Hatin’ is bad
2011: We probably should’ve danced more
I’m still in the process of digesting 2011 and whittling down my list of the year’s best music, but it’s already obvious as I stand typing these words while shufflin’ in place that the song of the year is that best-selling summer jam by electro-dance cartoon-pop duo LMFAO. At the end of the day—after all the pleasant mornings spent over coffee with sad-bastard singer/songwriters like Bon Iver’s Justin Veron and Surrogate’s Chris Keane; and hours in the car singing into my thumb along with the precious Welsh pups of Los Campesinos! and pumping my fist to the speaker-busting filth of Azealia Banks—“Party Rock Anthem” still wins out as the song on repeat more often than any other release this year.
It’s an especially sticky bite of dance-pop candy, with a fresh and fast electronic beat, a catchy chorus (“Party Rock is in the house tonight/ Everybody just have a good time”), and great dynamics—from the killer perfectly placed distorted riff and sudden stops, to a huge crescendo that drops off a cliff and makes me want to bounce up and down and make an ass of myself every time.
With the sometimes bleak and stressful times occupying the cities of America in 2011, it wasn’t such a bad thing to be able to take a break from the drum circles and sign-waving and just dance for a few minutes.
So, given the obvious awesomeness of “Party Rock Anthem,” I’ve been surprised and slightly pissed that it’s missing from so many of the year-end best-of lists (Pitchfork, NPR’s All Songs Considered, etc.) that I’ve been scouring the past couple weeks. I’m sure it has something to do with critics seeing the goofball duo as little more than commercialized dance-pop fluff and being tired of its ubiquity, but there is no shortage of slight dance tracks repped by critics this year—Nicki Manaj, Kanye/Jay-Z, Lady Gaga and Rihanna are all widely represented.
But I also think that, especially in the case of the indie tastemakers at Pitchfork, it’s a case of too-cool-for-school-ness overtaking common sense.
Case in point: M83’s “Midnight City.” It’s one of the hot critics’ choices this year (Pitchfork and Pop Matters both put it at No. 1), and while I dig the French crew’s brand of dreamy electronic noise, making this love letter to late night the best song of the year is a totally hipster move.
I do like the song. It’s thick-and-fuzzy electro-ambient soundtrack music, and it’s very similar in many respects to a lot of music I like (e.g. MGMT and even some of the old-school shoegazers). But while I will concede that its minimalist lyrics are not the seriously boneheaded variety found in “Party Rock Anthem,” it is, like LMFAO’s infinitely more dynamically arranged entry, a song merely built around a simple repeated synth riff. The salient difference for the Pitchforkers of course being that LMFAO’s Redfoo and SkyBlu sport skin-tight Dayglo and animal-print workout gear while M83’s Anthony Gonzalez has a closet full of fitted American Apparel tees. (I’d bet though, that Gonzalez wrote “Midnight City” after a long night partying to songs by the likes of LMFAO).
While NPR did leave “Party Rock Anthem” off its list, over at one of its music blogs, The Record (www.npr.org/blogs/therecord), there was an open-minded post on songs of the summer that gives the song some credit. Commentator Jacob Ganz concluded that the appeal of “Party Rock Anthem” is that “it asks us to turn off the part of our brain that’s critical of things like songwriting or performance or complexity, and rewards our submission by delivering its wordless hook deep into some zombie pleasure center.”
Exactly! I don’t know about that zombie part, but I do believe giving those critical-thinking muscles a rest is a great way to remain open to experiences outside of one’s predetermined borders of taste. Even if that experience is a song built with spare parts from other songs (hear: the keyboard riff from Steve Winwood’s “Valerie” and lyrics borrowed from “Hustlin’” by Rick Ross) and has been circling the globe nonstop this past year.
If it’s catchy, dynamic and has a good beat, what’s the harm in just getting over yourself and taking a break from the collective gloom to join the millions of people on the dance floor? The worst thing that could happen is that you might feel a little exposed, maybe even opened up to some criticism. But letting your guard down long enough for a few minutes of party-rockin’ fun is in no way bad. Hatin’, on the other hand … well, you know the words.