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Archive for the ‘Video’ Category

If you have been near a radio, in a store, or anywhere where one could hear Top 40 music, you have probably heard “Call Me Maybe,” the inexplicable Top 10 hit by Carly Rae Jepsen, a Canadian singer-songwriter whose other songs don’t really hint at the pop genius of this one.

At first glance, just another disposable pop song. But it’s worth gathering what that means these days. One glance at the top of the Billboard Charts suggests that after years of hearing Euro dance beats and the tyranny of LMFAO and Katy Perry, the Top 10 is getting weird. Gotye featuring Kimba? fun.? Goofy British boy bands? The other shocker here is the return of legitimate melody — songs with catchy tunes rather than catchy beats (contrast Kelly Clarkson with, say, Pitbull). Consider Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” a slow, undanceable song with a monster singable chorus:

OK, but back to Carly Rae. What’s so great about “Call Me Maybe”? Well, to sum it up in one word, it’s the “maybe.” Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Petula Clark, Blondie: they all asked us to call them in songs titled “Call Me,” but they either came from a place of desperation or solicitation. In Jepsen’s case, the solicitation, if it exists at all, is hesitant and non-committal:

Hey, I just met you
And this is crazy
But here’s my number
So call me, maybe
It’s hard to look right
At you baby
But here’s my number
So call me, maybe

It’s a song about the queasy feeling of making the first move, of making yourself vulnerable. The inarticulate lyrics are exactly the point — who has not become tongue-tied when confronted by the object of their desire? Not everyone can sound like Debbie Harry, blithely asking people to “roll [her] in designer sheets.” For the Facebook generation, increasingly mediated in its human contact, there’s no imagery or directness, just staring at our shoes and asking the other person to call us, maybe.

Musically, the song understands that chorus is the key. The verses are kept to a minimum (15 seconds) with almost no backing, save for a generic drum beat and those repeated pizzicato strings, before we get to the pre-chorus when the song truly opens up. “Call Me Maybe” understands the fascistic nature of the pop song; it demands our allegiance and we will sing along, whether we like it or not. In come the cheesy strings, in comes the dance beat, in comes the middling keyboard figure: along with the lyrics of the song, the instrumentation suggests a sort of stasis, unwilling to commit one way or another. The vocals in the verse hover around the same note, and the chorus does the same flailing — climbing ever higher like a cracking voice before zeroing in on the tiny downward steps of “call me, maybe.” Consider the structure of the song, which features so many repeated parts that it’s not much more than window-dressing for the chorus.

  • Intro (pizzicato strings) (4 sec)
  • Verse 1 (“I threw a wish in a well…”) (16 sec)
  • Pre-chorus (“Your stare was holding…”) (8 sec) (in comes hint at the bigger beat and slow crescendo)
  • Chorus (“Hey I just met you…”) (15 sec) (the beat, the strings all come in)
  • Chorus (again!) (another 15 sec + 5 sec outro) (add noodly guitar line)
  • Verse 2 (“You took your time with the call…”) (16 sec)
  • Pre-chorus (8 sec)
  • Chorus (15 sec)
  • Chorus (15 sec)
  • Bridge (kind of) (“‘Fore you came into my life…”) (15 sec)
  • Chorus reprise (5 sec intro + 7 sec)
  • Chorus (15 sec)
  • Bridge again (15 sec)

That is to say, in a full 3:20 pop song, only 30 seconds give or take are lines not repeated elsewhere in the song. Verses, who needs that? The song is essentially nothing but sing-along! Even the choruses themselves are half just “Here’s my number/so call me maybe.” Through sheer repetition and melodic dog whistles, “Call Me Maybe” worms its way effortlessly into your brain, with just enough generic dance beat to throw your hands up.

In the tradition of “A-B-C” and “MmmBop!”, Jepsen’s tune is a perfect pop song for its moment — disposable verses with a heavily-repeated middle section, capturing somehow the non-committal of modern relationships with the machinery of pop songs. It’s worth noting that the song’s popularity derived from a Youtube video shot by Justin Bieber and his friends in which they sing along to the tune while goofing around.

For its noncommittal and tentative attempts at initiating contact, “Call Me Maybe” outro seems oddly deflating: Rather than a fade-out, the song simply peters out, but this seems to encapsulate the moment perfectly. A queasiness, a tepid solicitation, then a fantasy of all that happens in a relationship in the space of a three-minute pop song, followed by ultimate deflation. The only way to bounce back from the deflation? Why, we must play the song again and relive the experience! And so we do.

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The most popular TED talks tend to be uncontroversial and, to use TED’s own terminology, “jaw-dropping.” People want to stare in wonderment or be blown away by the advances we have made in the sciences or hear about a new discovery.

People don’t like to hear about race, poverty, and justice, so Bryan Stevenson’s TEDTalk is a bit outside of TED’s usual purview of Technology, Entertainment, and Design.

But to me, this fits perfectly into the question of design. When we design something, we must think about its purpose; design is more than attractive chairs. Institutional design determines how we administer justice in our society. What are the values we uphold? What does the design of our systems tell us about the answer to that question?

Stevenson’s talk doesn’t quite answer those questions, but it digs at the heart of what we believe to be a justice system and the shrugging apathy we afford it.

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Because we have to keep up our lead in Useless Bullshit somehow.

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The key changes when the guys start singing are really striking. This genre of video fascinates me, as it really highlights the combination of group participation and response to music, mass democracy, voyeurism, and exhibitionism that the Internet inhabits. That is to say, this is a piece of art that is entirely new and could not have ever existed previous to this moment in history.

People can complain about whether or not mashup is worthwhile, but it is at least novel.

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I do love mashed potatoes.

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Despite my schadenfreude at the hilarious Perry implosion at the “debate” last night, I want to point out that Perry is being lambasted for forgetting which three agencies he wanted to destroy, but he should have been disqualified for wanting to simply eliminate three federal agencies at all!

Instead, the whole Republican field is so far to the right that Perry’s position to eliminate federal agencies was downright moderate.

Rather than knocking Perry (or Cain) out for his awful policies and crazy ideas, it looks like the Republicans will probably just oust him for being a boob.

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In case you missed it, Youtube has its own Top 100 Music Videos charts, which serve as an interesting foil to the Billboard Hot 100.

The Billboard charts, once the gauge of pop song penetration across the nation, has limited utility these days. Although it now incorporates digital purchases, it still has both a bias towards recency (because people don’t purchase songs twice) and bias against the too recent (songs that have been leaked or have not been officially released).

A good example of this phenomenon is the chart performance of Rebecca Black’s novelty song “Friday.” It reached its peak in cultural salience in mid-March, and appeared on the Billboard charts at #72. The song peaked on the charts (at #58) two weeks after its peak in cultural salience. Conversely, the song’s conquering of Youtube happened almost instantaneously with a long tail as people continued watching the videos.

So, a brief tour of the differences in the two charts for this week. Youtube’s 100 still has the big hitters. Youtube’s Top 10 features 5 songs currently in Billboard’s Top 10, and 1 song that very recently was (“Super Bass” – #14 on Billboard). Yet its differences reflect its odd bent. For one, the chart tends to go a bit further afield than whitebread America, particularly in its inclusion of foreign/world/Spanish-language songs. “Rain Over Me,” a Pitbull song from this summer that peaked at #30 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August, sits comfortably at #6. Shakira’s generally forgotten World Cup anthem “Waka Waka” still inexplicably holds a #18 position on the Youtube 100.

What to make of Michel Telo’s “Ai Se Eu Te Pego,” a Portuguese-language song from Brazil with 33 million Youtube views?

I actually have a soft spot for this cheeseball sing-along. Certainly such a song would never make it on the Billboard charts, and most of its audience is likely Brazilian. The Youtube 100’s global reach folds in K-Pop, Brazilian pop-country, and reggaeton.

Consider the kind of American hit that makes it on the Youtube charts but not the Billboards.

This is Don Omar’s “Danza Kuduro.” The song hit number one in Austria, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands, but not in the U.S. An American song written largely in Spanish with a large polyglot global audience fits the narrative of the new global music industry’s reach.

In addition to its internationalist bent, the Youtube 100 reads trends before they peak on the Billboard 100. For example, Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe,” a promotional single from his “well, his voice dropped” Christmas album is already trending downwards on Youtube even as it debuts at #11 on the Billboard charts.

In light of these differences, it’s worth pondering what music charts are worth anyways. What do these charts actually tell us? Are they a window into a nation’s soul? I mean, maybe. But charts are essentially ephemeral; they can’t tell us which songs will last as monuments and which songs will slide into oblivion. Cultural critics will capture the ego, and historians will capture the superego, but the charts are pure id. That’s what the Youtube 100 captures, and what the Billboard 100 increasingly cannot do.

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