Fascinating 2010 Music Trends That I Will Examine Further If They Continue In 2011

This is just a quick round-up of some trends I noted in the past year’s mainstream commercial pop. I’ll say a bit about them below, but these analyses are definitely in beta. It will be interesting to see if they develop further, mainly b/c then we’ll have some more (i.e., enough) material to think through…

1. The 90s are back, pt. 1: Pop House

What 70s G-funk was to 90s hip hop, 90s pop house (Black Box, Snap!, etc., basically stuff that was on pop radio in the US in the early 1990s; Chicagoans would call it “B96” stuff) was to 2010’s hip hop. Leaving aside Usher’s transformation into latter-day house divo, there are plenty of examples of direct sampling of 90s pop house tracks:

Kanye West (feat. Jay-Z, Rick Ross, and Swizz Beatz) “Power Remix”—the second half samples Snap!’s classic “I Got The Power”

Lil Wayne and Eminem, “No Love,” takes its title, and a sample, from Haddaway’s “What Is Love”

Usher’s “DJ Got Us Fallin In Love” lifts a lyric and a melody from Soul ll Soul’s “Back To Life

Here’s the Haddaway track, my favorite of the bunch:

One of the interesting questions this trend raises is the “no homo” problem, i.e.,given the “queerness” of many of these 90s house tracks (e.g., Haddaway), how are these mainstream hip hop and R&B artists—mainly male artists—dealing with the perceived queerness of the songs they’re appropriating?

2. The 90s are back, pt. 2: Wait, have we moved on to appropriating the 00s?

So, there’s this track “Animal,” not by the Strokes, but by a band called Neon Trees. The vocals are a clear rip of/homage to Julian Casablancas (in timbre, articulation, and melodic structure), just as the repeated eighth-note bassline with minimal guitar in the verse/jangly guitar in the chorus is very, very This Is It-era Strokes. The Neon Trees’ vocalist shares Casablancas’ distinctive tendency to crescendo on second-syllable vowels. Take a listen:

And here are the Strokes, for comparison:

3. Screw vocoders, we’re going to actually sing as though our voices were processed

I’m really fascinated by this trend. On the one hand, vocal processing is ev.ery.where—Ke$ha, Black Eyed Peas, all over the place. Perhaps in response to this, we’re now seeing vocalists manually mimic digital effects. There are two examples I can think of off the top of my head.

First, and perhaps most obviously, Gaga’s (well, here, it’s the backup singers, around 1:40) mimicking of the sound of a busy signal in “Telephone” (in the beginning she also mimics the sound of a signal breaking up):

Then, there’s Tayo Cruz’s “Dynamite,” where he sings the repeated words, rather than having his vocals cut up in production to create the repeats:

4. The Power Ballad Is Back, or, everybody seems to love Journey and 80s Bon Jovi, so let’s write songs that sound like they do

I think this is brilliant. Journey and Bon Jovi have been popular bar/karaoke/wedding music for several years. So, now, bands are writing songs that sound like these other popular songs. And they get lots of radio play; people can like these songs directly, as they don’t have to deal with the “baggage” of these older, somewhat corny/cheesy/trite songs. There are two main examples I can think of:

First, there is Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody.” This is straight up Journey-esque power balad. One small example: this track’s soaring backing vocals (oh-woah-oh, oh-woah-oh-oh) aren’t too far off Journey’s “street light peo-po-oh-oh-ooooah.” Please think of “Don’t Stop Belevin’” as you listen to “Use Somebody”:

And for comparison:

And, while we’re on the topic of Kings of Leon, can I just mention that “Radioactive” is clearly drawing heavily on the Breeder’s “Cannonball”?

Then, even more brilliantly, there’s “Heart Heart Heartbreak” by Boys Like Girls. This song has choruses that recreate the feel of Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, and verses that sound like standard post-emo pop-punk. Listen to the talkbox and “wo-oah”s in the chorus–they’re very “Living on a Prayer”:

5. Mainstream Hip Hop turns to Yacht Rock

This is one of the more immediately puzzling—and perhaps theoretically interesting—trends of the year. Is this just evidence of the exchangeability of all commodities (i.e., that the “use value” or “original meaning” of the sampled songs is so easily evacuated by commodification that it doesn’t mean anything for black dudes to be sampling tracks by/for 80s preppy whites)? Or is there some sort of meaning/intention behind black artists’ appropriation of prepster anthems?

Here are two main examples. First, Jay-Z’s “Forever Young,” which samples Alphaville’s original:

Even weirder is the Black Eyed Peas’ use of Dirty Dancing’s “I’ve Had the Time of My Life”:

And, I do seriously hope that in 2011 somebody can figure out something else, other than “Mick Jagger,” that rhymes with “swagger.”