Paragraph 1, wherein the matter of the post-teen arises. Katy Perry's implausible transformation from crass post-Christian popsploitation Barbie to crass post-Christian popsploitation Barbie with better hooks than anybody else was complete by July when the feelgood song of the summer not only owned the charts but had more or less displaced every other song in the world. In a market where technological flux has substantially shortened the average stay at the top, and iTunes — the source that matters — can effectively list a new chart leader every hour on the hour if it so desires,·"California Gurls"·spent six weeks at #1. It·is incredibly bouncy and obvious and mind-meltingly catchy, and seems to have contrived a synthesis that appears as near-impossible and utterly obvious: a stylistics and atmospherics that conjoins Kelly Clarkson and Lady Gaga. Genius. The song's only mystery is that she calls her guest rapper "Snoop Doggy Dogg," which no one has called him since Monica Lewinsky was president. It was hard to tell if she was a New Jill saluting the oldskool, or was just an old lady in teen's clothing, someone about to let fly with "fly," or "the bee's knees," or "forsooth." This particular problem of the non-teen teen turned out to be at the heart of her next number one hit,"Teenage Dream": when she says "I'll be your teenaged dream tonight" it's not entirely clear whether the singer is supposed to be an actual teen delivering something dreamy to another teen ("let's go all...the way tonight") or whether the scenario is one of nostalgic recollection for a lost moment of teenagerdom. Are we still in the teen moment, or is it so far gone that we can only peer behind ourselves wistfully? This might be what is most decisive about Katy Perry: her look, her style, her entire way of being uncertainly in the middle of those two instants allows this ambiguity and this question to present itself, allows the simultaneous persistence and loss of the teenage dream.
A brief recap of information that otherwise can be found only on Lieut. Tyrone Slothrop's facebook page. Listening ferquency dropped sharply after the fifteenth slot. Our top 15 songs of the year, measured by rate of ambient obsession, are as follows (songs discussed in bold):·
California Gurls (feat. Snoop Dogg), Katy Perry
Whip My Hair, Willow Smith
Get Off On The Pain, Gary Allan
Raise Your Glass, P!nk
We R Who We R, Ke$ha
If I Die Young, The Band Perry
Hip To My Heart, The Band Perry
Airplanes, B.o.B Ft. Hayley Williams
Love the Way You Lie Ft. Rihanna, Eminem
Gettin' Over You (Feat. Chris Willis, Fergie & LMFAO), David Guetta
Riding Solo, Jason Derulo
Like A G6, Far East Movement Ft. The Cataracs & Dev
My First Kiss (feat. Ke$ha), 3OH!3
Bullets In The Gun,Toby Keith
Double Vision, 3OH!3
Paragraph 1, wherein the matter of the post-teen arises. Katy Perry's implausible transformation from crass post-Christian popsploitation Barbie to crass post-Christian popsploitation Barbie with better hooks than anybody else was complete by July when the feelgood song of the summer not only owned the charts but had more or less displaced every other song in the world. In a market where technological flux has substantially shortened the average stay at the top, and iTunes — the source that matters — can effectively list a new chart leader every hour on the hour if it so desires, "California Gurls" spent six weeks at #1. It is incredibly bouncy and obvious and mind-meltingly catchy, and seems to have contrived a synthesis that appears as near-impossible and utterly obvious: a stylistics and atmospherics that conjoins Kelly Clarkson and Lady Gaga. Genius. The song's only mystery is that she calls her guest rapper "Snoop Doggy Dogg," which no one has called him since Monica Lewinsky was president. It was hard to tell if she was a New Jill saluting the oldskool, or was just an old lady in teen's clothing, someone about to let fly with "fly," or "the bee's knees," or "forsooth." This particular problem of the non-teen teen turned out to be at the heart of her next number one hit,"Teenage Dream": when she says "I'll be your teenaged dream tonight" it's not entirely clear whether the singer is supposed to be an actual teen delivering something dreamy to another teen ("let's go all...the way tonight") or whether the scenario is one of nostalgic recollection for a lost moment of teenagerdom. Are we still in the teen moment, or is it so far gone that we can only peer behind ourselves wistfully? This might be what is most decisive about Katy Perry: her look, her style, her entire way of being uncertainly in the middle of those two instants allows this ambiguity and this question to present itself, allows the simultaneous persistence and loss of the teenage dream.
Paragraph 2, wherein we meditate on the persistence of Sweden. If this puzzle, what we might call the thought of Katy Perry, sounds like a reflection not just on the teen but on teenpop itself, there's a reason for this. "California Gurls" and "Teenage Dream" were co-written and produced by Max Martin, hyper-auteur of the teenpop era. Martin's influence (and, seemingly, genius) waned with the market crash of 2001, but the King of Kungsholmen seems to have completed the rehabilitation he commenced in earnest with Kelly C's 2004 "Since U Been Gone." Indeed, 2010 may be Martin's best year since 1999; in addition to Perry's dreaming, he wrote and produced the #9 and 17 songs on the Billboard annual chart, Usher's "DJ's Got Us Fallin' In Love" and Taio Cruz's "Dynamite." More significantly, he also wrote and produced our list's #4 song, "Raise Your Glass," a Billboard #1, which is lovely in so many ways they're hard to count, from P!nk's fake British accent abandoned instantly after the first two words to the semi voce imitation of a guitar so as to illustrate the concept "rock and roll" to the earwig pleasure of the phrase "slam slam oh hot damn, what part o' party don't you understand?" We haven't even mentioned the chorus. Or the muttering aside, "it's so fucking on right now." Or how much we enjoy the exclamation point in her name. With this song among Martin's triumphs, it was something of a restoration for Sweden, and for teenpop, with which Martin is absolutely identified. Except it wasn't. Close, but it isn't really the same music, or world. It's older. Britney's double-entendres were risqué, but this was just lurid. Katy Perry's got sand in her stilettos and sex on the beach, and P!ink's a nitty gritty dirty little freak. But it's not just the "adult themes," it's the music and the mood. What was notable about "Since U Been Gone" and the music since then has been the way it has struggled to adapt itself to a different situation; that song's, let's say, Pitchfork appeal is testimony to the invention of a more sophisticated-seeming style, compelled as it is to reach beyond the tween/teen market if it is to kill the charts. Like Katy Perry, the music itself is charged both with teen spirit and with the loss of that golden age. It can't resist the Orpheus glance backward — the very sign of adulthood — that Nineties teenpop eschewed absolutely. Teenpop ruled the world from 1989-2001, from the ascent of New Kids to — not the fall of the Towers — but the bust of the tech bubble. In the span of teenpop's absolute domination, the period that saw *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys and Britney move units at rates still unequaled, the opening week figures for teenpop discs tracked exactly to the NASDAQ. That era is not coming back. Little matter that Max Martin turns 40 this year; teenpop is now 21 years old. The seeming restoration of 2010 was more accurately a retrospective sigh, a return to the teenage dream but with the wistful knowledge that it was a dream, that the moment — in all its solid gold purity ring strangeness — was still with us largely in the spectral awareness that it was gone. Teenpop is a teen no longer. Post-teenpop it is.
Paragraph 3, wherein we play at sympathy for the record industry. Of the many names given the global economic crisis now entering its fourth full year, the most suggestive is "the Great Contraction." Originally applied by Milton Friedman to the early years of the Great Depression, it suggests that the global economy is not just slowing but actually shrinking, once one filters out the paper profits of the financial sector. In this development, the music industry was in many regards a canary in the coal mine. It happened like this: the competitive development of processes to make both work and circulation more efficient — digitization and virtualization, mostly — turned back on the industry via the now rather simple-seeming artifices of sampling and file sharing, and the industry (which, rather than seizing the moment, insistently tried to reverse this irreversible development via a, litigation and b, covering their ears and going na-na-na-na) lost both a big slice of its market and, perhaps more significantly, lost its monopoly on production and distribution. By many measures, it has contracted to near half its size circa the millennium. In response, the biz has accepted a smaller mass of profit — total sales — in return for a revived rate of profit, a decision which benefits shareholders and executives at the expense of employees and musicians. We have already started to see similar shifts in film, publishing, and elsewhere. And in this development the trajectory of the teenpop generation — the kids who were tweens and teens in the Nineties — is notable. First they lost access to the adventure capital their parents were making during the tech bubble. And during the recessed years before the real estate bubble reflation took off, many set sail for Pirate Bay, being the class that felt most at ease with both the operations and ethics of the virtual life. The music industry was a leading edge of economic shifts; teenpop,not as musical style but as cultural dominant and economic indicator, was the leading edge's leading edge, the avant-garde of the crisis. It is fair to say that the idea we have been tracking — the moment we both pretend to be still in the midst of, and to look back at longingly; the thought of Katy Perry and Max Martin, the post-teen thought— is not simply an ambiguous and ambivalent reflection on teenage-ness and teenpop, but on the music business...and moreover on the economy as a whole. The business of pop music 2010 was in lining all these thematics up in parallel, or rather, caching each within the next.
Paragraph 4, wherein we visit Max Martin's American medical team. As significant as Katy and Max were, their ubiquity paled in comparison to Dr Luke, the former SNL house band hack who became Max Martin's water carrier in the New World after a chance meeting at a club. And then, so much more. In Martin's post-teen transformation, Luke was the alchemist — he would co-write "Since U Been Gone" and almost all Martin's ensuing hits. Not all Martin's songs, mind you — his hits. As noted here last year, his own "hip-hop inflected synthpop for 14-year olds" permeated 2009, from the record-breaking download data of Flo Rida to the actual brilliance of Miley's "Party in the U.S.A." In 2010 he has a lead credit on three of our top 15; this is a lot. But it only begins to sketch the situation; his sound is everywhere audible. Those three songs provide the qualities that triangulate the year in pop: the skewed enthusiasm, the synth set at a fast bounce with a biting precision like dry ice on the dance floor, and the peculiar squawking that moved from being an internet joke to the default mode of the pop vocal in the space of just a few months, an aesthetic turn of such total force you could almost miss it. When there is more of your familiar singing, you know, with notes, as on "Gurls," we can assume the greater participation of Mr. Martin. But when it is tempo-tossed conversation, heavy on the cheerfully sardonic drawl, one that was perhaps waved near a melody somewhere deep in the production, timbre without pitch strained betimes through Auto-Tune, we are visiting with the Doctor. Let's call it tic talk. "My First Kiss" by 3OH!3 is an irresistible compendium of the style, but not their only one; it plays as well throughout that group's other hit, "Double Vision," despite that not being a Luke track. It is, rather, co-credited to his water-carrier, boy wonder Benny Blanco. The set of sounds and affects managed to spread even without the direct intervention of the Martin-Luke-Blanco lineage; that's what hegemony means. One need only consider "Like a G6," the first top 10 hit in the U.S. from an all Asian-American group, which adopted the Dr. Luke protocol from nose to tail and wing to wing, and spent three weeks at the top of the pop charts. All of these songs, beloved to be sure by teenagers, defined post-teenpop: the slightly corrupted out-for-a-good time enthusiasms of a cohort that wanted it that way, got it, and moved on to the next party without bothering to change their undies. And the sound of this scene was the sound of Lukazs Gottwald. Indeed, in a oddity of industrial practices, our #6 song of last year's chart is listed in Luke's dossier as part of his 2010 work product.
Paragraph 5, wherein we arrive ineluctably at the heart of the matter. But it was not Dr. Luke's year. That song leaking over from 2009 is "Tik Tok", and we must admit finally that 2010 belonged to Ke$ha. It was Ke$ha blowing that dollar sign kiss to P!nk's exclamatory bang, Ke$ha releasing two albums, Ke$ha·singing the hook on "My First Kiss," Ke$ha debuting at #1 with "We R Who We Are," our own number five. "Like A G6" finds its hook, which in this case means its entire appeal, in the delightfully named Devin Star Tales and her track "Booty Bounce" — which is a swell song, especially if you like amateur Ke$ha imitations. And why wouldn't you? Amateurishness seems to be extraordinarily near the core of Ke$ha's appeal in the first place. YouTube is bursting with love-hate parodies. The internet is in fact obsessed with Ke$ha, and its denizens are unerring in their analysis. "Sing Talk," which 87,000 facebookers liked, lays it out clearly enough:
...all I can do is talk to a lame beat
wait a minute this sounds kinda sweet
I think I made a new genre of music!
Sing-talk gonna rock can't believe I pulled this off
so tight hip-hop lite it's like rapping but not quite.
Yes — but not quite. It's not simply the amateurishness, the opportunity for familiar talent-baiting rissentiment, that excites YouTube's last nerve. The second most popular clip of the year in any category, 57 million plus views, was "Glitter Puke," another Tik-off whose concern isn't that Ke$ha is a little pitchy, dawg, but that she is dissolute. It begins like the original, "Wake up in the morning"; the impersonation is uncanny. Then it gets to the crux, before a dozen seconds have elapsed: "before I leave I stop to vomit up tequila and glitter." The rest is mere variation on a theme. Nothing could be more true to Ke$ha, and of course what we want to say is that this is Ke$ha's secret: she is the artist of post-teen irresponsibility. And this is why we love her, or why she seems like the best way to understand ourselves and our impasse. She is the stinking reality of what Katy Perry was offering with still a hint of délicatesse. She has fucked up everything, burned everyone, and somehow escaped punishment. She is the one who embraces and embodies that corruption, and fucking revels in it because she has no choice, and this flashes in every corrupt second of her songs. Ke$ha is the poet of moral hazard.
Conclusion, wherein we pretend it is not a sixth paragraph. It is worth mentioning what is missing here. The Aughts, especially 2001-2008, were a decade when genius, electric and overarching genius, flowed as if from a spigot: Timbaland, Missy, Jay-Z, the Neptunes, Lil Wayne, M.I.A., to name the six that come most easily to mind. 2010 was in that regard a year of astounding whiteness, Nicki Minaj notwithstanding. But what we have been arguing all along is that this is only accurate — that this is the truth of the situation. Color is part of it but only part. The absolute fuckup that is the Great Contraction, insofar as it can be attributed to people rather than a structural dynamic, is a story of dazzling cupidity and even more dazzling irresponsibility on the part of a class that blew bubbles in the Nineties and Aughts, vacuumed wealth upward like a coke addict, pursued an unsustainable strategy of plunder and pretended it was a moral right and a gilded age and the natural state of things. They were the parents and the parent companies that funded teenpop; teenpop was to them as the Italian Renaissance was to the Medicis. Max Martin was their Michelangelo. *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and Britney were their Raphael, Donatello, and Leonardo. It was some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shit up in there. And then it blew up, it blew up twice, it blew up the global economy, and were they chastened, and were they shamed? They were bailed out. They were given to know they could do it again and get away with it. And surely they felt hung over, after that long party, after that teenage dream. And surely they felt no longer young and invincible, and surely they knew that when they left the palace everybody would point at them and mutter about they were sleazy and dissolute, how they had ascended to the very peak of a corrupted and tainted world not by dint of talent and hard work but by being themselves corrupt and tainted.They were ungifted and unlovely sleazes who had Auto-Tuned the world and now stood revealed in the morning light. And were they chastened, and were they shamed? No, not really. They woke up in the morning and they knew that it was over, that it was lost, and their stomachs roiled, but they pretended the dream was still continuing because they could, because in this dream nothing had ever gone really wrong, so they woke up in the morning, grabbed their sunglasses, and got ready to hit the city once again. On their way they stopped to vomit up tequila and glitter; yes of course we does.