Top 5 Songs Clearly Not Aimed at Me That I CRANK Anyway

Welcome to Top 5 Fun Friday, a regularly-occurring blog feature where I give you a list of extremely specific pointless shit from my life no one asked for. Why? Because the internet is STILL incredibly un-fun in 2021 and I enjoy blogging. It’s Friday and these will be fun! This week’s list…

Top 5 Songs Clearly Not Aimed at Me That I CRANK Anyway

Cut for space, but I’m a big ol’ Kelly Clarkson fan, too.

About, I dunno, a decade ago I grew exhausted by the very concept of a “guilty pleasure.” And considering we live in a post-irony culture, (and one where the nerds have won and continue to dominate pop culture) liking something other than earnestly felt like misplaced performative pretentiousness. It’s a posture that’s taken on a threadbare sheen that’s barely even a half step above transparent in 2021. Also, I’ll be 40 later this year. Who the fuck am I trying to impress anymore, at least in terms of my pop culture sensibility?

With all of that said, I recognize when something is not necessarily intended for me. I know when I’m not the prime demographic target, and in most cases, that targeting is correct. But sometimes there’s a glitch in the matrix, and I end up loving something that makes everyone look like a dog when they hear their owner’s voice on an answering machine when I talk about it. Coincidentally, it was about a decade ago that I stopped being such an insufferable shitass about music and breathed in all sorts of music I would have previously turned my nose up at.

So here are five songs I unabashedly adore – because they FUCKING SLAP – that I know I am not the ideal intended audience for.

“No Scrubs” by TLC

I’ve touched on this one briefly before, but there’s something about T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli just unabashedly calling out every doofus, dingus, jamoke and jabroni out there for being an empty, freeloading, posturing, preening loser that I simply cannot get enough of. I’ve always been amused by the fragility of the male ego – which is like cryptogamic soil in terms of how delicate it is – so watching three badass chicks take a fucking ballpeen hammer to it is pure jouissance. I cannot imagine how many scrubs these ladies have had to deal with throughout their lives, so writing and performing this track had to be cathartic.

Also, that hook! My god, the hook! The first four notes are so simple, which is true of an innumerable number of great pop songs, but they’re instantly evocative. TLC always had a knack for that. If we were playing “Name That Tune,” I think I could get this one, “Waterfalls,” “Unpretty,” and “Red Light Special” all in under four notes easily.

Its catchiness also explains its backlash. A year and a half ago, I remember reading this piece from The Ringer about the gender war that erupted around “No Scrubs.” I had no memory of this, but apparently the chief response track was “No Pigeons” by a group called Sporty Thievz. I had never heard this song before. It’s fucking dog ass terrible. Feeling the need to respond to “No Scrubs” with this weak-ass jam after 20 years of overt misogyny in rap music is the ultimate scrub move. These guys are bustas, but they’re a useful reminder of why most right wing “humor” is so shitty. Trying to gin up grievance when all you’re doing is defending the status quo by punching down makes for shitty art. I don’t think of this often, but I think it’s a minor contributor to my enduring love for this song.

“Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen

I remember this song when it came out in 2012. It spent nine weeks at #1, which means it was fucking everywhere. I didn’t think too much about it since it was clearly some teeny bopper shit, and why would I care about that? Fast forward a year and a half, and here’s Carly Rae Jepsen doing the song with Jimmy Fallon and THE MOTHERFUCKING ROOTS on classroom instruments. I hadn’t seen them do this before, but two things hit me like a Mack truck (sorry the video is crappy, the noted tyrants of NBC took the video down, and this version is the best I could find):

  1. The Roots are having a good ass time performing this thing! My eye always first goes to the guy with the Playskool glockenspiel because he’s banging out the hookiest part of that melody. But as I scan the rest of the group, I can’t decide who’s having the best time. Is it the guy with the tambourine, the bongos, or Questlove pulling double duty on the instruments?
  2. Carly Rae Jepsen’s voice has a sweet innocence with a subtle but punchy note of sass that stands alone in my head.

It’s hard to describe how important this goofy little Jimmy Fallon segment was in helping me appreciate music on another level. The Roots are unimpeachably cool, and here they were just playing their hearts out with tiny instruments and having a great time. That could be me! Why did I spend so much time hating popular shit for no reason?

Look, this song stands on its own merit. It’s killer. But it takes on a deeper level of affection for me personally because it’s a nice reminder to dance at weddings, dive into the pool with your clothes on sometimes, and not stand on the sidelines like a scowling choad at all the people having fun without you. Join in! They’ll almost certainly welcome you, and life is much more fulfilling this way.

“The Power of Love” by Celine Dion

First of all, Salon Dijon! Secondly, this is not Celine Dion’s cover of the Huey Lewis song from Back to the Future, which now that I’ve typed that, I desperately want to hear. Third, I generally don’t do slow jams. But holy shit does Celine Dion have a set of pipes on her!

My dad ended up seeing Celine Dion at Caesar’s when she had residency there some number of years ago. He said it was pretty good, but because her voice is so trained, so exquisite, and so precise, it didn’t sound remarkably different from any of her recordings. I found this relieving because a) it saves me from having to see her in concert with 15,000 dentist office receptionists, and b) this is really the only song of hers that gets me going. Outside of the one from Big Boat Iceberg, I don’t think I could even name you another Salon Dijon song.

It’s rare I encounter this one in the wild, but when I do, 100% of the time I’m staying in my parked car until it’s finished. Yes, yes, go on ahead without me. I need Ms. Dion to extol the power of love one more time. No, I’m not crying. You’re crying! Fuck you!

“Bad Liar” by Selena Gomez

One of the best wrestlers at cutting promos of all-time is Jake “The Snake” Roberts. In the WWF in the 1980s, the most common style of cutting a promo was shouting directly into the camera. Hulk Hogan is the apotheosis of this, but everyone from Demolition to Mr. Perfect to Jimmy Hart did it. If you go back and watch this old stuff now, it’s assaultive. Jake the Snake stands alone because he’d quietly, deliberately, intensely come through the camera and deliver his promo into the darkest recesses of your soul. He captivated you. He didn’t come to you, you came to him.

I just spent 10 minutes reading through Selena Gomez’s Wikipedia page, and I have had basically no interaction with any of her work prior to this song. I didn’t even recognize most of her CV. But I remember riding shotgun with my wife as we took our kids to soccer practice, and “Bad Liar” wafted into the air from her phone. All of a sudden, there I was as Jake the Snake plumbed the depths of my soul with his uncanny delivery. Only this time, it was a 25 year-old pop star worming her way into my subconscious.

This song borrows the bassline from “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads, but feels to me more like the spiritual successor to “Kiss” by Prince. It’s a stripped down aesthetic with a fantastic storyline all the way through it, and Selena’s quiet but potent delivery carrying the day. God, this song rules so hard. Just hook it up to my veins.

“A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton

This song came out while I was in college. I secretly loved it, but didn’t tell anybody because we were all such insecure, snarky shits back then. The same was true of another piano-led banger “Everywhere” by Michelle Branch, but that was largely accepted because punk band Yellowcard covered that one. I had mostly forgotten about “A Thousand Miles,” but then thanks to a hilarious Instagram post, now gone, by a member of Team USA Basketball (I want to say DeMar DeRozan) and accompanying Deadspin piece featuring a grumpy Carmelo Anthony, I rediscovered it.

In that piece, Tom Ley characterized the Vanessa Carlton jam as “an all-time banger” and never has he been more correct, except for maybe when he suspected Yasiel Puig might have died of fright from a thunderstorm. The point is, I have horrified more than a handful of people with how much I have gotten into this song when it comes on the stereo at a party. Why? Because it’s an all-time fucking banger.

That piano riff instantly tickles your soul. Her voice has power and sweetness. She pronounces words in an off-kilter way. The string accents are absolutely brilliant and killer The video kicks fucking ass. It’s an uncanny pop song because it feels like someone of immeasurable talent slumming it in pop music just for a larf, and immediately owning it.

It’s the weekend. You have your playlist. No matter what demographic you’re in, or what your poison is, crank some fucking jams and live your life. I know I will.

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