As Curtis Armstrong's Miles tells Tom Cruise's Joel in the 1983 smash-hit comedy Risky Business, sometimes you just gotta say, "What the fuck." In Joel's case, this phrase is employed with a shrug of the shoulders and a sly smile: "What the fuck -- let's go for it." In mine, as directed at those in the business of making, releasing and promoting music, it is done with fists raised, eyes bulging and steam shooting out of my ears: "What the fuck is this? What the fuck is wrong with you people? How could you possibly assume that we, the consumers, are so stupid, servile, gullible, ignorant . . .!?" And so on. If I had a brick, I would throw it through these people's windshields. If I knew how, I would sign them up for Internet porn of the most putrid variety, bombarding their families' home computers with images of grown men violating farm animals, updated hourly. Alas, I have no such knowledge or resources. All I have is this Top Ten list.
1. "George Bush doesn't care about black people": By articulating what was on the minds of millions of emotionally vulnerable viewers, Kanye West did a good and brave thing. But the fact that a whiny, opportunistic MC (and not a very good one, at that) is the moral compass for a rhetorically impotent media is extremely disturbing. This man gets far too much credit for doing way too little.
2. The TV-show soundtrack boom: Last year, The O.C. popularized the trick of laying indie music over the histrionic exchanges of hollow characters so as to lend real pathos to an otherwise loathsome TV show. This year, the rest of Hollywood caught up, and now we've got programs like Grey's Anatomy, Gilmore Girls and One Tree Hill paying Tegan and Sara's rent. This isn't such a bad thing, but it confuses me that my dad, who obsessively TiVos The O.C. , knows who Rogue Wave is.
National year-end reivews
3. The mis-commodification of 50 Cent: Commercial hip-hop's fall from grace occurred the moment Run-D.M.C. (quite accidentally) snagged a lifetime supply of "My Adidas." Today, selling out is a near-Olympic sport in the rap game, where MCs get paid to hype products as base as Big Macs in their songs. As a result, it's not so much surprising as extremely upsetting that this year saw the release of a 50 Cent movie, video game and hardcover book, as well as "iced out" pendants and medallions and an ad campaign for, of all things, VitaminWater, wherein the bullet-addled hoodlum is reading the Wall Street Journal. But it gets worse. The Human Product spilled this tidbit in a recent interview: "I need to make a 50 Cent condom and a motorized version of me." He means a vibrator, folks. Hey, Fiddy: Stick it up your ass.
4. Pitchfork jumps the shark: A lot of people missed this one. It happened when the ultra-snobby music website was blindsided by its kryptonite: the new Neil Diamond record. Produced by the enigmatic Rick Rubin, Diamond's latest is an earnest, stripped-down collection of twelve heartfelt ditties. The site tried to review it, but the simple, low-concept songwriting wasn't arch or ironic or hip or unhip. Was it so bad it was good? So good it was bad? So bad it was bad? Consulting their employee handbooks, staffers found that the chapter on writing sincere reviews was blank. Flummoxed, they gave the album a mediocre rating and ran screaming for the loony bin. Later, it was determined that a septuagenarian crooner had managed to drop proton torpedoes into P-fork's Death Star.
5. Prussian Blue: It's common knowledge that extreme bands of all stripes roam, rock and pillage the planet. In Scandinavia you'll find black metal musicians who get a kick out of killing one another; in Florida there was a rumor that some enjoy staging assisted suicides live on stage. In light of such facts, it's doubly creepy that Prussian Blue is the scariest of them all. The simple folk-rock band, consisting of twin sisters Lynx and Lamb Gaede, first received attention this year in Vice magazine, which is why no one believed that the shock rag's story of a neo-Nazi white-power band from outside Bakersfield fronted by two blond thirteen-year-olds could be real. It was. So real that Teen People planned to run a whitewashed article about the group until various Holocaust institutes and other civil-rights activists spoke up. But for a short moment, these Hitler-loving Mary-Kate 'n' Ashley stand-ins were poised to capture an unsuspecting public's heart with lyrics like "Rudolf Hess, man of peace/He wouldn't give up and he wouldn't cease." Awwww.
6. The British Invasion, part 17: Like George Lucas proving the law of diminishing returns, the British don't know when to quit when it comes to exporting foppish bands. And like George Lucas acolytes, stateside rock fans can't resist throwing down the cheddar to support whatever shlock crosses the Atlantic, never seeming to notice that it's been the same act with the same angular haircut and tight black jeans playing the same pogoing dance-rock song since the Jam first touched down in America two decades ago. You might have thought this trend had hit its nadir with the recent release of the Arctic Monkeys' "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor," but never underestimate the power of bad taste.
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7. Sufjan Stevens's Illinois: Argh. Cynical hipsters pre-programmed to embrace fey indie stars and their concept albums rushed to embrace this latest installment in Stevens's ill-advised "50 states in 50 records" project, as if it were a keg of PBR at a house party. Had they listened a bit more closely, they would have heard an admittedly talented musician and arranger with an embarrassingly naive outlook and a willful lack of knowledge about his subject matter. The songs sound like the musings of a seventh-grader who got Daddy to produce his album. I mean, an earnest ballad that humanizes John Wayne Gacy Jr. because serial killers are people, too? Hey, Pitchfork, face it: You got Punk'd.
8. The Bravery versus the Killers: This was some real what-the-fuck madness. Each sadly derivative, eyeliner-wearing, copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy fashion band lobbed highly publicized accusations at the other for being, well, a copy. It was like a Triscuit getting in a fight with a Wheat Thin.
9. Diddy and Jessica Simpson: A lot of people think these two are famous pop stars, but they're not. They're two people who have gotten famous playing the role of famous pop stars; they're all star and no pop. Diddy doesn't even bother to attach himself to records anymore, preferring instead to bullshit with singers, dancers and rappers about their careers and to hang out at parties. There used to be a name for such talentless people whose sole ability was a knack for getting close to musicians: We called them groupies.
10. R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet series: This was the worst of all. Remember in Back to the Future Part II, when Marty returns to 1985 to discover that evil Uncle Biff has single-handedly created an alternate reality of fake boobs and bombed-out ghettos over which he presides like a mafioso meth-head? That's Marty's worst nightmare. The disturbing success of this tuneless, melodramatic song cycle -- its fans, critical and otherwise; the amount of attention it received in print and on TV -- is mine. I'm not saying that this crime is worse than its perpetrator allegedly peeing on a minor, but it's close.