The Ladies Are Treating Us Right
See that picture of Shakira up there? The one where she's basically shooting fire out of her body? Well, that's about right. Is anyone hotter right now? I don't mean hot in the "smokin' curves" sense, though I'm sure many people do. (A female friend even said Shakira is the one woman who could send her over the rainbow. Sorry, Angelina Jolie! Having all those babies is pushing you to the back of the girl-crush line!)
Anyway, what I mean by "hot" is that Shakira's current single "Hips Don't Lie" is scorchingly awesome. To paraphrase Wyclef--her duet partner on this song--she makes us all want to speak Spanish. I dare anyone to keep their pelvis immobile when this comes on. Even if you're in CVS or Whole Foods or church. Don't fight it. Just shake it. This is the kind of universally pleasurable single that only comes once a year...
...except when it comes four times in one month.
That's right, y'all. We are in the middle of a bumper crop of incredible pop singles. The kind of songs that will *always* make your party guests happy. And I'm not even talking about "Ridin'" by Chamillionaire, even though that's a pretty catchy song, too. (I mean, why do the police always try to catch me ridin' dirty?)
"Ridin'" falls short of pop genius because it's merely an excellent spin on a song that we've already heard this year. (Couldn't itjust be a sequel to "Grillz?" by Nelly--in sound, if not in subject?) "Hips Don't Lie," meanwhile, sounds distinctive. You know exactly what time it is when you hear that weird little horn blast. It's Shakira time.
And then, right after that, it's probably Rihanna time. Because "SOS" is just as awesome as "Hips Don't Lie." Honestly, people. That sample from "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell? Awesome. And the lyrics are really outstanding for a pop record. "I'm a question/And you're of course the answer/So hold me close boy/'Cuz I'm your tiny dancer." Oh, no! Did she just drop an Elton reference?
Really, those songs are the two champions of this moment, and I've already had lengthy arguments about which one is superior. Personally, I vote for "SOS," since its sound is so much richer, but I can see how the sheer personality of Shakira could prevail in the hearts of many. Rihanna happens to have her name attached to some good songs, but (like Ashanti) she doesn't seem to have a personality. Shakira is a star. A shimmying, sexy, articulate star who writes her own lyrics (even if her grasp of English syntax can be shaky.)
Somewhere in between those two lies Nelly Furtado. "Promiscuous," her new single, is nearly as memorable as "SOS" and "Hips Don't Lie," what with Nelly's "Don't You Want Me"-style debate with Timbaland over who's a bigger ho and the Latin-meets-LA beat. And Nelly Furtado has always had a personality. "Whoa, Nelly!" and "Folklore," her excellent previous albums, sounded like nothing else around because they carried the influence of her Portuguese heritage. Also, there was a fun-loving sassiness in songs like "I'm Like a Bird" or the (unjustly overlooked) "Powerless (Say What You Want") that made her seem like a woman you could hang out with. She was talented, approachable, original, and awesome.
Which is why I'm a little trepidatious about "Promiscuous," because even though it's a great song--really, the kind of song that would tower above the rest if the rest didn't include the aforementioned hits--it certainly makes it sound like Nelly Furtado is turning into a standard issue hip-hop sexpot. Will she lose her personality on her new record? After all, "Folklore" was a superlative album, but it flopped. "Promiscuous" is already top 3. It would be a shame if she became generic in the pursuit of hit records, but I'm holding out hope that the fun-loving, musically diverse Nelly Furtado still exists.
But if not, there's always the return of Christina Aguilera to make up for it. Released just today on iTunes (6-6-6... the evilest date ever!), her new song "Ain't No Other Man" is the bomb. (What? People do still say that!) It comes in adavance of "Back To Basics," the album that's supposed to mark her de-sluttification. The picture to the right is what she looks like now. There's just a lot more clothing there, you know? But more importantly, this first track implies that she's getting away from the generic R&B that Nelly Furtado seems to be heading toward.
On her last album, "Stripped," Aguilera managed to deliver the tasty balladry of "Beautiful" and the joyous sleaze of "Dirrty," but otherwise that record sounded pretty disposable. ("Can't Hold Us Down" was not a social revolution, people. It was Spice Girls-style girl power with better singing. )
However, "Ain't No Other Man" is riffing on the 40s-era jazz/blues sound that this new album will apparently emulate. The horn and drum samples are just so funky! And her voice sounds raw. In a good way. Meaning fierce and unaffected. Rather than running up and down the scales like they were her basement stairs, she just sings, belting out notes without frills. The sparse production highlights her voice and reminds us why we should listen to her in the first place. (Shouldn't there have been more of this unvarnished work on Mariah Carey's supposed "return to the voice?" But I digress...)
Anyway, I think "Ain't No Other Man" is going to be as a big a hit as the other songs mentioned above. At least, it deserves to be. And then we'll have four great singles in one year. Something to remember when we bow our heads before Thanksgiving dinner.