A Tribe Called Red, "NDN Stakes" / "Sisters" The two best tracks on the year's second-best long-player. Nation II Nation is a seamless merging of the pleasure principle grounding EDM's precipitous economic ascent with principles of the political and moral variety--low end theory meets post-colonial theory, or something to that effect. The "drop" at 1:15 in the former song could alone power a revolution, and/or catapult Ian "DJ NDN" Campeau, Dan "DJ Shub" General, and Bear Witness up to the front ranks of elite (read: ming-bogglingly rich) DJs. The thoughtful, implicit auto-critique of misogyny represented by the latter track, though, gives reason to be optimistic that they might decline the seven-figure Vegas tenure they're sure to be offered sooner rather than later.
Lady Gaga, "Applause" The first five, six, seventeen times I heard it, I wasn't sure. Now I am: it's really good, like "Paparazzi" or "Bad Romance" good. I admit that I had sort of quietly, personally half-written her off when Born This Way lacked a track approaching those two or this one. It wasn't a bad record, but it was a boring record, which is worse if you're anyone but especially if you're Lady Gaga. "Applause" is a sign of life. She's not done yet, what a relief.
Miley Cyrus, "Adore You"The Bangerz opener is absoutely beautiful and entirely unexpected. It's a love song as testament of undying devotion, thrillingly unironic, sung gorgeously and urgently, reminiscent of something like "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" in the earnestness of its romantic conviction. To be sure, it's no more a calculated display of classy "maturity" than "We Can't Stop" was a measured expression of the opposite. She's a complex artist because she's a complex person because people are complex, duh. She's also smarter and more talented than most of her contemporaries, to say nothing of her critics.
Katy Perry, "Roar" The continued popularity, success, and not-bad qualitative consistency of Katy Perry is another case altogether, from Miley or from Gaga. The impulse to biographical interpretation elicited by Miley and Gaga, or by, say, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake or Bieber, or pretty nearly any current North American superstar, is virtually absent when listening to Katy Perry songs. Perry's songs (doesn't the more formal last-name reference feel more natural for her, in contrast to most pop stars?), with "Roar" a particularly illustrative case, are for singing in the car or the shower or at the bar when you've had enough to drink that you realize on some level that you are Katy Perry. We are all Katy Perry, and she is all of us. "Roar," "Last Friday Night," "E.T." "Teenage Dream," etc. do not suggest the appearance that they are legible psychic traces adding up to a singular, interesting human being. They are karaoke classics and they are mirrors, which always reflect the same thing, never more and never less.
Eminem, "Berzerk" It's now been months since this dropped and I still can't believe it: a new Eminem song that's fucking good. Murmured obituaries for Lady Gaga may have been premature and unfair; the last time Em released something close to this good Kanye was a hot producer who, rumor had it, was considering recording a solo album, Drake was shooting the second season of Degrassi: The Next Generation. The K-Fed reference dates him in a bad way, while the Beastie Boys reference dates him in a good way. Right, he's no spring chicken. And yet somehow, for the SNL performance, Em looked nary a day over 8 Mile. Rick looked ancient.