Justin Bieber

When “California Gurls,” Katy Perry’s sugary, rollicking piece of pop, was unleashed in the summer of 2010 — out of car stereos, on TV commercials, at bars, barbecues and in the innuendo-leaden music video — it was like being steamrolled. The song, whether liked, loved or bemoaned, commands surrender — throw your hands up in defeat, give in to the fantasy; the lyrics “sun-kissed skin so hot we’ll melt your popsicle” have been woven into the pop cultural lexicon.

Perry’s song is one in a series of what the music industry and press calls Songs of Summer; the top 40 summer season hit that become so large, so beyond the scope of a four minute song that they permanently become part of the cultural consciousness. They are not forgotten. They define years, moments and artists’ careers. They are so well-known and have melodies and lyrics so easily regurgitated, that to not know them is alienating. Millenials know them: The Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” (2009), Rihanna’s “Umbrella” (2007), Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” (2002).

But how does a summer song embed itself so permanently into our brains? Because you commit them to memory, says David Allan, an assistant professor of marketing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia who has worked in the radio industry for more than 20 years, including at Clear Channel Communications. Summer songs are often experienced in the background to some of our most memorable moments — the soundtrack to summer fun. These episodic or autobiographical memories, Allan says, are why Songs of Summer stick with you 20 years later.

THE RULES

So what has 2012 wrought? With Memorial Day just behind us, there are a handful of contenders, frontrunners and outliers. To narrow down our own search, we’ve adapted some industry standard rules:

• No ballads 
• Top 40 radio fare are what will be primarily considered — they have the marketing and airplay muscle to become serious earworms. But we’ve indulged other tastes. 
• Songs that have reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 before Memorial Day are ineligible (sorry, Gotye).

Going forward, we will give weekly Song of Summer 2012 updates, looking closely at songs’ ubiquity (that “booming-out-the-car-stereo” quality), sales and Billboard chart positions and general buzz. 

THE FRONT RUNNERS

Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”

Bieber and tween-teen-approved, this seemingly innocuous breeze is really more like a Canadian storm system — no use hiding, it’s everywhere.  

Usher, “Scream”

We like “Climax” better, but based on how aggressively successful this single has been, it’s foolish to discount “Scream”’s au courant club rush. 

Rihanna, “Where Have You Been”

There’s an exotic, pulsating undercurrent to Rihanna’s latest. It’s not a classic like “Umbrella,” but it’ll take hold just as well. 

Justin Bieber, “Boyfriend”

He raps! Or something. Bieber’s attempt at Justin Timberlake-ification is intriguing, possibly misguided, but formidable.

CONTENDERS 

Katy Perry, “Wide Awake”

Having dominated the Song of Summer market for the past few years, Perry is an immediate contender, regardless of the (slower) song. 

Rita Ora, “How We Do (Party)”

An homage to Notrious B.I.G.’s “Party and Bullshit,” this song is a four minute hook: Jay-Z’s latest protege is our pick for the Song of Summer’s dark horse. 

One Direction, “What Makes You Beautiful”

Even amidst other teen stars like Jepsen and Bieber, these Brits and their breakout single have staying power. Its guilty pleasure factor is ridiculous. 

Maroon 5, “Payphone”

This is the kind of shimmery, widescreen pop that was this group’s claim to fame. It’s smooth.

OUTLIERS AND INDIE JAMS

Tanlines, “All of Me”

Those droning vocals and rhythmic syncopation wash over you in a beach party montage kind of way. An alternate summer jam. 

Icona Pop, “I Love It”

If only these Swedes were more famous! This is the kind of anthemic, blow-your-roof-off blitz that would do well on Top 40 radio. You will still hear this at parties. 

Santigold, “The Keepers”

Compared to other songs on this list, Santigold’s latest single is mellower and much simpler. “Keepers” is a nice foil to summer songs’ heavy production. 

Canadian up-and-comer Carly Rae Jepsen’s addictive pop song “Call Me Maybe” is making a stir online and may be this summer’s surprise jam. (Photo Courtesy of 604 Records)

It’s about that time of year when music critics and casual pop-lovers alike are struggling to anoint the coming summer’s Top 40 anthem. Likely candidates include Nicki Minaj’s house-inspired jam “Starships” and Usher’s slick new single “Climax.”

But one earworm of a ditty is poised to become the stealth jam of the summer: Carly Rae Jepsen’s bouncy tale of flirtation, “Call Me Maybe.” At this point, you’d be easily forgiven for not having heard the song, or even of Jepsen herself; she was the 2007 runner-up on Canada’s version of “American Idol,” and her single hasn’t yet broken the Billboard Top 40 radio charts (it’s currently floating around the 70s).

But Jepson’s irresistibly sugary tune has flourished online. As of Thursday night, “Call Me Maybe” occupied the No. 7 slot on Billboard’s digital chart, which tracks online downloads regardless of genre. The seemingly golden touch of Justin Bieber’s recommendation rocketed “Call Me Maybe” to its current level of Internet fame.

After initially tweeting his love for the song back in December (“Call me maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen is possibly the catchiest song I’ve ever heard lol”), Jepsen signed to Bieber’s own Schoolboy Records, making her a shoo-in for the position of new teen-pop darling despite her practically ancient age of 26.

The real clincher for the pool of Bieber fans ripe for Jepsen’s picking is a homemade montage YouTube video of Bieber, girlfriend Selena Gomez (also a favorite of the tween set), former “High School Musical” star Ashley Tisdale and various members of the apparently swoon-worthy Nickelodeon boy band Big Time Rush dancing and lip-synching to the song.

The video (which has now been viewed more than 29 million times) looks like the famous bunch filmed it at a co-ed sleepover; they’re dancing in what looks like someone’s kitchen and living room, sporting fake mustaches and ultra-casual T-shirts and tank tops, making silly faces and at one point forming a conga line. In short, it’s a fascinating glimpse of superstar teens acting like the goofy kids who live down the street — catnip for tween fans who want to believe more than anything that their favorite stars are just like them.

As for the song itself: it’s the prefect teen pop crossover bound to follow in the footsteps of Gomez’s “Love You Like a Love Song” and “Boyfriend,” Bieber’s new single that shows off a slightly edgier side; whether that attempted edginess actually works is up for debate.

The song’s lyrics are a strange mixture of summer romance cliches (“Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad,” anyone?) and surprisingly apt descriptions of what it’s like to be struck with infatuation by someone so blindingly good-looking as the object of Jepsen’s affections (“It’s hard to look right at you, baby”).

For all of the song’s virtues (Jepsen’s perfectly bland, unobtrusive vocals; the fun, bouncy tempo and its simplicity), what makes “Call Me Maybe” an unforgettable song is just that — it’s unforgettable. After a few spins, you’ll be incessantly singing about ripped jeans, hot nights and trading your “soul for a wish” (whatever that means) for weeks.

I have a feeling that “Call Me Maybe” will be the pinnacle of Ms. Jepsen’s career — while she’s a serviceable singer, cute and reasonably fun to watch on-screen (the “real” music video depicts Jepsen checking out a guy through her window only to discover that he’s gay), the song itself is the true star here. Selena Gomez herself could be singing it instead of Jepsen and it would have the same effect.

But hey, we’ve just met her. There’s a chance she’ll surprise us.

Printed on Friday, April 6, 2012 as: Radio epidemic maybe?

Photo Credit: Elijah Watson | Daily Texan Staff

Justin Bieber. Say the name in a crowded room and you’re bound to get an assortment of responses: “He looks like a girl.” “He flips his hair too much.” “I love him.” The Canadian pop/R&B singer has gone from YouTube sensation to international heartthrob in a span of four years. Why? As music journalist Amos Barshad states in his article, “Why Is Justin Bieber This Popular?” “[There] is a level of nonthreatening adorableness even other teen pop stars find impressive.”

It’s true — the singer’s asexuality and innocence have greatly contributed to his appeal and success. Although Bieber is now experiencing the pains of growing up (the recently-turned 18-year-old started out at the young age of 15), he’s maturing more slowly than his contemporaries, allowing his progression to be digested a lot easier by his fans.

Inevitably, Bieber, like those who have come before him, made the long and perilous journey through adolescence, acquiring a deep voice and newly-cropped haircut along the way. Now the question seems to be, will Bieber successfully make the transition from preteen lover-boy to that of R&B singer and mentor Usher, or forever be remembered as the former? The singer’s latest single, “Boyfriend,” seems to show Bieber caught in between.

“I got money in my hands that I’d really like to blow (Swag, swag, swag), on you,” raps Bieber on his latest single. Yes, he raps; it almost comes off as laughably forced, but the compressed guitars and lay-you-down-gently synths indicate that the singer means business. The hip-hop inspired boasts production by fellow R&B artist Mike Posner provide a taste of Bieber’s maturity as an artist and person.

The steps to Bieber’s adulthood have been gradual and cautious: a public kiss with girlfriend Selena Gomez here, a punk-rock-inspired Rolling Stone cover there (did anyone else think Sid Vicious upon seeing that photo?) and a battered and bruised Bieber on the cover of this month’s Complex to top it all off. Of course there have been a few minor stumbles (Bieber flipping off reporters last March), but for the most part, Bieber seems ready for his growth.

The young artist’s perseverance and growing maturity is reminiscent of another Justin: Timberlake. Timberlake and Bieber may not have identical career trajectories, but there are some parallels. For example, Timberlake’s rise to fame also began in innocence as a cast member of The Mickey Mouse Club and a member of the boy-pop group, ‘N Sync.

Fast forward to 2006, and Timberlake released his sophomore album, FutureSex/LoveSounds. The album showed Timberlake’s racier side — I don’t think we’ll ever forget the singer’s video for “What Goes Around.../...Comes Around,” a nine-minute epic that featured lust, love and lies.

Obviously, Bieber’s “Boyfriend” has nothing on FutureSex/LoveSounds in quality, but it is an indicator that Bieber knows that with age comes more sexually suggestive ways of expression. “Spend a week wit your boy/I’ll be calling you my girlfriend,” he raps. It’s not surprising lyrically, but the deep-voiced rhymes, and an atmosphere that channels the sounds of Usher and The-Dream are head-turning, because Bieber has never been known to be a rapper.

The song is not completely bad, but there’s a level of awkwardness in Bieber’s forced delivery and lyrical content that indicate the singer is not fully prepared for the shift. His rapping delivery attempts to show signs of maturity, but the awkwardness and childish flirting stop it from being taken too seriously.

For example, towards the end of “Boyfriend,” Bieber relies on Disney pick-up lines to get his interest’s attention: “I could be your Buzz Lightyear/fly across the globe.”

Fans will still like “Boyfriend” because, although the rapping may come off as unfamiliar, the singing won’t. Even though the lyrical content doesn’t indicate a significant shift in maturity, fans will appreciate that Bieber has not completely abandoned his childish appeal. It’s smart that Bieber is moving slow. As we’ve seen with Miley Cyrus, rushing to appease an adult audience sometimes isn’t the best method.

“I’m constantly thinking about my future,” Bieber said in an interview with Barshad in 2010. “I always listen to what Michael Jackson has to say, and Usher and Justin Timberlake, and how they came out in interviews, and how they were able to transition from teen stars into adult stars.”

Bieber seems to know what he’s doing — as long as he continues to grow naturally with his fans, rather than try to appease one specific age group, the Bieber fever will continue to spread.

Printed on Thursday, March 29, 2012 as:'Baby' singer grows up in 'Boyfriend'

Singer Justin Bieber performs during his My World Tour concert at the National Stadium in Lima, Peru.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Under The Mistletoe, Justin Bieber’s Christmas album, is first and foremost an attempt to create an exceedingly accessible and marketable Christmas album. Justin Bieber’s music already falls in this tween demographic-exploiting vein, but Under The Mistletoe goes even further. The album spans tons of genres, but not in the cohesive manner that is gaining popularity in contemporary music.

Certain tracks fall into very distinct, definitive genres with minimal combinations. “Home This Christmas” is a country song and “Drummer Boy” is a newfangled hip-hop R&B song. “Someday At Christmas” is a doo-woppy ballad.

That being said, Under The Mistletoe does a very good job of what it sets out to do: be a really listenable pop record. The songs provide a 21st-century rendition of Christmas classics in conjunction with original Bieber songs, which actually demonstrate a great deal of technical proficiency on Bieber’s part. Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” acutely reflects this to the point of being nearly annoying, as Usher and Bieber accentuate and warp the ends of their verses way too much. They make sure everyone knows they have good voices in the most painfully obvious of ways.

Bieber extends this exemplification of his talents even further in “Drummer Boy,” where he raps alongside Busta Rhymes. Granted Bieber’s techniques, like his collaborator’s, are gimmicky in that they involve tremendous amounts of repetitious skipping breaths and cadence manipulations to sound fast and cool. Even so, it works out and shows a tremendous amount of potential on Bieber’s part. Hopefully he’ll pursue rapping more somewhere down the line. For now, though, it serves to make the track one of Under The Mistletoe’s standouts and makes “Drummer Boy,” one of the seasons’ most boring songs, much more pleasing.

In interviews before Under The Mistletoe’s release, Bieber said he wanted the album to be a Christmas classic, like Boyz II Men’s or Mariah Carey’s Christmas albums. He’s managed to one-up himself in that regard, as he has created a Christmas classic, and both are featured on this album. Even though the record has flaws, it’s nothing unique to most pop music that tries to cater to overarching amounts of fans, and Bieber, as always, does it the best.

Commentary, Review

COMMENTARY

The growing trend of music for the preteen generation in recent years, and especially in recent months, has increasingly been placed under tremendous scrutiny. Justin Bieber’s and Miley Cyrus’ rising popularity resulted in them becoming some of America’s most hated individuals.

Justin Bieber alone accounts for five of the top 10 most disliked videos on YouTube. Rebecca Black takes the honor for the most disliked video of all time. The most perplexing aspects of all of this aren’t the individuals themselves but the inexplicable harsh animosity the public assigns to them.

The almost violent hatred of Bieber is perhaps the strangest. The small Canadian actually garners legitimate respect within the music world, collaborating with established artists such as Usher, Ludacris, Kanye West and even underground legend of the famous Wu-Tang Clan, Raekwon. Even underground celebrities such as Toro Y Moi and Tyler, The Creator, have expressed desires to work with Bieber.

Despite this, droves of people are still eager to bring bodily harm to the kid. In a contest for his “My World Tour,” which intended to send Bieber to the country with the most votes, more than 600,000 votes were cast to send him to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Although, Bieber, unfaithful to his word, didn’t play there.

Outside of Bieber, the fervor of hatred toward young artists is as contagious and widespread as the plague, or perhaps a fever. On paper, it makes no sense. Imagine a 22-year-old caustically belittling a preteen you know. It’s actually pretty cool, if you’re a sociopath. It’s pretty safe to say that at the very least, an institutionalized hatred of a subset of young teenagers is a little appalling. Regardless, it happens anyway.

For some reason, the masses like to think normal pop music is above preteen pop, yet the hierarchy
is illogical.

A prime example of this is Bieber’s “Baby” compared to Adele’s critically praised hit, “Rolling In The Deep.” The songs contain the same subject: loves lost that had tremendous potential and that deeply affected both artists. The Jaime xx version of “Rolling In The Deep,” even features a rap portion by Childish Gambino that parallels Ludacris’ verse in “Baby.” Both serve the identical function of providing a detailed anecdote of a love lost. Bieber’s age, relative to Adele’s, doesn’t matter. Often people will want to label the youth as being naive, but some of the worst, most memorable pain comes from your youth before you’re emotionally jaded. All things considered, it becomes more a question of which work do you arbitrarily assign value and quality to.

A relatively current major source of these teen artists is Ark Music Factory, a record label whose business model is centered around enticing parents to pay anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000, and in return, Ark promotes and produces songs and music videos for their children. The fact that the company labels itself as a factory is highly indicative of its motives to produce products and not pieces of art.

This is quite all right because the demographic they are appealing to doesn’t require art. Children have no need for complexly structured songs with meanings that they can’t even fathom, let alone relate to. While prodigies are noticed in math and science, youth extremely proficient in humanities-related subjects are few and far apart because they aren’t born that way. Instead, these skills must be developed. Most children simply don’t understand the cultural and literary value of the works of John Steinbeck and comparable authors. The reason Black sings about the glory of Friday and Jenna Rose of jeans is because that’s what 12- and 13-year-olds understand.

There’s a good reason Disney Channel’s original movies don’t win Academy Awards, but for some reason, they aren’t slashed to pieces by hordes of malicious individuals. So, why don’t we all make fun of Dr. Seuss books? Those are really dumb and childish. If Bieber and his peers aren’t necessarily for the masses, then why is he hated by said masses?