Two weeks ago, I witnessed one of the greatest live shows I think I have ever seen. This is no easy claim; I have seen a fair few live shows in my time. However, Jay Z and Kanye West impressed me so much in Sheffield with their Watch The Throne show that I took no notes, deciding instead to just sit back, enjoy and immerse myself in the glorious world of proper showmanship. So that explains the lack of review on here, for which I can only apologise. But hey, it was a much needed busmans holiday. Seeing two of the most famous men in the world own such an enormous room with surprisingly minimal staging and lighting, relying only on the strength of their music, I got to thinking about what really makes a mainstream hit. More importantly, I got to thinking about how sad it seems to be these days where you can be Pitbull, Will.I.Am or David Guetta and churn out whatever you like, guaranteed a smash at the end of it without putting real care and attention into the music you are making.
Certainly, Jay Z and Kanye West are hip hop artists, but yet both seem to have that knack of straddling the very thin line between artistic credibility and pop enormousness. But how do they get a room as large as the Sheffield Motorpoint arena to latch onto a catchphrase as brilliantly ludicrous as 'that shit cray?' How do they get away with playing the same song five times in a row and calling it an encore? I couldn't put my finger on it, but I think it's something to do with passion. I know pop music has always been viewed as less of an 'art' form than say indie, or classical, but pop music is meant to be fun, right? But just because it's upbeat and frivolous, doesnt mean it should be shiny, recyclable rubbish with no effort behind it.
With that in mind, I've compiled a little list of some of my favourite, massive, unashamed pop/rnb songs of recent years, for your guilty (or not so guilty) pleasure. Some you may know, some you may have forgotten about, but all that remind me of growing up and being properly excited by music, however overplayed they have become now.
By no means is this an exhaustive list, and by no means do I claim these to be the best pop songs of all time, but as I stand now, these are the ones that come to the forefront of my mind, in chronological order for your listening pleasure. PLEASE get involved via the comments box, because I'm sure there are some stone cold gems I'd love to get reacquainted with. After all, we may all enjoy languidly milling around parties, telling people how many Radiohead 7 inches we own and how overrated we think The Smiths are, but who can REALLY resist a bit of Poker Face?
Big Pimpin – Jay Z (2000)
Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) - Spiller featuring Sophie Ellis Bextor (2000)
Fill Me In – Craig David (2001)
Cringe away with me readers, because I know you ALL secretly love a bit of Mr David. My introduction into lightweight garage (along with So Solid Crew and DJ Pied Piper), his first album Born To Do It is still chock full of tunes, albeit several cringey lyrical clunkers. Fill Me In is one of the most memorable, clambering scales and reverb aplenty. You only need to look at how quickly he managed to lure his ladyfriend into bed on 7 Days to know that this is a man who doesn't mess around.
Ms Jackson – Outkast (2001)
Like I Love You – Justin Timberlake (2002)
Probably the most defiant 'i'm leaving the boyband and can do it alone, just watch me bitchezzz' hit every written. Justin Timberlake might sit a little erroneously with my other music tastes, but I still think Justified is one of the best pop albums ever made, relying not only on Timberlakes vocal talent but some razorsharp production by The Neptunes. In fact, anything off this album, or indeed any of the singles from it's follow up FutureSexLoveSounds, could have made this list, the handsome devil. If more musicians these days could tap into the formula of how he manages to come across so damn sexy without threatening the youth of america, I'm sure Disney would like to know. Please come back to music Justin, theworld needs you.
Dilemma - Nelly and Kelly Rowland (2002)
What.A.Collaboration. Let's face it, even their names rhyme; we knew this was going to work. By softening up bad boy Nelly's attitude to portray a cutesy surburban romance, Kelly Rowland helped open him up to a whole new audience. Whether or not the collaboration with country star Tim Degraw that ensued was a good idea is debateable, but kudos to him for revealing he cared about something over than bitches and hoes. Watching this on Top Of The Pops as it became number one is one of my earliest vivid memories of music, so I always feel a little bit nostalgic when I hear it.
Crazy In Love- Beyonce Featuring Jay Z (2003)
Beautiful - Snoop Dogg Featuring Pharrell (2003)
And here is another I still know all the words to. I really was quite a badman in my youth. Much like Big Pimpin, I think I latched onto this particularly because it sounds so summery. I have long suspected that I have a bit of seasonal affectiveness disorder, and songs/videos like this always manage to cheer me up more than anything else. I shan't try to explain it, for this is a music blog and I am not laying on a long brown couch, But yeah, Big Tune. All together now: 'see i just want youuuuu, to know that you are really speeeeecial...'
Toxic - Britney Spears (2004)
She Wants To Move - N.E.R.D (2004)
Another one that 11 year old Jenessa danced around like a lunatic to, completely oblivious of some of the lyrical content. Ah well, all fun and games. It still baffles me to this day how they got Alesha Dixon of all people to dance in the video, but such is the crazy world of music. From the smooth piano to the wailing guitar, it seemed to have something for everyone, three different sections that made it an instant party classic. Well, the school discos I went to anyway.
Millionaire - Kelis and Andre 3000 (2004)
Since U Been Gone – Kelly Clarkson (2004)
In 2004 I was 11, and courtesy of my love of Busted and McFly, was approaching my pop punk phase. Kelly Clarkson nailed what Avril Lavinge had been trying for years - the bratty revenge song that didn't sound like it had been scrawled on a desk during detention, complete with a pretty darn cool 'go girl!' esque video. I still love it now and think she's a rare talent who hasn't really been nurtured enough or given the right songs. It's a shame really, as she's one of the only winners of Pop Idol that I wholeheartedly liked. This album has still got some huge songs on it if you like your power ballads, go check out 'Because Of You' and let the weeping ensue.
Yeah - Usher (2004)
Call me naïve, but only recently did I really realise how filthy this song is. Like, not even subtle filthy. What are like, eh Usher? None the less, its big and still gets the crowds going, in a kind of 'it's so naff I can't help but love it' way. I rather agressively told a friend of mine in a club the other week that if he couldn't complete the whole Ludacris rap, we could no longer be friends. He failed. So readers, I am now one friend down because of my dedication to this song. The things I do for music...
Fit But You Know It – The Streets (2004)
1 Thing - Amerie (2005)
Golddigger – Kanye West (2005)
With the rap delivered at a coherent speed and of course the Jamie Foxx sample, Golddigger is still Kayne West's most rappable rap. It came out just at the right time during the rise of reality TV and 'famous for the sake of being famous personalities', and it still works now for those very reasons. Whilst Kanye has been criticised for the mainstream friendly approach of Late Registration, it certainly opened him up to new and more interesting things.
Crazy - Gharls Barkley (2006)
It wouldn’t be a list of great pop music without this really would it? Proof that just a voice can sustain a song, it was at number one for a million years and spawned various cover versions of varying quality (Kooks live lounge anyone?) As you do when you're 13 years old, I hated it at the time just because it was so popular and unavoidable, but I have since come round to see it for what it is, a clever, simple piece of pop soul.
So Sick – Ne-Yo (2006)
Paper Planes – M.I.A (2008)
Dance Wiv Me – Dizzee Rascal and Calvin Harris (2008)
WHASSUP DARLIN?! Two words in, everyone's favourite London scally paved the way for noughties big name collaborations, bringing dance back into the mainstream again. This could be a good or bad thing, considering that everybody is bloody at it these days. Nonetheless, this was a period when neither Rascal nor Harris could do no wrong, and it was hard to begrudge them success when they seem like such likeable chaps and are capable of crafting dancefloor fillers like this.
The Fear – Lily Allen (2008)
Paparazzi - Lady Gaga (2009)
Tinie Tempah - Pass Out (2010)
Starry Eyed – Ellie Goulding (2010)
Teenage Dream – Katy Perry (2010)
Suprised? You shouldn't be. Teenage Dream is in my eyes a modern classic with classy production reminiscent of pops glory days. Max Martin has been reasonably undercover since the days of Britney and Backstreet Boys, but there is no denying his production stamp all over this. Tom Fleming from Wild Beasts also decreed it in an interview last year to be one of his favourite pop records. Not feeling quite so superior now, are you?
What’s My Name – Rihanna Featuring Drake (2010)
The Wanted - Glad You Came (2011)
Lana Del Rey - Video Games (2011)
The shrouded past, glamorous looks and timeless voice... Lana Del Rey had everything any popstar could want when she emerged blinking in the limelight last year. Whilst I found her debut album to be a tad of a disappointment, there was no denying that the subtle elegance of Video Games. Hopefully in time she will able to sort her life performance out, and we will have a proper star on our hands.
Azealia Banks - 212 (2011)
Another up and coming girlcrush, Azealia Banks and 212 were pretty much avoidable in the latter part of 2011 and the early part of 2012. It's true testament to the song that despite it's excessive swearies, it's still played to death on commercial radio, her impish face beaming from music magazines as she gleefully declares that she will 'ruin you c***.' You can keep your Nicki Minaj's, thankyou very much.
Kanye West and Jay Z - N***** In Paris (2012)
I don't know what it means, but it's provocative, and it gets the people going. There isn't much else to be said about this song that I didn't say in the introduction, but I can see it being a staple of club nights for the forseeable future.
So there we have it! A whistlestop tour through my childhood via pop and RnB. I could go on, but I'm sure nobody is still reading this gargantuan post, so I will instead leave you to listen away. Enjoy the nostalgia - I certainly did.