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"I Am My Own Mommy, The Fuck!" (Top Singles, One-Third Through 2018)
Closed my 2017 Top 100 on March 3, giving myself a sigh of relief that "Gummo" and "The Race" were near misses and I wouldn't have to write about them. But here those guys are anyway, 6ix9ine and Tay-K, sure things on this list for "Billy" and "After You." And I still haven't done my writeup for 2017. Probably don't have much more to say about those guys other than that they're acting tough while the music cries tears behind them — "cries tears" is in reference to the stark and edgy beauty of the musical settings, while in front 6ix9ine is saying "Whole squad full of fuckin' killers, I'm a killer too/Sending shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, nigga/Everybody gettin' pop, pop, popped, nigga." Meanwhile Tay-K may be losing his race, in jail for capital murder for allegedly taking part in a drug robbery that resulted in the death of a dealer, was 16 when the killing happened though last I heard the state of Texas wants to charge him as an adult. "Hands in the air like a statue, I shoot you in a classroom (fucking classroom)," which one of the readers at genius.com explains, "No matter the situation Tay-K will shoot and he doesn't care where it takes place." And the keyboard sounds like sad little bubbles rising to the sky, as if it knows better, though I doubt it does.*

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.

**At least.

***[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.

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Er, how much did I care about the Backstreet Boys anyway, and how good were they really?

Er, how much did I care about the Backstreet Boys anyway, and how good were they really?

"Ninety One may be the best boyband since the Backstreet Boys" implies that the Backstreet Boys are better than Big Bang, which they're probably not, even if their top songs are a greater top. Certainly they're not as interesting as Big Bang. I was just kinda thoughtlessly falling into the idea of the Backstreet Boys as a gold standard, riffing off of Christophe having once said that Big Bang's "Blue" was the greatest boyband song since the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" (inspiring my Boyband 15 post) and my misremembering Christgau having called the Backstreet Boys the best boyband since the Beatles.

(What Xgau actually wrote was a lot more complicated: he says Backstreet Boys are not just another in a string of girl-directed concoctions — runs through a short historical list of mediocrities with maybe Wham! not being half bad, before arriving at the Beatles whom the Backstreet Boys are not remotely as good as, also not as good as the Jackson 5 — and there are a slew of talented early '90s "MotownPhilly"–inspired black rhythm 'n' vocal groups who set the template for the Backstreet Boys while being too sexually explicit and too black to get to the mass of white teen nice girls.)

Edited at 2018-06-10 03:30 pm (UTC)

Er, how much did I care about the Backstreet Boys anyway, and how good were they really? pt. 2

Actually, Backstreet Boys and *NSync are still Subjects For Further Research If I Ever Get Around To It.

"Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" was transcendent, and "I Want It That Way" and "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)" were faultlessly tuneful while still having punch, but I find fault with those two anyway for the singing having not nearly enough punch or push or character — character not always being musically wonderful, but the girl confessional wave that wiped out Backstreet — Pink, Michelle, Avril, Ashlee, Lindsay, Aly & AJ, Taylor, Miley, Demi, Selena — was a lot better for it, more powerful and individual and engaging. Blanks can be effective depending on what musical elements seep through the blank. But blanks usually don't out-do the passionate, specific, and idiosyncratic.

There's some relevance here to the general failure of modern-day cute boys to deliver the passionately idiosyncratic etc., often keeping them low on my lists.

Justin Timberlake eventually came through as idiosyncratic and powerful and beautiful, for a while, and *NSync's "I Want You Back" out-transcends "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)" but — as a commenter in the poptimists lj-community pointed out regarding *NSync's "It's Gonna Be Me" — Justin sounded like a goat. (I did think his solo work successfully set the caprine element aside.)

Christgau, in his Backstreet Boys piece, which praises the Backstreet Boys for symbolically empowering their fans, says, "A competing Spice Girls variation that didn't end up trailing hordes of eight-year-olds would balance the gender politics nicely." I'd add that TLC — black, sexual, and did reach the white teen nice-girl masses — had already changed the teenybopper game, nice girls now listening to girls, and not just to singer-songwriter sensitive girls but dancing, hip-hop inflected girls; later in the decade Destiny's Child followed this up and provided a model for Pink, who inserted singer-songwriter into it and then threw out the model and changed the game all over again with "Don't Let Me Get Me."

Edited at 2018-06-06 08:30 pm (UTC)

Re: Er, how much did I care about the Backstreet Boys anyway, and how good were they really? pt. 2

So, maybe Ninety One are the best boyband since the Bee Gees.* We'll see how Ninety One develop a body of work; on just two EPs' worth of music, I'd rate them three great songs, which is a lot ("Su Asty," "Айыптама," and "Ah!Yah!Ma!"), with most everything else good to very good, covering a range that says they can potentially go anywhere.

*Bee Gees hit me strong when I was thirteen, but I didn't end up caring that much. They did turn out a catalog that included some first-rate stuff. In fact they're a Subject For Further Research too, since I basically only know their excellent U.S. debut LP and the disappointing couple of singles that came with their next album, and then the second flowering a decade later right before and after Saturday Night Fever. And "Woman In Love," a Streisand ballad that Barry Gibb created a great shivery Bee Gees–style chorus for.

Edited at 2018-06-08 03:38 pm (UTC)

It's interesting -- I find contemporary hip-hop (that my students listen to) to be very *ugly* in a way I haven't thought it was until somewhat recently, maybe past few years. But that ugliness has started to pierce through with its alienation, which I've been very attracted to. 21 Savage is the bluntest -- or maybe "most blunted" -- persona I can think of, and I'm drawn to it as a kind of sucking void. I admit to being extremely off-put by 6ix9ine, but I also told one of my students that he reminded me in the kind of one-note ferocity of his delivery of Waka Flocka Flame. It's the sadness seeping in at the edges and from the backdrop that brings me back to him. (Compare to another favorite among my students that I really can't stand, FGB Duck's "Slide," the remixes of which, mostly by women, tend to be better: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QzQUO3j0gE)

I'm probably more drawn to sad in front and sad on the edges -- Lil Uzi Vert's "XO Tour Life," A Boogie's "Regular Person," 21 Savage "Nothin New," even Future's "Perkys Calling." But there is something interesting about braggadocio being tempered or maybe re-framed by these kind of desolate backdrops.

Meanwhile my listening this year has slowed to a crawl; I have a couple of albums I really like but nothing really popping out.

Re: "Loneliness calls"

Totally conflicted about "Slide." The FGB Duck original is dead and monotonous, those words understating how oppressively monotonous it sounds, until he unexpectedly starts screaming, and then for several seconds it's absolutely the most exciting musical moment I've had all year. Then back to the monotony, then he pulls the screaming trick again, and later again, and it's exciting every time even with diminishing returns. Mixed review!

Some of the remixes veer towards mesmerizing rather than monotonous, are more basically listenable — it is a powerful track — but none have FGB Duck's shouting excitement, either. On single listens my favorite two so far are Kidd Kenn's and Bangg 3's; I also like Queen Key's and A.K's and Sexy Red's and Fooch's. Do you have any favorites?

In all this I'm eliding* how oppressive the original "Slide" is, not in the sense of "dull" but in the sense of ugly and threatening and I have the sense of being battered listening to it. This though is not necessarily a musical flaw — unless it is, of course, for you and sometimes for me. This is in a lot of music I'm listening to this year. In any event, 6ix9ine's "Billy" is exciting all through — I wonder how you resist it — even if in real life I'd cross the street away from such a scene till things cooled down. Regarding the excitement: more than Wacka Flocka Flame, the obvious sonic references, for me, anyway, if not for 6ix9ine, are Minor Threat and S.O.A. and Black Flag. Not that those three acts are morally questionable in the way 6ix9ine is.**

By the way, your Tumblr writeup ("No Art") on 21 Savage is one of the great posts of the year.

*Frank elides Slide.

**I'm not being coy with the word "questionable." I don't know nearly enough about 6ix9ine to really pass judgment on the human being, and maybe I never would, but "questionable" seems, you know, appropriate given my current state of knowledge — not just of the legal issues but the violent posturing in the music.

Edited at 2018-06-07 03:57 pm (UTC)

Re: "Loneliness calls"

I think I need to listen to 6ix9ine alone before I can pass judgment -- I've only really heard him in the context of my classroom, where it feels like an intrusion (not just literally because he's loud as fuck). The only track I'd heard before he blew up for my students was "Gummo," which didn't really do much for me.

I had the same reaction to FGB Duck that you did -- total bore, then something, then nothing again. It's not dissimilar to Wang Rong's "Chick Chick," just a blast of feeling surrounded by something a little blanker, except with Wang Rong the contrast is a little sharper and the surroundings aren't quite so drab.

I mostly hear the Bangg 3 and the Queen Key versions. Key is closest to getting some of the energy of the (parts of the) original, Bangg 3 does something totally different, almost turns it into something pretty.

Re: "Loneliness calls"

Um. FGB = FBG (short for Fly Boy Gang).

RE: Re: "Loneliness calls"

I always mix that up! I can never remember the boys are in the gang (bg) or if the gang comprises boys (gb).

Re: "Loneliness calls"

"Gummo" is an amazing track, but it runs out of gas for me after about a minute of 6ix9ine's yelling; whereas in "Billy" he and the beat lock into each other and really keep the thing going.

6ix9ine is all over the place in quality: if you count high-profile mashups made by others (some going into millions of views) it seems as if something's coming out with his name on it every week.

As for FBG Duck, I've now added three versions of "Slide" to my singles list, Kidd Kenn's* in my top ten and Bangg 3's and FBG Duck's wherever I decide to put them. Maybe more to come.

I'm changing my mind about the "off" parts of the FBG Duck original. As I listen to the Kidd Kenn remix especially — but some of the others as well — I hear how FBG Duck's drawl is a template for their drawl. "I can't shake your hand, no I'm not your friend," the way Duck's voice stretches and falls on "hand" and "friend." His drawl is clumsier than Kenn's and doesn't create its own pulse as effectively. But I'd now upgrade it from "monotonous" to "adequate." It is part of the oppressive pull, and the oppression is part of the force. And it sets up the screaming. Of course, Kenn doesn't need any screaming: his drawl holds the stage from start to finish.

The basic track, I presume by LilRiicoBeatz (he's listed on the original's YouTube site), deserves credit too.

*Whether "trigger warnings" are a good idea or not, I'm skeptical of how people implement them (e.g., whether the warnings really help stop panic reactions or are of any use to people with PTSD); and I don't know what actually triggers epileptic fits. But the Kidd Kenn remix does have flashing optical stuff. (Trauma aside, it's interesting that several Slide remixes have flashing lights, fast cuts, deliberately unstable camera. For all I know that's a drill thing in general; I don't really watch a lot of the vids.)

Edited at 2018-06-13 01:30 pm (UTC)

Re: "Loneliness calls"

So I've just posted my half year top singles list, and it's got eight versions of "Slide," making "Slide" the "Louie Louie" of 2018. So, if this is the outcome of your linking a track you can't stand, let me know the ones you actually like.

Black Flag's "Louie Louie"

Edited at 2018-07-10 02:41 pm (UTC)

Re: "Loneliness calls"

Kidd Kenn and Queen Key do a collaboration, called "Eriod":


Top Ten Slides so far:

1. Kidd Kenn
2. Banng 3 ft. Goldie
3. FBG Duck
4. Sexyy Red
5. Queen Key
6. A.K
7. Fooch
8. Pretty Savage
9. Lil Mister
10. Mazzeratti

The order of 4 through 10 is interchangeable, though the tracks aren't. Honorable mentions Jucee Fruit, Dee Sav, Lil Eric Da Demon, Sasha Go Hard, D'Gunna.

Re: "Loneliness calls"

Waka (without the c), not Wacka. It was a bad day for my proofreading department.

RE: Re: "Loneliness calls"

I won’t give you waka flak for it.

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