Ongoing Singles Playlist, 2018
By the way, hating a song's sensibility or impact is a perfectly good reason to rate it lower and keep it off a best-of list; conversely, I can post about songs without waiting for a best-of list, if I've got something to say. I'm putting off till my 2017 writeup some sort of account of how and why I rate things. But making myself do these lists, or wanting to do them, is at least a way of keeping open the idea of engaging the world of criticism. Keeping "challenging" and fucked-up material on is a way of maybe challenging the rest of what there is of a critical community — ha! — to do its job. And me to do mine. Or you to do yours, if you're a musician, which is maybe to do better art than the bullies do. (Criminal accusations aside, Tay-K in "After You" is telling a girl he won't give her head until she gives him head, first.)
In any event, there's a world of extraordinary music, even if I feel like an outsider standing next to almost all of it. The alienation when I'm reckoning with musicians and writers I'm supposedly close to feels just as bad anyway.
Still a dearth of front people over 30, though not as big a dearth as usual (including "featuring" there are twelve that I know of, maybe a few more among the Senegalese and Ethiopians); Mylène Farmer is the only one I know of over 40. Willie Nelson might end up on this list for "Something You Get Through." (Analysis: Blah blah something something industry throws money at youth something glib something glib adults in public life are such phonies, who would want to be an adult? yeah the kids are phonies too but they're not faking their immaturity the way the adults are faking responsibility, something something, is this really a reason?)
Ninety One may be the best boyband since the Backstreet Boys;** in any event, the first since Big Bang not to undercut itself through inadequate vocals. I write about this every year, how over the last few decades females have generally been far more effective than males as a lead voice: it's not that the young women in, e.g., T-ara and 4Minute were inherently better at singing than their counterparts in Infinite and BTS and MBLAQ (and on this list TheEastLight. and Stray Kids and NCT, all of whom'd be higher if the singers had more presence; hell, TheEastLight. could've been number one***), but that Soyeon and HyunA et al. were right for what they were singing, didn't need to give it something else. Whereas the guys always sound weak.
Anyhow, notice that this year is the first of these yearly or quarterly lists since... honestly, I don't know, since I've been doing them on LiveJournal, probably, and maybe since I've been jotting down long lists before that, maybe all the way back to 2005, anyway, first in almost forever that has as many male front people as female. This is partially because I'm paying more attention to hip-hop than I have in a while, and hip-hop has many more males. But also nowadays girl groups like Twice and Momoland and Red Velvet and CLC and Blackpink sound as not-quite-there as the boybands. Again, I've got no real analysis; Pungdeng-E and Wonderful Machine sound fine, so do Hong Jinyoung and small-voiced Tia, LOOΠΔ could make the list, the problem with this year's Hyolyn track is the song not the singing, same with Oh My Girl (and Serebro, for that matter), and I'm waiting for new material from HyunA and Miso and Pocket Girls. I never had a satisfying analysis for what was wrong with the males: I could say something glib about men not knowing anymore how to stride with confidence through a self-evidently corrupt patriarchal world,**** except in their great days Jagger and Townshend-Daltry and Davies were just as uncertain and conflicted about how to be men. What I said above about Tay-K and 6ix9ine "acting tough while the music cries tears behind them" is just a repeat of my old analysis of the Rolling Stones' "Heart Of Stone" — except the Stones were incisive and self-critical rather than just mean. If anything the Stones' insecurity made their sound stronger, being strongly at odds with oneself creating visceral power on all sides. The Stones were able to go for an honesty and intelligence behind their narrators' false puffs of air, with the music delivering actual strength even when the lyrics knew better. But Jagger had the excitement and optimism of his time and place supporting him. Whereas Tay-K and 6ix9ine are taking on a world they can't possibly defeat.
As for Ninety One, they sound well-suited where Block B and BTS and Exo often sounded forced in working power and rebellion and experimentation into a boyband sound. Lots of humor too, it seems to me at a cultural distance. Maybe that's the winning element.*****
Bhad Bhabie is a messed-up 14-year-old who rose to prominence being exploited on a Dr. Phil freakshow and got the phrase "Cash Me Outside" sampled effectively in hip-hop and turns out to have a lot of talent in her own right. You wonder though — I wonder — if being famous will be good for her psyche at all. It's not like her ability disappears if she waits until she's 22. But maybe nursing a budding career is just the thing for her to pull herself together. How would I know? In the vid for "Gucci Flip Flops" she runs a hoary milkman gag: the milkman knocks, "Hey little girl, you're so cute; is your mommy home?" She tells him: "Bitch, I am my own mommy, the fuck!" That's incredibly sad, if you think about it; but for the girl who says it, it's got the joy of her declaring her own adventure.
*The music probably doesn't believe it's crying; thinks of itself as "spooky" or something.
***[UPDATE Oct. 2018: Not a happy story with the TheEastLight. At a press conference the group's leader, Lee Suk Chul, said that the group had been regularly abused by its manager — as in being beaten, hit by a baseball bat, choked with guitar cables — and that the label boss for Media Line Entertainment knew but did not effectively intervene. In a statement, Label CEO Kim Chang Hwan did not dispute that there'd been abuse but said he'd had no part in it. He did say "I will accept the criticism for my behavior and wrongdoing." (I gather that at least four of the group's are minors.) (Allkpop articles here and here.]
****Anyway, how would women not feel just as conflicted and complicit? It's not as if their roles are somehow patriarchy free, esp. the K-pop girls'.
*****I don't yet have good words for what I'm hearing in Ninety One. I highly recommend the full week of Jessica Doyle's writeup of Ninety One for One Week One Band.
Here's the list, and more commentary beneath it. (Ongoing playlist here.)
Singles First Third 2018 (actually I can do arithmetic and I know it's really the first five-twelfths, but I meant to do this a month ago):
1. Cassie "Don't Play It Safe"
2. Bhad Bhabie ft. YBN Nahmir, Rich The Kid, Asian Doll "Hi Bich (Remix)"
3. Ninety One "Ah!Yah!Ma!"
4. Fairies "HEY HEY ~Light Me Up~"
5. Bhad Bhabie "Both Of Em"
6. Boy Tag ft. Tala A. Marie "Talla"
7. Royal KD "Swagchy"
8. Tay-K "After You"
9. KeshYou & Baller "Swala La La"
10. 6ix9ine "Billy"
11. Tenor "Alain Parfait (Á L'Imparfait)"
12. The EastLight. "Don't Stop"
13. MHD "Moula Gang" (AFRO TRAP Part.10)
14. Cardi B "Be Careful"
15. Yella Beezy ft. Lil Baby "Up One"
16. Niniola "Saro"
17. Bhad Bhabie ft. Lil Yachty "Gucci Flip Flops"
18. Lil Pump "i Shyne"
18. Mylène Farmer "Rolling Stone"
20. Chi Pu "Talk To Me"
21. Burna Boy ft. Lily Allen "Heaven's Gate"
22. Hong Jinyoung "Good Bye"
23. Booker x Mozee Montana "Каждый День (Every Day)"
24. Ashley Monroe "Hands On You"
25. 21 Savage, Offset, Metro Boomin "Ric Flair Drip"
26. Stray Kids "Grrr"
27. Blocboy JB & Drake "Look Alive"
28. Wonderful Machine "Time's Gone"
29. NCT U "Baby Don't Stop"
30. DJ Spinall & Wizkid "Nowo"
31. Stefflon Don, Skepta "Ding-A-Ling"
32. Pungdeng-E "Caramel Macchioto"
33. All Stars (Sen Ptit Galle) "Sargal Akon Na Na Na Na"
34. Wally B. Seck "Faramareen"
35. Miky Yo ft. Kidest Temasgen "Dureye New Fitu"
36. Netsanet Melkamu ft. Jino "Security"
37. Tia "No More"
Some quick shots; hope to write more about these and others as I post versions of this list over the year:
Cassie "Don't Play It Safe": She's still an enigma to me, how she's consistently good, how she's got such a strong vocal presence with singing that sounds barely present, refusing to put much push in her voice. She's got strong critical backing in my particular side-current of the Internet, despite having had but one hit, 12 years ago, and a lot of her best material only appearing as leaks.
Boy Tag "Talla": He might end up as this year's hero. He's a virtuoso of sounds and probably of words as well, though so far I haven't gotten a bead on his lyrics, with no peep from the lyric sites so I can't even get to the point of using Google Translate. A YouTube discussion on the "Talla" thread over how many languages and dialects he's rapping in identifies perhaps five or six, or eight: English, French, Bagangté, plus "another Bamileke language," Pidgin, Camfranglais, Verlan.****** Passionate, committed, playful, while the song he samples, "Bend Skin" by Tala Marie France, gives the track a nice lilt for his voice to roll around in. Even when Boy Tag's rapping in English, the speed he's going outruns my ability to understand. (Notice how the closed captioning of this freestyle from last year throws up its hands in the middle and gives up.)
Royal KD "Swagchy": Posted about them already: new group, small agency, and it looks like they've just changed agencies without yet releasing this song — so "Swagchy" will likely get moved to my Nonsingles list. The link on this list is to a live version that used to be on their YouTube page but is now only on Facebook. The one on my playlist is a worse-recorded fancam version. Anyway, a hip-hop leaning idol group with a moody almost rock sound on this one song; nothing else I've heard from them yet seems significant.
Cardi B "Be Careful": If I'd posted my 2017 list (to come, I promise), I would've explained my leaving "Bodak Yellow" off by saying that among women who call other women bitches I thought Lil Debbie and Bhad Bhabie had more talent. I probably still think so, but on "Be Careful" Cardi B has more heart.
KeshYou & Baller "Swala La La": A Kazakh girl group and rapper incorporate Ninety One's idol noise experimentation and are the better for it.
Booker x Mozee Montana "Каждый День (Every Day)": Mozee Montana would've made last year's list if I'd heard "Hayastan Boomin" in time (instead it'll make one of my "mixtapes"). She sounds just as weighty but a lot more lively and — I assume — witty than the guys she hangs around with.
By the way, Cassie, Cardi B, Bhad Bhabie, 6ix9ine, and Tay-K are American; Boy Tag, Cameroonian; Royal KD, Korean; Ninety One and KeshYou & Baller, Kazakh; Booker & Mozee Montana, Russian. More Koreans and Cameroonians on the list,
******I wouldn't count Verlan as a language or even a dialect, but prior to today I'd never heard of it; it apparently means he's throwing in a style of French slang.
This entry was originally posted at https://koganbot.dreamwidth.org/370069.html. Comments still welcome here, there, and anywhere.