The Pop Cycle - Rihanna, Taylor Swift, and the Biebs

A few years ago, I started listening to pop radio in my car. I don't recall what song it was -- possibly Nicki Minaj's "Superbass" -- but I realized I liked what I was hearing. And, in fact, I liked what I was hearing even more than what I heard on alt-rock stations (which, in Phoenix, was a lot of Stone Temple Pilots). 

(I know about NPR, and I listen extensively, but a man can't listen to NPR all the time, particularly when Diane Rehm or Garrison Keillor are on.)

Since then, I have come to enjoy monitoring the pop music landscape. I like judging songs in a vacuum, free of societal constraints that claim a bearded Portlander dad can't appreciate a Taylor Swift tune on occasion. So, this column will talk about pop music. This column is not ironic. This week: Swift, Bieber, and the best song on pop radio.

"Stay" - Rihanna and Mikky Ekko

(Warning: Video could be kind of NSFW.)

I first heard this song as Rihanna ripped it out like a beating heart during the Grammys, and it's been one of my favorite songs since. It's the best song on Top 40 radio right now. It's smoldering and sexy and sad and slow.

Not to get all Brio on you, but do I detect some spiritual overtones here? There's the whole sexy baptismal theme in the video, and the lyrics are a bit mystic. That's not all: the song's featured guest and author, Mikki Ekko, is a pastor's kid. IS THIS A CHRISTIAN SONG? LET'S CHANGE THE WORDS A BIT AND PLAY IT IN WORSHIP.

Anyway, "Stay" is lovely.

Rating (1-10): 10

"22" - Taylor Swift

In a vacuum, Taylor Swift's songs are terrific. Unfortunately, we live in a world where certain musicians are plastered over every available surface. If you hear "22" on the radio, it's a fun, catchy pop song. It lacks the sublime chorus thump of "I Knew You Were Trouble". It has some annoying chunks -- like being Ke$ha-lite  -- but Taylor Swift's songs have annoying chunks. Comes with the territory.

But if you watch videos for any of these songs, or see Taylor Swift at an awards show, or read about her condemning Tina Fey and Amy Poehler to hell, the songs take on a different light. I try not to pay too much attention to the day-to-day actions of egomaniacal early-20s types, but Tina Fey is undeniably awesome*, so Swift's penchant for publicly trashing people via music or Katie Couric quotes isn't something easily shrugged off.

I still think Taylor Swift is this generation's best shot at being a long-term talent. She's full of herself, but combining her prodigious songwriting output with, say, a drug-induced spiritual awakening a la The Beatles could yield interesting results.

* - Amy Poehler is deniably awesome.

Rating: 6

"Beauty and a Beat" - Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj

I won't pretend to know much about Justin Bieber's music. Here's what I do know: that song about babies had a nice melody; he's an unraveling manchild who's present will be looked back on with shame by all involved, including the viewing public; and if I was a teenage girl, this guy would be plastered all over my wall, because he's adorable.

This song is meh. The chorus is fine enough, but the only thing interesting about this track is Nicki Minaj's guest verse. It's not interesting because it's good, though. It's interesting because it's gross.
"Justin...Bieber/You know I'm gonna hit 'im with the ether/Buns out...wiener/But I gotta keep an eye out for Selena"
(It should be noted "Selena" is pronounced "Suh-lee-ner" to rhyme with "wiener".)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Nicki rapping about drugging Justin Bieber and then raping him? Using a hot dog metaphor? Am I the only one who sees it this way? Is my mind wrong?

Rating: 4


  1. She's definitely rapping about what you say she's rapping about. I'm sad now.

  2. Jordan - Please don't speak such blasphemies about Ms. Poehler. She's the star of the best show on television that doesn't feature Joel McHale, Jon Hamm, Lena Headey, or Brian Cranston.