tremble clef

Monday, February 27, 2006

Kimberley Locke, "8th World Wonder (Hi-Bas Radio Edit)" (2004)

The thing that most chaps my ass about American Idol -- though I'm sure mine is not the only ass thus affected, but it might be the fattest comeliest -- is how un- or even anti-pop it is. The most. Yes, even more than Ryan's penetrating questions ("How're you feeling?" "Excited!"), even more than Randy's stupid dawg references, even more than Paula's seal-claps and constant interruptions of Simon, whom she then has the gall to call "rude," and I'm already getting too worked up, God.

Detractors talk about how AI deals in manufactured pop, but really, the show doesn't traffick in it enough. The anti-popism is pretty remarkable, even if it's totally explainable. It's remarkable because the show did begin, of course, in the UK as Pop Idol, and, as far as I can tell, in many countries has remained committed, in its own little warped way, to finding pop stars. But it's explainable because America, as we all know by now, currently has very little use for pop.

With the curious result that AI is a show sets up pop as a kind of imaginary construct from which contestants are expected to depart, even though we've hardly ever seen any actual examples of pop. Instead, singer after singer style themselves as "soul" or "r 'n' b"; we also get the odd "crooner," while some go for "country," and starting last season, of course, there are the nauseating "rockers." If we take the position that "pop" simply means "popular," and since r 'n' b or soul or country are what sells in the US now, then, sure, the show is about pop singers. But as for "pop" the way most poptimists mean it -- say, music that is unconcerned with "authenticity" -- it's in short supply on the show. Really, by this point, if someone came on and sang "Hollaback Girl" or "Hung Up," it would look positively revolutionary. I have no beef with soul, or country, or even rock per se. I simply find it amusing or infuriating, depending on what kind of mood I'm in, that the show praises these genres as "real," as "different," which is possible only by imagining that the phantom pop music we never actually hear is the enemy.

My current mortal enemy, it will not surprise you to know, is therefore Taylor. You know Taylor. The guy who's got "soul," or the "blues," or something equally venereal. He walked into one verdict round playing a harmonica, because he loves real music, maaan, and you know if the auditions went any further he would start smashing those evil inorganic synthesizers. He's the guy whose favorite judge is Randy, "because he plays an instrument." And, of course, he's the guy who sings like he needs his sister to ride the bus with him. He knows it's looks absurd, but he can't help it, because he FEELS IT, HE FEELS IT, YEAH! Whatever, ass. I know you're aiming for "Joe Cocker," but you're just landing on "Cock."

(Deep breath.)

The popular opinion is that the best single to have come out of the AI franchise is Kelly's "Since U Been Gone." And yeah, it's very good, it's propulsive, it's a shot of adrenaline, awesome empowerment-pop. But on certain days I actually think of Kimberley Locke's "8th World Wonder" as the competition's finest outcome -- partly, though not solely, because it is, I might argue with some reservation, its poppiest one.

It's true that the lyric of "8th World Wonder," as a friend pointed out, is inferior to "Since U Been Gone," because it lobs such overwrought clich├ęs at us. But that's one of its charms for me. The potent thing about love is how melodramatic it makes you feel, how it bends every change in the weather to your pathetically fallacious whim. "Seven days and seven nights of thunder/The water's rising and I'm slipping under/I think I fell in love with the 8th world wonder." The song refuses, I think, to be embarrassed by this -- it even acknowledges that "it's only been a week" -- which is one thing that makes it unabashedly pop. In its original incarnation, the song is a little more of a grinding rock number, but that can be -- is -- easily fixed with a remix. One, in particular: the Hi-Bas radio edit speeds things up a smidgeon, infusing the song with a bouncy, rubbery "Believe" beat that makes Kimberley's voice sound freer, less anguished. That voice is also electronically treated more on the remix. There's a whiff of an Autotune effect on "amazing" and "wonder," and the vocals are more prominently multi-tracked ("But the way that I'm feeling") than on the original. She sounds giddier, like the force of love is practically shattering her into a hundred thousand happy little splinters. "It's coming over me/It's making me believe/You're the one for me -- yeah, yeah, yeah." Close your eyes, listen, and tell me those "yeahs" are not every bit as wondrous as Kelly's more celebrated ones.

Postscript: Apparently Rich at Four Four would like to be the Vice-President of my Taylor fanclub. Huzzah.


  • Kelly's recent song "Because Of You" is pretty amazing. I can't think of a pop song that covers that topic so, to use your word, nakedly.

    By Blogger xolondon, at 8:54 PM  

  • I like the lyric of "Because Of You" if I stay focused on the possibility that it's about a parent-child relationship. If I allow myself to think that it's a romantic love song, then not so much. The other thing that works against the song is how it followed upon "Since U Been Gone" -- although we can't really expect any singer to have a set of "consistent" lyrics, it is still jarring to hear her go from the fuck-off attitude of the latter to the codependent tone of the former.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 12:06 PM  

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