Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Hips Don't Lie

Yesterday was my last lecture of the summer. We covered nineties hip-hop--NWA to Jay-Z--and then spent the last half of class discussing the top ten singles on the iTunes Downloads chart from last week. I had originally wanted to assign the top ten singles on the Billboard chart, but the singles chart for last week didn't have a single rock-ish number on it, and I really wanted to have at least a little bit of diversity. The "Most Downloaded" chart had John Mayer's recent single on it, and a song by The Fray, a very dull alt rock band.

In fact, here are the songs, just for posterity:

1. Gnarls Barkley, "Crazy"
2. Ashlee Simpson, "Invisible"
3. Nelly Furtado & Timbaland, "Promiscuous"
4. The Pussycat Dolls featuring Big Snoop Dogg, "Buttons"
5. Christina Aguilera, "Ain't No Other Man"
6. Jessica Simpson, "A Public Affair"
7. The Fray, "Over My Head (Cable Car)"
8. Cassie, "Me & U"
9. Shakira featuring Wyclef Jean, "Hips Don't Lie"
10. John Mayer, "Waiting on the World to Change"

It's really fascinating to try and look at this rather arbitrary assemblage of songs, and try to construct some sort of greater point out of it. I'm not sure we really succeeded. Couple things though:

  • Generic boundaries are obviously quite blurred. Many of these songs would vaguely be considered R&B, but the line between R&B and Pop and Hip-Hop is not a particularly clear or useful line these days. When you think of the top songs from the early nineties, this would not have been the case. The top artists of the nineties all had very strong generic identifications: we all know what genres Nirvana, Garth Brooks, Metallica, and Dr. Dre fall into. But Shakira?

  • The postmodern collapse of historicity seems to still be in effect. In this list we have allusions to early hip-hop (Nelly Furtado conjures up "The Message", Christina Aguilera works with DJ Premier), a near exact recreation of Curtis Mayfield (John Mayer), another near exact recreation of early Madonna (Jessica Simpson), and of course Gnarls Barkley, the songwriter of whom made his name mashing together the The Beatles and Jay-Z's Black Album to create The Grey Album.

  • As usual, people are really concerned with Ashlee Simpson's relationship to authenticity. No surprise here, although I was surprised with the intense emotional hatred some have for her, but not for her sister. Given that both sisters are more or less doing the same thing, it seems to be that it is that matter of genre is still really important in some ways. Dance music, it's okay to lip-synch. Rock music, not so much.

    Any other points to be drawn from this list?
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