Pop Cult: Midterms
Knee-jerk reactions (the best kind) to pop culture happenings all over the world.Posted by Allen Huang
Korea : A-
The K-Pop zeitgeist lives on. The first half of 2012 saw critical releases by heavy hitters like Big Bang, and promising debuts by groups like Hello Venus. And though Big Bang’s “Bad Boy” will ultimately prevail as the more “important” K-Pop song of the year, INFINITE’s “The Chaser” is the epitome of the best that the Korean Pop Machine has to offer. The simple synth flourish becomes irresistible from moment one. And the song continues to escalate, never letting go even past the climax.
But the year is far from over. Super Junior, 2NE1, T-ARA, and After School are all slated to make proper comebacks in the next couple months. The key to superstardom is consistency, and for a Korean Pop group to show the kind of consistency that Michael Jackson, N’Sync, or even Usher shows would be revolutionary in establishing Korean Pop as more than just a fad.
Japan : B
To my delight it’s been more than just the Yasutaka Nakata show in Japan. The return of m-Flo was unexpected and welcome. Japanese singles from Korean groups Rainbow and After School were both excellent.
But the Kyary Pamyu Pamyu full length was a bit of a let down. Capsule’s Stereo Worxxx is a bit of a dud when compared to World Of Fantasy. And all those Otaku House albums I’ve been propping up, well those came out before 2012. So, besides the the m-Flo and the Perfume single, it’s been slim pickings.
It’s hard to predict whether things will get better for Japan in the second half. Some of the Hatsune Miku songs on the Project Diva soundtrack sound excellent. Hopefully Kyary keeps working hard, and that new Perfume mini-album works out well. How about a new MomoClo single? Or maybe those net labels will get going. I’d kill for a Mogra Mix Volume 2. Everything else is just icing on the cake.
North America : B-
North America’s quality control is just so up and down! The biggest artists continue to be the biggest surprises; who predicted that Carly Rae Jespen would be the viral hit of the spring/summer/forever? Whether you think it’s the worst song in the world or not, it’s memorable enough to give them a big bump in what otherwise would be a dismal grade.
Meanwhile, returning superstars are limping out of the gate. Nikki Minaj’s “Starships” gets old after the second chorus, and though “Beez In The Trap” has pizzazz it also doesn’t move the Minaj-o-meter one way or the other. And the new R. Kelly doesn’t have half the charm of anything from Love Letter, which itself was a step down from Untitled. Where does that leave us, Kellz?
There’s also been some incredible low points. That godforsaken Offspring song. The newest Rihanna single. All of that jokey-ass Country pop. And the fact that the most famous people in American music don’t really make all that much music right now (looking at you Lana Del Rey).
Usher’s “Climax” is a definite high point. Dawn Richards’ EP is a bit shaky but the singles are excellent. And I kind of like that “Boyfriend” song from Justin Bieber. We’ll see if my hesitation is justified.
Europe/Australia : C+
This is a hard one to grade. On one hand, the world beckons to Euro Pop. Every song under the sun is becoming “Guettaized,” and producers like Calvin Harris are pulling the strings for some of the biggest faces in American music. But that’s just it, they’re taking their talents overseas. With globalization, comes a loss of identity. Their sound now belongs to the world.
As far as homegrown product goes, there isn’t a lot to rave about. That Gotye song (I know he’s from down under but the rest of the world needs all the help they can get) is from 2011, Kylie Minogue’s new songs aren’t really anything special and even though Alexandra Stan’s “Lemonade” is a banger, it’s not even in the same wheelhouse as “Mr. Saxobeat.” Also, I feel like there were more than a few joke entries to this year’s Eurovision. It’s time to get serious, Europe.
Bright spots? Sub Pop’s Swedish acquisition Niki and the Dove are doing their best Florence and the Machine impersonations. And Charli XCX has potential to release the biggest single of the year, if “You’re The One” is any indication. Not quite there yet, but verrrrrry close.