In times of chaos, omnipresent pop tunes, like mashed potatoes,provide us with great comfort. And in a year marked by bloodshed inIraq, SARS in Hong Kong and Canada, the worst blackout in U.S.history, and marauding tigers in Vegas, it seems almost churlish toturn a critical eye on 2003's inescapable hits. Butwe're going to do it anyway. Because this is America, and westill can. Joining us in asserting our right to free and frequentlybitchy speech are singer/songwriter John Mayer (whose sophomoremajor-label disc, Heavier Things, debuted at No. 1 inSeptember) and comedian/indie-rock aficionado David Cross (whotoured the States throughout 2003 in support of his Sub Pop comedyalbum, Shut Up You Fucking Baby!).
SEAN PAUL, "GET BUSY"
(Inescapable dancehall smash; in other words, this year's "Informer," "Here Comes the Hotstepper," or "It Wasn't Me")
DAVID CROSS: This song has tormented me! It's not that good,and yet it was everywhere! I feel like I was 11 or 12 when I firstheard this -- that's how many times I've heard it. But it does make methink of big, sweaty asses jiggling in my head. Rapidly. There'snothing wrong with that, per se.
JOHN MAYER: When do you actually hear Sean Paul unless youlisten to the one radio station in every major city that plays SeanPaul? But once you turn the radio off, there's no Sean Paul. He doesn'texist in actual culture. Usually, by the time an artist gets to acouple-times platinum, you have some kind of cultural stamp. You'reembedded. I remember hearing this and thinking, "This Sean Paul guy'sjust as famous as can be." But he's actually not. And that's the trick.
(Folkie poetess' bid for club hit, huge gay following)
CROSS: First of all, it's a bad song. Second of all, it's such a blatant attempt to redefine herself. It's so obvious.
MAYER: The beat is lumbering and plodding, and it's got themost unsingable chorus of the year. It almost has a "Puttin' on theRitz" [Taco's 1982 hit] quality. It's the song you least wanna hearwhen you have a high fever and are on the verge of throwing up. Becauseit's got that carnival-like, spinning-room vibe. It really is the soundof being sick.
JUNIOR SENIOR, "MOVE YOUR FEET"
(Dance-floor alterna-pop from Denmark)
CROSS: They're Danish? Well, I'm all for free trade and openmarkets. This seems pretty disposable. I like it. It's fun summermusic, but I won't be looking for it in a year, going, "Oh, shit,where's that Junior Senior tape?"
MAYER: This may be the future of music.
SPIN: How so?
MAYER: It's a song that you can learn before it's over. It'spart of the continual blurbing of American culture -- this skip-forwardgeneration. "I don't wanna learn lyrics. Don't give me a verse; justgive me a chorus. And just chant some shit over the verse." Butnobody's left out. The person who's heard this song 20 times is nocloser to understanding it than the person who listens to it for thefirst time.
LIAM LYNCH, "UNITED STATES OF WHATEVER"
(Weird Al on a skateboard)
CROSS: [Hits stop button six seconds in] Yeah, I get it.
THE BLACK EYED PEAS, "WHERE IS THE LOVE?"
(Protest-rap pop breakthrough)
MAYER: Now, this song I really like, but when I hear it, Ihear "No Woman No Cry" in the key of F. I understand why it's a hit,and it's great for them. Unfortunately, to get on the radio they haveto slide that medicine in the dog food of pop music, which is a shame.Black Eyed Peas have been around for six years -- they've put out threerecords. This is something you do when you decide that it's notworking, that you're not hitting as many people as you wish you could.
THE DONNAS, "TAKE IT OFF"
(Bubblegum garage-metal hit, not unlike their previous bubblegum garage-metal non-hits)
MAYER: It's like the Saved by the Bell theme. [Sings] "When I wake up in the morning / And the clock lets out a warning/ It's all right, 'cause I'm saved by the bell."
CROSS: Out of all the stuff so far, this is way up my alley.?I don't know if you've seen my alley: It's up around Tenth, betweenSecond and Third.
THE ATARIS, "THE BOYS OF SUMMER"
(Cover of Don Henley's elegiac 1984 boomer-noir chestnut)
CROSS: I congratulate them on being officially theone-?millionth kitschy, we-cover-this-old-'80s-song-in-a-pop-punk-styleband. And they don't do much with it except speed it up. Also, the ideabehind the original song is completely gone. I loathe Don Henley, but Iget the sentiment. The words might as well be Greek to these guys.
CHINGY, "RIGHT THURR"
(The latest Southern hip-hop slang primer)
MAYER: It's vocab rock. It provides new words and phrasesfor the language. Like "bootylicious," "gettin' jiggy wit it," "backthat azz up," "hot in herre." You can keep going.
SPIN: Snoop talk.
MAYER: Yeah. Every three or four years, hip-hop unknowinglygives white America 12 more references to use in movies about whitepeople from Beverly Hills trying to act black.
(Antimaterialist electro sermon becomes a Gap jingle.)
CROSS: [Sings] "I lost my memory in Hollywood." I don't think that's all she's lost. Virginity, dignity....
MAYER: You mean to tell me that one of the most successful,cutting-edge, avant-garde icons has gone far into her artistic cacheand come up with a song about how Hollywood is weird. Oh, my God! Nowwe are cutting through to the truth with laser-light precision.
LINKIN PARK, "SOMEWHERE I BELONG"
(Rap-metalists prove that teen angst still pays off.)
MAYER: More anxiety rock. It's stuff you write when you'rehaving a panic attack. But I believe it. What it comes down to withthese bands is "Do you believe them?" Because anybody can write: "Ijust wanna tear my skin off / And show it to you / And say, 'Here's whoI am' / And bleed all over your hands." The integrity of this band isreally, really cool.
CROSS: Whine, whine, whine, whine, whine, whine, whine,whine, whine. "I'm a ten-year-old white suburban girl -- this is what Ithink." I swear, are these guys hanging outside junior-high girls' gymlockers and writing down what they overhear and then turning it intomusic? Are they 16?
BLUR, "CRAZY BEAT"
(Punky post-Britpop with Fatboy Slim-assisted chorus seemingly sung by a mallard in a Regent's Park pond)
CROSS: I'm psyched that they were able to get Rick Dees to do the "Disco Duck" thing to celebrate that song's 25th anniversary.
MAYER: When I hear this first part, I hear Princess Leiasaving Han Solo from carbonite at the beginning of Return of the Jedi,when she says, "Your eyesight will return in time." He says, "Who areyou?" She says, "Someone who loves you."
THE ALL-AMERICAN REJECTS, "SWING, SWING"
(Five or six Weezer-lite hooks + nasal rock-boy vocals = prom-night forever)
CROSS: [Sings] "Emotions, they stir / Emotions, they stir." ?I like it so far. Yeah! "Need a hit" written all over it! [Sings] "On the phewne!" Phewne? Where's he from? New Zealand? It's phone! Fuck you guys! You had me, you had me.
METALLICA, "ST. ANGER"
(Jackhammering return to former hardness)MAYER: First of all, it doesn't sound very good. [Drums kick in] Woooo!That is trashy-sounding! I remember reading that [producer] Bob Rocksaid he just wanted to make a trashy-sounding record, which I believe. [Verse begins] Ooh! This is terrible -- I can't listen to it anymore. This is the Metallica tribute band.
T.A.T.U., "NOT GONNA GET US"
(Ultraproduced, Russian lesbian teen-pop anthem)
MAYER: What are they, German?
CROSS: I don't know anything about this group, but theysound kind of dykey. Perhaps I'd like it better if they made out. Whatdoes T.A.T.U. stand for: "Tongue and Tits United"?
LIMP BIZKIT, "EAT YOU ALIVE"
(Stalker anthem a la Stone Temple Pilots' "Sex Type Thing," apparently without the irony)
MAYER: It's Skid Row's "Monkey Business." I can't tell youwhy, but it just feels like "Monkey Business." And the video's kind oflike "Monkey Business." If you think of it chronologically, on a careertrack, it also might be "Monkey Business."
SPIN: What do you mean?
MAYER: Well, what happened to Skid Row after "Monkey Business"?
SPIN: They sort of disappeared.
MAYER: [Nods head]
CROSS: [Holds Limp Bizkit CD] Hmm.
SPIN: Track 2.
CROSS: [Places CD on floor, smashes it with bare foot, picks up broken disc, tries to load it into player] I'm sorry. I'm trying to play it. I think this CD you gave me is fucked up. The machine, it's not taking it....
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, "ROCK YOUR BODY"
(Neptunes-produced, Jacko-inspired, couples-only jam)
MAYER: Justin's attention to what sounds good is all thatguides him, and that's why he will always and forever write hits. Heknows what sounds good, not what's right or wrong musically. Same thingwith Pharrell [Williams, who produced]. [Sings] "Got time, but I don't mind." That's the best melody of the year right there. It's just acrobatic.
CROSS: I can't stand this fraudulent piece of shit. He's nota real person. Everything is affected -- "What's up, dawg?" It'scompletely dishonest. Every vestige of him, every fiber of this fuckin'Mickey Mouse Club thing -- it's just crap. The music is completelyunoriginal. It's not even an homage to Michael jackson. He should beashamed of himself. [Picks up ringing telephone] Hello? Oh, my God, hang on a second. [To Spin] It's Justin Timberlake. Yes! [To phone] Justin, I'm sorry. What's happenin', dawg?