inspiring radio hits such as Usher’s “OMG” and Enrique Iglesias’ “I Like It.”
Each of these songs shares a few things in common: 1) They are easy to dance to, 2) They are laden with poorly-disguised sexual innuendo, and 3) They are filled with lyrics that were clearly of less importance than style.
These are obviously not new concepts in popular music. These are songs very clearly written for radio, meant to inspire little more than mindless self-indulgence.
The Beach Boys also wrote and released a hit single called “California Girls.” Arguably their most popular single, I find nothing redeeming about their version, either. (On the bright side, though, at least they used proper spelling.)
Rest assured, I am not trying to bash Brian Wilson and company. The Beach Boys are legends, but they achieved that status because of Pet Sounds, not Summer Days.
So, what makes Perry’s “California Gurls” stand out from the 2010 crowd? Other than a crude music video and an appearance by rap legend Snoop Dogg, not much.
Despite my tone, I don’t mean to pick on Perry specifically—her ode to stupidity is merely a drop in an ocean of moronic music. I also don’t mean to suggest there is no room in modern music for fun. I have long been on record that there are few greater joys than driving with the windows down and the music turned up (see July 30-Aug. 5, 2008, issue).
I do not object to fun. What I object to is the notion that music cannot at once be appropriate for the laid-back, summer season and still be somehow mentally stimulating. I simply don’t believe that it is too much to ask for music to move my body and my mind.
It is actually not Perry’s fault in 2010…just as it was not The Beach Boys’ fault in 1965. Musicians are to blame for wanting to cash in on pre-teen pocketbooks. Rock journalists are to blame for pandering to uncreative artists. Consumers are to blame for not demanding better.
Thankfully, there are some reasons for optimism. Just because they don’t often fit the cookie-cutter dimensions of what makes for popular “summer music,” there is music being created that will let you dance like there is no tomorrow, while still mentally aware that there is. Take B.o.B’s “Airplanes,” for example. The piano-driven dance track is upbeat, while still contemplative and reflective. Also known as Bobby Ray, the 21-year-old raps:
I’m guessin that if we can make some wishes outta airplanes
Then maybe yo maybe I’ll go back to the days
Before the politics that we call the rap game
And back when ain’t nobody listened to my mix tape
And back before I tried to cover up my slang
It is self-aware, it is honest, it is simple, yet poetic, and you can still dance to it. If a fresh-faced rapper barely old enough to drink can get it right, it gives me hope that other artists, critics and consumers will, too. It is summer. While that may mean it’s the season for shaking our butts, it doesn’t mean it is a time to lower our standards.
From the July 28-Aug 3, 2010 issue