Saluton! — and welcome to the year-end essay, capping the countdown of 2011's Top 40 songs from the Council on Five Paragraph Essays. The full list is at the bottom, but for the purposes of this summary, it's worth looking at the Top 12.

2011: The Riot Girls. 

12) Till The World Ends, Britney Spears

11) Bumpin Bumpin, Kreayshawn

10) My Kinda Party, Jason Aldean.

9) Automatik, Livvi Franc.

8) You Lie, The Band Perry.

7) Cheers (Drink To That), Rihanna.

6) Blow, Ke$ha.

5) Storm Warning, Hunter Hayes.

4) Yoü and I, Lady GaGa.

3) Stay Away, Charli XCX.

2) We Found Love, Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris.

1) Gucci Gucci, Kreayshawn.

 

Saluton! — and welcome to the year-end essay, capping the countdown of 2011's Top 40 songs from the Council on Five Paragraph Essays. The full list is at the bottom, but for the purposes of this summary, it's worth looking at the Top 12.

2011: The Riot Girls. 

12) Till The World Ends, Britney Spears

11) Bumpin Bumpin, Kreayshawn

10) My Kinda Party, Jason Aldean.

9) Automatik, Livvi Franc.

8) You Lie, The Band Perry.

7) Cheers (Drink To That), Rihanna.

6) Blow, Ke$ha.

5) Storm Warning, Hunter Hayes.

4) Yoü and I, Lady GaGa.

3) Stay Away, Charli XCX.

2) We Found Love, Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris.

1) Gucci Gucci, Kreayshawn.

Paragraph One, wherein we reflect on content. For an agonizing moment in 2009, creeping into the early weeks of 2010, it seemed that the doctrine of righteous content might hold sway in the nascent political flowering of the occupation movements. Serious, all-too-serious people insisted that Dead Prez was great music. The perfectly decent whitehouse anthem “We Are Your Friends” —especially the massive and pointed irony of the chorus, scaled for the blank transcendence of Black Rock Desert — was levied to serve as a sincere slogan for a politics of friendship. At dance parties of the revolution, after a few songs on which everyone could agree (“Ride the Fence,” “Paper Planes,” you know), that dangerous moment would arrive when the party would have to choose a tacit direction: glossy ass-shaking dance tracks, or the politically conscious sub-canons. And sometimes this would go the right way, which is to say, the way that leads to “Whoot, There It Is.” And sometimes everybody would be reminded that there are only two or three people who really want to dance to “Guns of Brixton,” no matter how great a song it is. Sometimes you even had to hear the first five bars of a fucking reggae song, before you could get out the door and into the damp air for a bike ride home. This was the situation’s delicate balance in late February of 2010, when a chaotic campus action at Berkeley spilled into the streets, a winter fever dream, half street party and half riot — one at which for a while the cops were stood off to the gleamingly malevolent strains of...“Run This Town.” And just like that the spell was broken. We were rescued from the doctrine of manifest content by Jay-Z, maybe even a little by Kanye West, but most of all we were rescued from this impasse — rescued ourselves — by the hook, the woman’s voice sinuous and sinister and ready to throw down. “Feel it coming in the air,” it begins, and soon, “only thing that’s on my mind is who’s gonna run this town tonight.” This passage, not some righteous subcultural howl, would turn out to be the new bat signal for California militancy. Rihanna, meet riot. Riot, Rihanna. 

Paragraph Two, wherein we consider the contributions of Robyn Fenty. Let's be honest: 2011 was a terrible year for Rihanna. Counting singles that carried over from late 2010, and tracks where she was a featured artist, she seemed determined to provide a thoroughgoing ambience of mediocrity, fronting six or seven easy-to-encounter songs the best of which (“California King Bed”) was not very good at all. However, we do not come here to average out any given artist’s contribution — that would make it rather hard to understand, much less admire, The Verve, or 95 South, or pop music in general, now wouldn’t it? We come here to remark on the best songs of the year, and by our count,  Rihanna placed two songs — two other songs, that is — in the Top 10, which does not happen very often. A different count suggests that it goes a little bit beyond that simple fact, if we consider her epic effort to rescue “All of the Lights” from its own narcissism, or if we note that the Number Nine song is by one Livvi Franc, who turns out to be the UK’s Rihanna both by sound and by heritage, as it were, being British-Barbadian, born 100 days after Robyn Fenty, and having arrived to the music market a couple years behind her quasi-compatriot, with very much the same goods on offer. And all of this is enough to make Rihanna stand forth, within what was by many measures beyond our chart a year for young women. The New Yorker suggested that pop music could be triangulated via Adele, Lady Gaga, and Beyonce — who were indeed swell and, in the case of Gaga, more than this. Still, it is a peculiar group to choose, since as a matter of music and zeitgeist they were easily overdone by the less upscale trio of Katy Perry, Ke$ha, and Rihanna. The first to were the subjects of last year’s essay; the briefly Mrs. Brand continued her Lauperesque unspooling of singles. Ke$ha can probably never have another year like 2010, but extended her astonishing run as the Dollar Sign O’ the Times, particularly when we remember that she wrote the hook for Britney’s “Til the World Ends,” which was originally titled “Crisis Theory for Disco Dancers,” or should have been. And we haven’t even mentioned Kimberly Perry of The Band Perry continuing to show Taylor Swift how it’s done, nor the mysterious British club kid Charli XCX, who reworked a T’Pau song until it broke apart into new genius, with even more of the terrible yearning awfulness it always had, but now with more slow-motion dubstep. And among all of these young women making more and less heroic pop songs as easy as if they had a free afternoon and there was nothing better to do — among all these, Rihanna, perennially obscured behind Beyonce’s shine, was the pole star. Especially with “We Found Love.” It was this that became the unofficial anthem of Occupy Oakland, of its strike and its port blockade and its long season: the song’s “hopeless place” and dessicated techno-soundscape seeming to refer to the bleakly late-industrial Oakland Port where two balletic shutdowns occurred; to the city’s foreclosed and abandoned neighborhoods between the port and the plaza; and to Oscar Grant Plaza itself, its encampment within civic desolation under ceaseless police attack, which would become among the most contested terrains of the year. We took this song. We didn’t take the song’s politics. Taking the song had a politics to it: a song that had been made for somebody else, or nobody in particular, or the market in general. When shit gets hectic, you use what is to hand. If there was going to be a riot, we all wanted to have Rihanna on our side.

Paragraph Three, wherein we arrive at the wrong subjects. And yet, Ri-Ri is not one of the riot girls to whom our title refers. Not really. That would be the various and mostly anonymous figures who became an obsession of the press in this year of the riot, especially in the UK, where the spiraling militancy rising in the fading hours of 2010 and carrying forward pricked up ears across the US. The centre was not holding. This was the imperial core, where even a wan economy is unaccountably wealthy. That is to say, the agents of this mayhem were not where they were expected to be, not who they were supposed to be. The riot was out of place. And one of the ways this was insistently figured was by italicizing the presence of a specific group, the bodies that signaled this strange and disturbing misparticipation: girls. Sometimes they were properly pacific, as in “Student protests: the riot girls.”  Sometimes they were not, and thus held up for shocked scorn along both class and gender lines, as in the “BBC interview London riot chav girls.”  And sometimes in the face of these Beatrices (“destruction was my Beatrice,” wrote Mallarmé) the UK press couldn’t figure out whether to genuflect or to vomit. Maybe both: “Rage of the girl rioters: Britain's students take to the streets again - and this time women are leading the charge.”  This is not to say that Britain was the sole locus of this resurgent fascination. It is bracketed, perhaps, by this fantastical story from Chile (which seems like a better version of If..., or a perfect inversion of Lord of the Flies), and the momentary obsession with "that girl in the green hat" on the Brooklyn Bridge, during Occupy Wall Street’s first big street confrontation with the cops. What we must add is that by “girls” — the girls who are out of place, and who signal the riot’s out-of-place-ness, its being suddenly too close — the press means white girls. If that distinction lacks easy purchase in Santiago, we nonetheless note that the occupiers in question are “in school uniform” at “Chile’s most prestigious girl's school.” In the picture from the Brooklyn Bridge (about which Ann Powers has had interesting things to say), no one misses that the girl appears every bit the spirited child of the laughing classes, with her prosumer camera and curated look; the contrast with the arresting officer, an African-American woman in work clothes, is striking. In short, the press takes note of the young women when they are marked in a specific way by race and/or class, and accordingly misplaced. A riot is a structure, just like shopping is a structure, and within these structures certain kinds of people are supposed to be in certain places. This makes them the right subjects. Again and again the story of “the riot girls” is the story of the wrong subjects. Or of subjects who are — like a riot breaking loose where shopping had been, and like an occupation itself — in the wrong place.

 

Paragraph Four, wherein culture and politics are worried for their alleged recent divorce. What had pop music to say about all of this? We shouldn’t press our case too hard. In some regard the parallel between all these splendid Top 40 Beatrices and the riot girls of London and Santiago and Manhattan should not be overvalued. At best it is a suggestive homology. It is scarcely an argument, much less an allegory. Contra the riot girls, pop music is always in the right place. Or, more to the point, it is what it is because it is in the right place — like all successful commodities, moving briskly through the stations of the market. That is the pop song’s social form, to which content is always subsidiary, no matter its avowed politics. But even regarding this, there has been much lamenting of late about music’s failure to spew forth some version of “protest music." In the face of times in these United States in many ways worse than the bad times of the sixties and seventies, where was our “Ohio” or whatever, emphasis on whatever? This is not a puzzle that can be resolved in a five paragraph essay. But if we were pushed to resolve it in a sentence or three, we would say this: that period, let’s say 1967-75,  was a period of cultural crisis; it drew a cultural critique. We currently find ourselves within what is generally recognized as a structural crisis of capitalism itself, at least capitalism with American characteristics, and it requires the kind of structural critique that pop songs are ill-equipped to set forth. It is no small matter to make a good song about masters of war or tin soldiers or fighting the power. But we are not surprised by an absence of songs about the declining rate of industrial profit, financialization and fictitious capital, or terminal crises of hegemony in the world-system. When the antagonist is embedded in every molecule, all songs concern the struggle, and none. Which is not a very good way of explaining why some songs seem to have more to say than others, seem to grasp the moment without meaning to do so. What is the moment, then? We have not meant to suggest that it is the hour of the white girl, either in the charts or in the streets. Rather it is the hour when the white girl, the schoolgirl, the chav girl, the bohemian girl, has been drafted so as to think a set of thoughts. The thoughts concern bodies that are rioting when they should be shopping — when shopping, which the Keynesians pronounce "effective demand," has failed, and rioting moves into its place, terrible and close. These thoughts concern bodies with their misplacedness and too-close-ness and how one doesn’t quite know whether to genuflect or to vomit. When we speak of this, when we speak of all of this together, we speak of Kreayshawn.

Paragraph Five, wherein we discuss everything and nothing. Kreayshawn spent the year bathed in vitriol for her use of, and proximity, to the n word. Perhaps rightly. But to focus on the judgment of this ill locution is to miss a vital point: the furor was itself the signature of Kreayshawn’s illocation. Affiliated with a city (Oakland), a regional style (hyphy) and a crew (Odd Future) all profoundly black-identified, she was the misplaced white girl par excellance. Criminy! She called her own posse the "White Girl Mob." Glancing over her two songs on our chart, one can see almost all the elements that we have been describing — certainly the elements that were there in London’s August, when the riots and the looting leapt into the global mediasphere after the police murder of Mark Duggan. “Gucci Gucci” makes a taunt of bling couture’s failure; this of itself could be little more than banal bohemianism. But it is easy enough to see this as the inversion of chav culture’s fascination with the Burberry brand. It preserves the same tension: the class politics of a luxury brand’s generalization. This transformation, a signal consumer fact of the recent epoch, is a sort of allegorical retelling of the death of the monarchy and the rise of the bourgeoisie two centuries before. The first time it was the popularization and levelling of privilege down to the market's floor, where nobility would henceforth be measured by the size of one's purse. But now it is even more base, or worrisome: the privilege, the place of the bourgeoisie is precisely what is at risk. The spectre of proletarianization is haunting...almost everywhere. One can wear Burberry or Gucci or Prada and still be the subject of unemployment and austerity. The hipster and the riot girl are too close together. "Gucci Gucci" is a song of misplacement. The set of Minnie Mouse ears she sports in the video will turn out to be a near-perfect forecast of the Bridge girl’s green hat. It’s a warning. Even before that, the “Bumpin’ Bumpin’” video offered up almost all the other signs: the tracksuit and earrings of the chav girl; the poor part of town within a great conurbation; the racial transfer. The young white woman — the riot girl — standing there where a different body is supposed to be, saying things a different body is supposed to say. Maybe one hears privilege in this, and insult, and the trill of the poseur. One should also hear breaking glass. One should also hear, this place about to blow. “Gucci Gucci Louis Louis Fendi Fendi Prada. Them basic bitches wear that shit so I don’t even bother.” She is the girl who has everything and nothing and therefore is in need of a riot. We would not have to wait long; in October the streets of Oakland filled the tear gas, and again in November. She’s just a pop singer, but she’s the contradiction too, she’s a dozen of them, she’s the look and feel. “Young Kreayshawn grimey but I feel so elegant,” she says, and it happens to be an echo of that old song, “I am nothing and must be everything.” It is no less the preface to a new song; you say riot, we say love in a hopeless place

                                                    

40) Love You Like a Love Song, Selena Gomez & The Scene. There is something to say about the way that the Mickey Mouse Club of Orlando became teenpop became the Disney Channel became American Idol become Glee. And that something is not about cross platform marketing, or the training of "entertainers" as abstract labor that could be slotted into various media and performance modes. It is about figuring out that you could actually move past the backstage training and test marketing of various entertainer options; move past turning that training and test marketing into a show with advertising revenue; move past persuading viewers to pay to participate in the training/test marketing by sending text message "votes" in addition to watching ads; move past all this para-monetization, to actually selling the training/test marketing sequences themselves as downloadable songs. American Idol is the inflection point here, Glee the realization as total domination of the iTunes download list. Given this narrative, it is not surprising that original songs issued forth from the willing captives of this category  — let's call it metamedia pop — tend to be metapop songs: songs that take as not only their form but their entire content fromthe pop song itself, as the lone object with which to understand experience. Fuck, the only experience ever had by the pure products of this apparatus is the singing of pop songs as preparation for the singing of pop songs. But this song takes that logic to its historical conclusion, or impasse: its form and its content both pursue the exhaustion of the pop song as a way to understand the world, to understand one's relation to others — and how this is entangled with the recognition that there is still no other effective way to achieve such an understanding. So pop songs it must be, exhausted and hollowed out as they might have become. The mechanism has failed but not yet replaced itself. The flatness of this song is not a failure of the artist but an underscoring of the situation it describes. And here you didn't really foresee that Selena Gomez would have a solid account of endgame capitalism, did you?

39) Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not, Thompson Square. It was not a very good year for country. But it remains a living music, for the moment. This is a significant fact, in the current landscape. 

38) Old Alabama, Brad Paisley. 

37) Fuckin Perfect, P!nk. Momentum from a great 2010. Bonus: a quotation of the King James Bible as passed through Capital, Chapter 26 as passed through Silvia Federici's Caliban and the Witch

36) These Days, Foo Fighters. It remains a peculiar situation in which a group fractioned off from the funeral of the last great all-boy rock band then proceeds to spend going-on-two-decades racking up more B/B+ singles than any act of its age. The only comparable case is New Order, but they actually had great songs in addition to their endless supply of PGP (Pretty Good Pop), unlike the Fighters of Foo. Well, maybe the acoustic version of "Everlong." But that was a two bubble-pops ago, and another millennium. 

35) Price Tag, Jessie J. feat. B.o.B. Meja + Martika - Lady Miss Kier ÷ Betty Boo. 

34) Homeboy, Eric Church. Bad cultural politics, great cultural voice. 

33) Without You, Keith Urban. Unfortunately, we don't think this song gets better if you have to meditate on how it's probably about Nicole Kidman. 

32) Dedication to My Ex (Miss That),  Lloyd feat. Andre 3000. When we first heard this song on the radio it was a series of yelps, smooth talk, a dusty piano loop with some crafty horns, a beautiful soul voice, and an easy-peasy Dre3K bridge, all punctuated by a curious wealth of clipped, effaced, or warped vocal passages. It turns out that this is because the song is impossibly miosgynistic, as one discovers upon hearing the original edit with no small amount of shame. A moment of real ambivalence, in distinction to the synthetic and banal ambivalence that most dominates pseudo-Adornian antipathy to pop.  

31) Baggage Claim, Miranda Lambert. Not the best song on the album, just the best single so far, with a nifty trick in the chorus that goes "I'll drop your troubles off at the conveyor belt, hand you a ticket to go — " and then finishes "— get it yourself," even as you can't help but hear "go fuck yourself."  Why don't you all f-f-f-f-f-f-f———...

30) Someone Like You, Adele.

29) Family Man, Craig Campbell. Country music, at its truest core, is built around two insistently gendered cycles: the male-identified work week, and the female-identfied interlocking of generations. Labor and family. Production and reoproduction, that is to say. In a deeply understated way (worlds away from Lonestar's idiotic "Mr. Mom"), this song explores the oddities when circumstances lead to place-switching within the cycles — the meaning, in this song's scenario, of being a "family man." The situation here, it turns out (and again, the song is very unassuming about this; Springsteen's proudly explanatory "The RIver" it ain't) are those of economic crisis and underemployment. Finally, this song is a precise test of the ideologico-aesthetic assumptions of the audience. Cosmopolitan scoffers will simply hear some ideological affirmation of conventional domesticity. These are not serious people. Serious people will hear a genre's ideological assumptions being submitted to the verdict of real conditions, and coming out thoughtful,  tender, uncertain.

 

28) Born This Way (The Country Road Version), Lady Gaga. This was the year for Gaga to reveal herself as an auteur of arena country: Shania Twain pretending to be Annie Lennox in Marilyn Manson's maquillage. Worse things have happened. In her other song higher on this chart, an eleaborate game in which the singer recounts the words of a paramour who may in turn be recounting the words once said by the singer...andyway, itgets very hard to tell who has the lipsitck smeared across their face. So maybe let's say Arena Homo Country, which is probably the best genre ever invented, if it could only persist. Meanwhile Ms. Germanotta if you're nasty mentions Nebraska, monster trucks, Jesus, and, more significantly, "Heart of Gold" — the moment when Neil Young came out as a country singer. It's all about coming out. She also seems to have pronounced the word "guitar" to sound like "good-tar," which we had not heard before, and of which we are very fond. 

 

27) A Little Bit Stronger, Sara Evans. The Country Strong OST delivers a chart hit for the second year in a row — an undervalued monster of an album. (It also includes a closing track that is by a far cry the best Chris Martin song of the decade. He should seriously consider fucking off from New York and Prog Pop, and making a home in Nashville.)

 

26) Little Miss, Sugarland. Sugarland has now been good for longer than the Dixie Chicks were good, though not as good, if you see what we're saying. Still, they are starting to look like the Sheryl Crow of country music: headiong for a decade of being the best bet to have a good song on the charts at any given moment without ever being beloved. 

 

25) My Shit Bang,  E-40. "My arsenal game is east but the west has all kinds of weapons. Even if you're wearin' chest protection the trauma plate won't work cuz I'm gonna aim at your helmet I ain't gonna aim at your shirt."

 

24) Walk , Foo Fighters. Video based on what remains the best Michael Douglas movie (also about masculinity during periods of high unemployment, as it happens).

 

23) Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) , Katy Perry. The year's best song about the debt ceiling. 

 

22) Brighter Than the Sun, Colbie Caillat. Of all the songs we liked this year, the one you are least likely to like. A hook's a hook. We forgive everyting for a hook. That's who we are. We understand that this means you are better than us. 

 

21) Motivation, Kelly Rowland feat. Lil Wayne. This song was miraculous not just for its delicately paused female eroticism, but for how insistently it refused to be a song, to coalesce into anything but an atmosphere, a mood, a climate of feeling, like it barely wanted to be a thing at all, or barely needed to be. 

 

 

20) Written In The Stars, Tinie Tempah feat. Eric Turner. 

"It feels like a long time — coming — bam

Since the day I thought of the — cunning — plan

One day I had a dream I tried to chase it 

but I wasn't goimg nowhere — running — man."

 

19) A Place to Shine, The Lunabelles. What is the thing shared by the United States' two living native musics, country and hip-hop? Well, bad race and gender politics but pretty good class politics. Sure, there's that. But also: similes. 

 

18) Super Bass, Nicki Minaj. Best enjoyed in concert with this

 

17) Heart Like Mine, Miranda Lambert. from the previous disc, which carried into 2011. It's quite rare in this day and age that soneone charts in one year with two albums, But Miranda Lambert is quite rare. Also, "fuck the neighbors, I'm drinking with Jesus": an underrated genre, 

 

16) Niggas In Paris (Remix), Jay-Z and Kanye West feat. T.I. "What's Gucci, my nigga? What's Louis, my killer?" These questions will come back to haunt us, soon enough — believe. 

 

15) Bulletproof (All Hazards Remix), La Roux. An amateur remix, whatever that means in this age of stealth professionalization. The bext remix of anything this year, whatever that means in this temporality. 

 

14) Colder Weather, Zac Brown Band. If James Taylor hadn't been a faculty brat. Also, at #14, the last downtempo song on the countdown. All ye who enter here: henceforth, up jump da boogie. 

 

13) French Cancan, Inna Modja. Many people are not aware of how urgently they are in need of a swinging disco bossa nova Girl-From-Ipanema-goes-to-Nice type of song sung by a six foot tall model from Bamako that depends on the runway nursery rhyme, "Coco Choco Chanel Chocolat" repeated at length? Or as somebody said, "What's that jacket — Margiela?"

 

12) Till The World Ends, Britney Spears. In truth, the Top 10 begins here, as a conceptual unit. Meanwhile, we are told this song is slicker than the remix — you be the judge. But really — til the world ends? Again, maybe so: Our Lady of Baby One More Time has now been charting for 50% longer than the span from first to last Beatles' chart single. Time me baby one more hit. 

 

11) Bumpin Bumpin, Kreayshawn. We suspect there will be quite a bit to say about this song — and especially the video — in the year-end essay, coiming along some time in the next couple of days. Until then, watch for the hook. 

 

10) My Kinda Party, Jason Aldean.

 

9) Automatik, Livvi Franc.

8) You Lie, The Band Perry.

7) Cheers (Drink To That), Rihanna.

6) Blow, Ke$ha.

5) Storm Warning, Hunter Hayes.

4) Yoü and I, Lady GaGa.

3) Stay Away, Charli XCX.

2) We Found Love, Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris.

1) Gucci Gucci, Kreayshawn.

 

 

Joomla SEF URLs by Artio

Buy Lana Turner #9

Issue 9 is HERE!

Order Now

@ltjournal on Twitter