Pop goes the early noughties, part five: It all goes down to Britney

“I’m A Slave 4 U” by Britney Spears | I’d be a hypocrite if I insist that pop nowadays is overtly sexual as opposed to the past. There’s always been sexual references in music from the time of the Beatles: if we’re talking about the period I’m focusing on this week, it’d be Britney Spears sweating around to impossible dance moves on “I’m A Slave 4 U” or wearing an almost sheer onesie on the Grammy-winning (yes) “Toxic”. Christina Aguilera, another pop princess of the late-90s, went raunchy with Stripped, and notably with “Dirrty” and that hormone-inducing outfit. But I sometimes wonder whether the current pop crop would have lasting careers like them both. Okay, that’s not exactly spot-on – Britney went on a downward spiral, after all – but will most of today’s pop artists end up being footnotes? Sure, Katy Perry and Rihanna – two more artists playing with their sexuality, in different ways – are doing well. (Does Taylor Swift fall under that category, too?) But the likes of Ke$ha, or the rest of the turbo-pop ilk littering the charts nowadays – what about them? Will they give way to the guitar-led stuff from the Lumineers or Phillip Phillips, or to the ballads of Adele? Not everybody can be Beyoncé, after all. (Thanks to Ale for the recommendation – and to Edsel, for indirectly causing that recommendation. Have things I should hear? Drop me a line here.)

Pop goes the early noughties, part four: The boy bands and their screaming fans

“Sugar Rush” by Dream Street | James suggested this song when I was looking for ideas last week, and I’ll admit, I have not heard of these guys. Turns out, I vaguely have, since I had the soundtrack to the Pokémon movie (on cassette tape!) and I’ve probably seen them on All That. Also, one of the members of this band is a certain Jesse McCartney, he with a beautiful soul or whatever. I went through YouTube – oh, those achingly saccharine songs – and it’s amazing how the following is still there, albeit perhaps also powered by nostalgia. It’s funny how you don’t realize you listen to songs because you have a crush on the singer – and this goes when you’re young; I now have an aching awareness of my crush on, say, Joss Stone. Right now it seems so annoying, seeing girls fawn over Justin Bieber or his lookalikes, but when we were young you saw people go gaga over, say, Blue or N’Sync or the Backstreet Boys. Blue, in my case – my sister was a huge fan, and she had a crush on Lee Ryan, I think. Or was it my cousin? (Tomorrow: everything, inevitably, started with Britney Spears. Have things I should hear? Drop me a line here.)

Pop goes the early noughties, part three: For adults, something with a guitar

“Are You Happy Now?” by Michelle Branch | I know it’s unfair when I say that pop radio here nowadays only plays the crappy poppy dancey stuff. As much as I don’t want to see my friends tweet slavishly about what Magic 89.9 is playing, I do know that they play stuff like, say, Imagine Dragons. (They’re okay, but unimaginative in my book. Not slagging anyone off.) And then there are things you hear on television – like when RX played Cassadee Pope’s cover of “Torn” off The Voice – and that all filters down to the idea that adults also listen to pop radio here, as much as the kids. Back then, there was a lot: trips to high school peppered with Jason Mraz, John Mayer (a particular favorite) and, for the heavier folks out there, early-era Evanescence. (Or Avril Lavigne. But she was for the kids, right? Save for the fact that much-missed adult alternative station K-Lite playlisted her regularly, alongside new stuff from the Manics and Duran Duran.) I’m older now, and I have an appreciation of these songs more, partly because of nostalgia, and partly because they don’t seem to make it like this anymore. Well, not until you realize that Cassadee Pope covered this Michelle Branch song too(Tomorrow: everybody starts in a boy band. Well, almost everybody.)

Pop goes the early noughties, part two: My complicated relationship with hip-hop

“Dilemma” by Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland | If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you’d probably guess I’m not really into hip-hop. For some reason it’s more unlistenable now, though. Sure, there are still some good things coming out, but if you listen to pop radio all you hear is, well, Pitbull derivatives. Or Flo Rida derivatives. Or Chris Brown. Back then – and yes, I know, I’m sounding like a pedant – you had Eminem. Oh, how I actually miss Eminem. He swore, he was controversial, but there’s some thought in what he’s saying. “Lose Yourself” and “Stan” are still favorites. You had more melodic stuff like this one (thanks to Joann for suggesting this when I asked around on Twitter) – as a kid I always wondered what the deal was with that piece of tape on Nelly’s face. Or maybe R. Kelly’s “Ignition” remix. Wasn’t that sexual? Is it because I grew up and understood these things more? Now that I do, I don’t want to hear them being sung, with increasing degrees of innuendo. Or maybe it’s because now that I understand it more, I tend to put meanings to things. (Rihanna implores to “come into me” on “Umbrella”, whatever that means.) Certainly miles away from the moment when I heard a song off the 8 Mile soundtrack that was peppered with “motherfucker”.  Or, as always, I am not seeing clearly. (Tomorrow: if you’re not into pop or hip-hop, you probably had a guitar. Have things I should hear? Drop me a line here.)

Pop goes the early noughties, part one: The first singing Disney star

“So Yesterday” by Hilary Duff | I mentioned this song last week, proceeded to watch the music video again, and had a flashback to the time when I was a 14-year-old with raging hormones. Or maybe it;s the tank top Hilary’s wearing here. Yeah, definitely that. Back in the early 00s, when pop radio played a varied bunch (and was thus listenable), the idea of Disney stars making a jump to singing wasn’t that prevalent. To me, at least, Hilary started it all, with the release of 2003’s Metamorphosis, and this song, a pleasant pop ditty that doesn’t really push the envelope – because, really, it’s pleasant, and what else do you have to do? Hilary isn’t the best singer, so might as well bank on her image, right? That didn’t quite work for everybody else. Lindsay Lohan followed her footsteps (and led to one of my favorite songs, “Over”) but pursued a slightly grittier route (“Rumors”, anyone?) and then went on a downward spiral. Miley Cyrus, mindful of the Disney tag holding her back, went the same route, resulting in this earworm and this other thing. And then there’s Selena Gomez, who’s going the Hilary Duff route (only rockier?) but is having a bit of a difficulty because, well, everybody fapping to her hates Justin Bieber. As for Hilary, well, she’s happily married. (Tomorrow: I remember a time when hip-hop sounded more tolerable. Or maybe it’s just me.)