As part of Idolator’s continuing effort to geekily analyze every music chart known to man, we present a new edition of Project X, in which Jackin’ Pop editor Michaelangelo Matos breaks down rankings from every genre imaginable. After the click-through, he tackles the Sept. 22 Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Top 10 and finds himself stranded in a very cheesy 1997:
One reason I wanted to write about Top 10 lists is that it’s always a good idea to challenge your preconceptions. Being inundated with records means I don’t really listen to the radio, and most of what I do hear is KEXP, the local indie-rock station. (Yes, I know KEXP has other kinds of music on it. It’s still an indie-rock station.) So hearing the Top 10 every few weeks helps me keep up as well as providing an education. If my hunch is that pop radio is largely stagnant and generic, why not find out for myself?
I’ve had fun doing it, too, even if 2007 has proven mostly that, um, pop radio is largely stagnant and generic. But it’s hardly alone in that. Take, for example, Billboard‘s Hot Dance Club Play Top 10 for Sept. 22, 2007 (where applicable, the name of the mix I listened to in brackets):
1. Dave Aude ft. Jessica Sutta, “Make It Last” (Audacious) [Original Club Mix]
2. Barbara Tucker, “Love Vibrations” (B Star) [Feliciano Classix Mix]
3. Justin Timberlake, “LoveStoned” (Jive/Zomba)
4. Perry Twins ft. Jania, “Activate My Body” (Perry Twins) [Perry Twins Original Anthem Mix]
5. Friscia & Lamboy, “Deep Into Your Soul” (Nervous) [Original Mix]
6. Rihanna, “Don’t Stop the Music” (SRP/Def Jam)
7. Simply Red, “Stay” (Simplyred.com)
8. Amuka, “My Man” (JVM) [Al B Rich Rough Club Mix]
9. Tony Moran ft. Kristine W., “Walk Away” (Dance Music Productions Inc.) [Perfect Club Mix]
10. Darren Hayes, “Step into the Light” (Powdered Sugar) [Tony Moran Full Mix]
I figured I’d be getting around to the Hot Dance chart in this space eventually, considering that a primary inspiration for Project X was this piece Douglas Wolk wrote for Slate in June 2004 in which he reviewed some of the songs in the Hot Dance Top 10. (Another Slate piece, Marc Geelhoed’s survey of iTunes’ classical Top 10 in September 2006, also helped nurse the column along.) The other reason is that I like dance music a lot, even if I don’t go clubbing nearly as much as I ought to–though I expect to hit a few events at this weekend’s Decibel Festival.
The fact that I’m planning to go to a series of nights focusing on the minimal, the Germanic, and the ostensibly cutting-edged at Decibel should by itself signal a disconnect from most of what’s on the above Top 10. Whatever my interest in the Hot 100, or willingness to try and hear country music on its own terms, most of the time when it comes to dance music I’m a reflexive snob. Even if you agree with Simon Reynolds, writing in his new U.K. collection Bring the Noise, that dance music will never have the incredible forward motion it did from 1988 to 1998–the period covered in Reynolds’ rave history, Generation Ecstasy…what a remarkable coincidence–the fringe simply contains better music than the thin anthems, bland remixes of pop hits, and radio-club crossovers that make up most of the Hot Dance Club Play chart.
In the case of this week’s Top 10, the crossover records fare best. The “LoveStoned” beat is almost hot enough to overlook the fact that Justin Timberlake actually sings the words, “She looks like a model/ Except she’s got a little more ass,” and Rihanna simply has the best record on the list. The robo-clomp beat of “Don’t Stop the Music” works just fine by itself, but rubbing against the “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” loop underneath, it generates a tangy/sweet friction. For Simply Red I could only find the album version, and unless by “Club” Billboard means those that serve supper, there are almost certainly remixes I haven’t yet located. (This is likely the case with Timberlake and Rihanna as well, though neither of their tracks necessarily need a remix.)
Dance versions of ordinary pop songs have been with us since disco, but most of the ones that clog the Hot Club Play charts have the Jason Nevins remix of Run-D.M.C.’s “It’s Like That” from 1998 somewhere in their DNA, a record in which a DJ took a great song, retrofitted it around a basic house pulse, added zilch else, improved nothing, and cashed a check. Since the idea of an ex-Savage Gardener’s double CD is about as appealing as a wood-chip quesadilla, I’ll hazard that Tony Moran’s Miami-Euro-trance synth pads probably didn’t make Darren Hayes’s “Step Into the Light” that much cheesier than the original. Not that cheese, per se, is always a bad thing, especially over a 4/4 thump, and Moran knows how to wring juice from blindingly obvious ingredients–more on his own “Walk Away” than on the Hayes track. Love the two-and-a-half-minute intro buildup (the “Perfect Club Mix” is 10 minutes long), shame about that stiff vocal.
As easy as it is to complain about the by-committee feel of many of these entries–their 1997-will-never-die over-reliance on envelope filters, their Ministry of Sound big-room ambience, their E-tarded orchestral stabs–it’s the vocals that really render them bland. Friscia & Lamboy’s “Deep Into Your Soul” mostly relies on sampled-and-looped vocal snippets, harmlessly enough. But when a roughed-up digital dude enters with “I wanna go harder, longer, deeper, deep into your soul,” it’s hard to imagine any DJ wizard-like enough to build it into a moment that doesn’t induce a squirm. Barbara Tucker chases the ghost of her 1994 classic “Beautiful People” some more; Jessica Sutta and Jania sound like they’re making time between stock-company auditions. You can order a Stoli-and-cranberry for your new best friend to better music than this–and you should.