everyday i’m…

It is my sworn duty to tell you:

[1] The results of the annual Village Voice Pazz and Jop awards are out and no surprises…Frank Ocean tops the best albums category while Carly Rae Jepsen won most popular single. As usual, there are a few nice round-up articles–please take time especially to read Sundermann’s piece on Ocean (if only because it is likely to be read and discussed by others) and Jessica Hopper’s piece on girls in ’12 pop, because it rightly identifies the on-going Problems of Gender in music.

[2] Blogger-administrator-producer-consultant-pundit* Howard Sherman makes a call for national arts radio, in a perhaps unintentional slight of Fresh Air, Soundcheck, and–let’s be honest–most NPR radio. Perhaps the slight is unintentional because implicit in Sherman’s argument is the notion that what counts as the arts is only “Arts,” as in, the arts-as-most-60+-people-would-have-them. A more reasonable future for the arts on radio is the one NPR surges toward, with its genre-defying, non-brow-measuring interest in pop music and the Guggenheim, and everything between the two.

[3] Boy bander-solo R&B artist-actor-celebrity-restauranteur Justin Timberlake has released a song from his much-anticipated 2013 release, “The 20/20 Experience.” He’s written a “letter” (a blog post, IMHO) to you in which he describes the album as an act of serendipity:

I just went into the studio and started playing around with some sounds and songs. It was probably the best time I’ve had in my career… Just creating with no rules and/or end goal in mind and really enjoying the process.

I’m allergic to this sort of justification, even if I recognize this creative process does exist (“let’s throw it at the wall and see what sticks”) and is often fruitful, I think mostly because it is so self-satisfied while diminishing craft…it is a quintessential humblebrag. Made possible by the mountains of money he sits upon. That we gave him. Which he doesn’t mention.

The wonderful Ann Powers wrote about the single, “Suit and Tie” (which you can listen to on the letter page, linked above), describing it as one in a group of “superstar singles:”

Their pleasures sneak up, in a wash of harmonies, a masterful sense of how a song can be a soliloquy, or in Timberlake’s case, almost entirely in the vocal, which dances around Timbaland’s horn thrusts and rhythm parries with panache that makes me long for an isolated vocal track. These songs are not plays for power; they’re signs of privilege. Some listeners may feel they’re lazy, but heard another way, they’re relaxed — a state no one embraces very easily these days.

And she may be right. But I think I’m more in the camp of critics who don’t love the single (Powers again):

Many critics judged it quickly as a disappointment, a throwback to older R&B formulas (and to work by Timberlake’s rivals R. Kelly and Robin Thicke) that won’t set the club or the charts on fire. Similar responses have greeted other long-awaited singles: David Bowie‘s Berlin ballad “Where Are We Now?” and the Pharrell Williams-produced “Nuclear” by Destiny’s Child, the girl group that launched Beyonce’s career.

[By the way--and very importantly--don't listen to "Nuclear."]

I’m with those critics who judge “Suit & Tie” as a disappointment in the following respect: it is too Bruno Mars for 2013. I’m disappointed with the song not because it is too retro for the moment (which it isn’t–the song will sell well and so will remixes) but because it is too backward looking for Timberlake. I don’t know if you can remember the moment when you first heard “Cry Me A River” (in 2002) or “SexyBack” (in 2006) but I remember both because they shocked my ears. They were on the forward edge. Propulsive. Interesting. Sexy. This is not. It admittedly bears a strong resemblance to Robin Thicke’s blue eyed R&B–the vocal similarities are striking–but the song is somehow missing that je ne sais quoi that makes certain men sexy in suits, but not most.

 

*This hyphenated job title (his self-identification, I might add) is a completist guide to Jobs I Did Not Understand Until My 20s.

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