The thought occurred to me recently that I really don’t have my finger on the pulse of popular music any more. And I haven’t done so for quite some time. I don’t listen to much commercial radio. My commute to and from work is about 10 minutes. Fifteen if there’s heavy traffic and I tend to listen to Radio New Zealand or podcasts on my phone if I want to listen to audio.
It takes a lot for new material to break through to me – I end up listening to a lot of movie soundtracks. I really overplayed the soundtrack to Hamilton last year.
You might argue that at 38, this isn’t really essential knowledge to have. Fans of The Simpsons might recall Abe’s warning words.
The fact is, it takes a little effort to keep up and you reach a point where you’re running out of fucks to give about this sort of thing.
And yet, as a librarian I broadly work in the cultural industry. So I took it upon myself to open up Spotify and listen to the top 10 tracks on the New Zealand charts to address this gap in my cultural literacy. Here are my impressions:
10. 2U – David Guetta and Justin Bieber. Now I am well and truly not the target market for Bieber, but I wanted to give him a fair hearing. This song had fairly insipid lyrics and relied way too much on autotune, synths and weird trilling vocalisations. The tempo changed throughout the track, so I wouldn’t want to dance to it either.
9. Mama – Jonas Blue, William Singe. This is better. Still synth led, but it has a pretty good hook to it. Dance-able rhythm. I’m not expecting Sgt Pepper or anything, but it’s a decent pop tune.
8. I’m the One – DJ Khalid, Justin Bieber, Quavo. Bieber again. I guess he enjoys some success in the northern summer. This is a much better offering than 2U. It’s a pretty chilled out summery track. Again a lot of autotune but I can see what they’re going for here.
7. Glorious – Macklemore (feat. Skylar Grey). This is one of the two songs in this list that somehow had already broken through to me. I really enjoyed Thrift Shop when it came out a couple of years ago and although I didn’t follow Macklemore closely after that, it’s clear even to me that the man has talent. Here Skylar Grey’s chorus offers a great hook. This is an optimistic, affirming song that brings a smile to the face. It also has a pretty sweet video.
6. Thunder – Imagine Dragons. I liked this tune too. It’s pretty simple, but that’s no sin in popular music. It has a big, forceful backing track, which contrasts well with moments of harmonised a cappella singing. It’s a big dance tune. I’m sure a lot of people sing along to this.
5. Unforgettable – French Montana, Swae Lee. I know it sounds trite, but this tune is pretty forgettable and kind of meh. I can’t remember anything about it and would have to replay it to offer any deeper thoughts. Which I don’t really have the inclination to do.
4. Strip That Down – Liam Payne, Quavo. Another tune for dancing. It has a decent bass track which is unique for this clutch of singles. But I’m not really feeling it.
3. Feels – Calvin Harris, Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, Big Sean. This is quite a funky tune, which is the kind of thing I like on occasion (I was listening to Stevie Wonder’s Superstition earlier in the week). Worth a relisten.
2. Wild Thoughts – DJ Khaled, Rihanna, Bryson Tiller. A little Spanish guitar is nice to hear and there’s even some rock guitar to be heard in this track. Rihanna drawls out her lyrics. My ears aren’t going to perk up if I listen to this track again, though.
1. Despecito (Remix) – Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, Justin Bieber. Speaking of Spanish guitar, there’s more to be had here. Even I haven’t escaped this phenomenon – this is the other tune that had already turned up on my radar. I’d think you’d almost have to be comatose for it not to. A latter-day Macarena. This is the bilingual version and it is a bit of a toe-tapper, but I can see how it can wear out it’s welcome pretty quickly.
This was a pretty productive exercise. There are four tunes that I’ll be putting on my own playlist to listen again to: Mama, Glorious, Thunder and Feels and I think I’ll repeat this exercise on at least a monthly basis. There are a few other things I intend to listen to too – playlists from Q and the NME. I think it’s worth the effort.