the magazine of the columbia daily spectator
May 1 2013
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March 29 2013
Sex & Low Beach
“I’m bootyful in my way, cause Arby’s makes no mistakes/I’ve got the right order, baby, I was born this weight.”
No, it’s not the next jingle for the Thickburger. It’s a bit of Twitter-verse venom spewed by a Little Monster (a Lady Gaga fan, for those who have had their heads in the sand the past three years) about Adele—the “Rolling in the Deep” chanteuse who’s netted perhaps the biggest album and single of the year.
When Adele edged out Gaga in VMA (MTV Video Music Awards) nods this year, she and her curvy frame became the target of millions of Mother Monster’s minions. Despite dozens of rumors circulated on sites like Tumblr, Gaga did not join in the musical mud-slinging. Still, even if the allegedly bad blood between Gaga and Adele is confined to their respective fan-bases for the moment, there’s no denying that the stage has been set for the battle that will decide female pop supremacy. It’s Gaga’s glam-and-grime dance versus Adele’s sultry soul.
Gaga and Adele aren’t the only artists with a stake in this battle—rather, they’re simply the generals of two musical camps: the former glitzy, sleek, and bombastic, the latter vocal-intensive, minimal and R&B-tinged. Katy Perry, Ke$ha, Rihanna, and Britney fit into the former; Beyoncé and Christina Aguilera, the latter. You’ll notice that electro-pop’s got the edge: For that genre’s dominance, you can thank the cast of Jersey Shore, and recent surges in popularity for dubstep and rave culture. Gaga’s latest LP, Born this Way, is currently certified platinum seven times over, while Perry’s most recent effort, 2010’s Teenage Dream, has spawned a cascade of number-one hits and earned her an unprecedented, 69-week streak in the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100. All predictable outcomes for pop’s heavy hitters.
But then, sometime last winter, “Rolling in the Deep” roared onto the airwaves, with levels of emotional vulnerability and bare rage unseen since Alanis Morissette’s 1995 smash, “You Oughta Know.” Yet, the song was unique for reasons other than its aggro: Adele’s sultry contralto was notably spared the standard Pro Tools treatment, left instead to float above gloomy, bare-bones blues. It was a nostalgia-seeped return to the days of Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell, as well as a nod to the spunky revivalism of the late Amy Winehouse—and it paid off big time: The song sat atop the top spot on the Hot 100 for seven weeks (the longest reign of 2011 so far), went to number one in 11 countries, and sold over 5.3 million copies. “Rolling in the Deep”—and 21, the album from which it was taken—was everywhere, from Starbucks and soccer moms’ minivans to proms and parties. Here was a worthy opponent for the beast of Born this Way—a strain of simple, timeless soul that the club kids and their parents could rock out to together.
That’s not to say the dance machine is out of the race—the floor-ready beats of Britney and David Guetta remain the party music of choice, and will provide pre-gaming soundtracks of students for the foreseeable future. As for the reigning queen of pop, Gaga recently surpassed 15 million Twitter followers—more than any other person in the world—proof that her brand of glammed-out dance pop is still the hottest commodity in the music world. But despite their undeniable pop appeal, songs like Taio Cruz’ “Dynamite” and Britney Spears’ “Till the World Ends” also carry an expiration date—within three months, people grow tired of the sugar rush, and look for a newer, fresher one to take its place. Artists like Adele—as well as Beyoncé and Amy Winehouse—represent the golden standards of pop: they’re the little black dresses, the musical fashions that never go out of style.
“Dance music is still huge—that’s not going to change any time soon,” explains Nathan Albert, a junior in Columbia College and a music director at WBAR, Barnard’s free-form radio station. “But at the same time, there’s this rekindled interest in simplistic, classic pop. Adele isn’t any particular revelation, but she’s a sound investment—the record labels can be comfortable that she will churn out hit after hit.”
At the time this article went to press, the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 was Adele’s “Someone Like You”—a minimalist ballad containing only the singer’s hearty, pained voice, woven around modest piano. It’s sparse, simple, and entirely unconcerned with drawing attention to anything other than its universal, heartbroken sentiment. It’s also the polar opposite of Gaga’s latest single, “Marry the Night,” a thumping, confident banger practically oozing with glitter and grease. It’s too early to call a winner in this battle of the Billboard—“Marry the Night” has yet to make its formal debut on radio. But there’s something alarming—and refreshing—about the fact that a track consisting of the most skeletal rudiments—no bass wobbles, no auto-tune, no guitar—has managed to bore a hole in ol’ S.S. Dance-Pop for the time being.
Regardless of the Twitter chatter—“CONFIRMED : Gaga will not be wearing the meat dress at the 2011 VMA’s because she is afraid Adele will eat her,” among other gems—there doesn’t appear to be a battle brewing between Captains Adele and Gaga. Still, the contrast between bare-bones and bombast remains one of the most interesting trends in pop circa 2011. So next time your hipster friends scoff at you for playing mainstream garbage, tell them you’re just watching the next culture war play out.
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