TOTALLY AMAZING 2010 (Part 6)
We’ve made it! The top 10, minus the #1, which will be posted a little later…
10. Kelis - Acapella
In the grey sky of same-y dance music and uninspired electropop garbage, “Acapella” is like a majestic unicorn flying across the horizon, lighting up the sky with its sheer gloriousness. Kelis has always been a musical chameleon of sorts, but I don’t think anyone was expecting her Guetta produced dance album to turn out as well as it did. The masterpiece of said album is, of course, Acapella, a bleeding love letter to her son Knight. Set to Guetta’s thick tribal house beats, Kelis sings “Before you, my whole life was acapella / Now our symphony’s the only song to sing”. It’s message not only personal to Kelis, but one which can also be taken any way the listener wants, which is the true brilliance here.
9. Narsha - BBI RI BOP A
Blowing every other female in the K-Pop game so far out of the water they might actually be floating around somewhere in outer space at this very moment, Narsha’s debut solo single “BBI RI BOP A” sounded and looked like nothing else in the world last year. The gothic themed MV matched, hell, exceeded the production and scope of western videos, and the song itself is beautifully odd. Crunchy beats which sound like they’re from an alternate universe toil along before this melodic chorus kicks in. And what I love so much about the chorus is how angelic Narsha’s voice sounds in the first half, and how sinister she sounds in the second half when she asks “What you want boy? What you want girl?”. The contrast between good and evil, dark and light, and all those other clichéd paradoxes play out brilliantly in both the song and the video.
8. Jenni Vartiainen - En Haluu Kuolla Tänä Yönä
Finnish singer Jenni Vartiainen’s “En Haluu Kuolla Tänä Yönä” (“I Don’t Want To Die Tonight”) is more proof to me that music is powerful no matter what language it’s in. Her gorgeous voice is so emotive that it doesn’t even matter if I know what she’s singing about or not. Though having said that, the lyrics are quite beautiful. This song is so stunning because, despite what the title might imply, it’s not about the fear of death; rather, it’s a song about recognizing death but wanting to live even more in the face of it. Jenni promises “I’ll leave my sinful life behind / I can still change, I know it”, but then coyly adds “but not tonight”.
7. Kanye West - Monster (feat. Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj & Bon Iver)
If My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy told us anything, it’s that Kanye West knows how to work well with others, case and point “Monster”, a stunning posse track in which all parties are egotistical “monsters”. Kanye’s arrogance is stronger than ever, and this time he pumps himself up to king-like levels, rapping “Have you ever had sex with a pharaoh? / I put the pussy in a sarcophagus”. Not to be outdone, Jay throws some jabs of his own, belligerently rapping about “these niggas I’ve made millionaires, milling about, spilling their feelings in the air”. However, both of these men put their arrogance aside when it comes time for Nicki Minaj to own the track. Possibly the best move of Kanye’s career was letting Nicki go on for all 31 of the best bars in any rap song this year.
6. Mavis Staples - You Are Not Alone
“You are not alone / I’m with you / I’m lonely too” sings legendary soul singer Mavis Staples at the opener of this (as Rolling Stone so accurately put) “modern hymn”, of sorts. Incorporating elements of soul, gospel, country and a whole lot of wisdom, “You Are Not Alone” is both achingly beautiful and uplifting at the same time. And it’s not uplifting in a preachy sort of way either, Mavis isn’t even telling you to get off your ass and be happy; instead, she’s like a companion in loneliness. She’s lonely too, she understands. That’s what this song nails down so perfectly - even in loneliness, you are not alone.
5. Katy Perry - Teenage Dream
While it’s certainly possible that musical historians in 200 years will look back on Katy Perry as the “I Kissed A Girl” girl (if at all), I think it’s much more likely they’d remember her true career-defining hit, “Teenage Dream”. With a hook that just won’t quit and some of the finest production from Max Martin this side of “…Baby One More Time”, Teenage Dream sweetly encapsulates the newness and hope of young love (“You and I / We’ll be young forever”), all while sounding oblivious to the fact that this “dream” might not last forever. It’s not necessarily groundbreaking in any way, but it just goes to show that a good song doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, it just has to be really, really good, which this undoubtedly is.
4. Sade - Soldier of Love
Taking 10 years off would be a death sentence to most singers, but not for Sade, who returned in spectacular fashion, sounding (and looking, have you seen the video???) more resilient than ever on “Soldier of Love”. The production is gorgeously layered, from the opening gust of wind to the first majestic horn note, it’s almost haunting in some parts. The singing is as sublime as it’s always been; surely, this is a song worth all that wait. Taking her place at the “front line”, she sings “I’ve lost the use of my heart, but I’m still alive”. Bruised in battle, but not broken, Sade is determined to make love work no matter what.
3. Jolin Tsai - 美人計
Grasping for words to explain my love for “Honey Trap”. I just find it funny that, through all of the music I’ve talked about in the last year, the best pop song comes not from America, England, Japan, or even Korea - but from China. Apparently they’re not only decimating us in science and math, but in pop music as well!
From the hypnotic opening line which is sampled throughout the song, “Give me your satisfaction, I need your satisfaction, I want your satisfaction”, this deep, sexy groove bumps along and then explodes into the bonkers chorus. Jolin gasps “C’mon, c’mon show it to me boys! C’mon, c’mon show it to me girls!”; the electricity builds to fever-pitch and then comes tumbling back down again into the verses. And then there’s that middle 8. THAT MIDDLE 8! Heaven. But still, the surprises are not over. Just when you *think* you know how it’ll all end, Jolin delivers a sucker punch right to the back of the head, knocking you over with the final dance break at the end of the song. It’s absolutely thrilling; it’s the type of pop which reminds you that you’re alive.
2. Magnetic Man - Perfect Stranger (feat. Katy B)
At first, it doesn’t make sense how a beautiful voice like Katy’s emerged out of the same bleak, grey place that spawned drum’n’bass; full of broken glass, cracked concrete, barbed wire and toxic factories pumping out dangerous chemicals, her warm, soulful voice seems out of place with the surrounding metal soundscape. But that’s why it works. She’s like a breath of fresh air, breathing life and a very certain human-ness into the mix, and elevating the robotic beats around her to another level. The production by Magnetic Man is electric, the tension builds as the verses progress and then soar as soon as Katy hits the chorus. It’s like they bottled the excitement of meeting someone new for the first time into this song; the rush and the slight anxiety one gets when they finally work up the nerve to talk to that “beautiful stranger” across the room. Yeah, there’s “somethin’, somethin’, somethin’” alright, and it keeps me coming back for more.