For a couple of months now, I've been wanting to institute a new weekend tradition, taking note of music that I love (as opposed to The Worst Song Ever), if only for a moment (the love is momentary, not the idea). It all started with a string of unexpected, and fun, moments listening to the radio, and I've put a few of these lists together, so I should have content for a while (a short while, maybe). And I should add... this is not a list meant to show how hip and knowing I am to mention completely obscure artists; I like pop, and I celebrate it.
Lately, I've been loving the last couple of years for the unapologetic return of truly amazing dance music back to pop radio. There's an ebb and flow to dance music that's a little more extreme than other genres, I find; and you have to live with some really dry spells to get the good stuff. With Madonna off on her journey of personal discovery, Britney Spears melting down and spinning out of control... for a while there, it was very catch as catch can.
I think the first signs of change actually came from overseas: as Kylie Minogue managed to prove that her resurgence as a highly techno/electronic dance singer wasn't a fluke, her dominance everywhere but the US challenged female artists who want international reach (like Madge and Brit, and Christina Aguilera). And gradually they began to look to similar dance music (in Madonna's case, a return to form in Confessions on a Dance Floor, for instance), and behind that... arrived a slew of dance music crossing over to the pop chart.
Lately, really, it's been an embarrassment of options. Here, five dance records currently serving as my ear candy:
- Shakira, She Wolf (La Loba). I've always been one to get Shakira's "hot blooded, hip shaking" obviousness, while never quite warming to her material; her voice is a little mannered for me, and the videos, while full of arresting dance moves, tend to leer more than I think is seemly. She Wolf's video does too, but the song is an old school disco gem, never more so than when she lets out the little "Awhoo!" of a werewolf howl. The instinct would be to shout... but Shakira gives it just the right fey quality to keep the whole track playful, not menacing. There's a She Wolf in the closet... but she may not want to exactly eat you... and the latin hustle hasn't had it this good in years.
- Britney, Radar. As Circus continues to spin out singles, this beep-y track makes an obvious, but ignored, parallel between sonar noises and electrodance's current vogue for synthesized bleeps. Also, I don't think I've ever seen anyone toss off "animal in the sack" in a lyric quite so nonchalantly in like ever. But of course, Britney's so cornered this market on sex appeals, she has nothing left to prove. Mechanical without being cold, sexy but cool, Radar keeps the momentum going and continues to show how this is a Britney moment.
- Lady GaGa, Paparazzi. The GaGa thing is so ubiquitous at this point - especially on New York radio - that I figured I'd heard it all. But this track caught me off guard; for two days I thought I was listening to the new Gwen Stefani single, until I looked it up. Although I liked Just Dance (but it's terribly obvious, and by now, overplayed to death - lost to a generation of wedding receptions), and loathed Poker Face, and tolerated Love Game... Paparazzi is the real thing: a hypnotic, sinuous rhythm track of obssessive desire that doesn't wear out its welcome, or feel trendy and forced (which goes double for its Helmut Newton-esque video). And I think there's still a couple of singles to come.
- Madonna, Celebration. As she's struggled to remain relevant to a younger audience, Madonna seemed to lose the sense of what made her early (we can call it that now) dance music so strong: the celebratory, we're all equal on the dance floor ethos that said anyone, and everyone, can be a star. That exuberance culminated with Vogue, and she's only fitfully found anything like it since (Ray Of Light has it, I think, and Music). With this single to launch her latest Greatest Hits effort (itself a more substantial retrospective than her previous ones), she seems reinvigorated, right down to the playful "you might not recognize me with my clothes on" aside she throws into the bridge. And you can dance to it... even as you sing along.
- Pink, Please Don't Leave Me. Though Pink's albums have been a little uneven, her singles output is amazingly strong and consistent; she moves easily from angry anthems to intense ballads to the kind of song on display here, a light, more acoustic rhythm track that recalls the more New Order or Cure type aspect of the New Wave that the "eighties revival" usually kind of misses. It wasn't all bleeping synths and mechanical drums, you know. And the plaintive chorus, married to the angry verses ("when did I become so obnoxious? I've never been this nasty") doesn't give in to easy sentiment; it reminds you that the plea is necessary because it's desperate.