Spiceworld and some pop music notes.

I Find Karma (adam@cs.caltech.edu)
Tue, 13 Jan 1998 15:04:30 -0800

I admit it, I'm a fan of pop music, so shoot me. Here are some pop
music bits I've been thinking about lately.

Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 97/Something in the Way" single -- the
TOP SELLING single of all time, officially, according to SoundScan with
in excess of 8 million sold in the US and 31 million sold worldwide --
is finally no longer number one on the Billboard Hot 100, where it was
#1 for 14 weeks.

Only a handful of songs have had equal of higher stays at the top of the
Hot 100:
Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" (14 weeks in 1992)
Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You" (14 weeks in 1994)
Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men's "One Sweet Day" (16 weeks in 1995)

Only two other songs in the rock era have logged more than 11 weeks at
#1 on the Billboard singles chart:
Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" (13 weeks in 1992)
Los Del Rio's Bayside Boys Mix of "Macarena" (13 weeks in 1996)

So for all of the talk that the 1990s are the "Attention Deficit Decade"
of America, the pop music pulse is amazingly slow -- there have been
less number one songs this decade than any other since Billboard started
charting songs. Part of this can be attributed to demographics (that
is, pop music has segmented into country, modern rock, mainstream rock,
rap, R&B/soul, dance, adult contemporary, and adult top 40, among other
smaller demographics such as gospel, world, latin, MTV, new age, jazz,
and classical...

Still, it's amazing to me how much more choice is available in the music
business now than ever before. Perhaps they, like the book publishing
industry, are ripe for a shakedown wherein many of the middle artists
get dropped because all the good business is in both the high-selling
superartists and in the high-selling complete garbage. Or, perhaps
things like Web publishing and one-to-one marketing will allow for all
of these smaller niches to thrive in an we-can-always-accommodate-more

And now for some other thoughts on pop music.

The Spice Girls' movie Spiceworld opens in America later this month.
Despite my knowing several people who are dying to see this, I cannot
predict that the movie will do all that well: it will take the grosses
of a week or two and then fall into airplane, video, and cable sales.
Still, the movie was made so cheaply, there's no way it can lose money.
[BTW, Rohit, the Spice Girls in fact play themselves in the movie. The
snippet you read refers to a scene where dolled up Spice Girl fans dress
as their favorite Spice Girl. My favorite Spice Girl, for the record,
is Paprika...]

Beck, Jakob Dylan, and Busta Rhymes will be the voices of the three
Rugrat babies in the theme song for the Rugrats movie that is presently
finishing up production. Can't imagine what this song is going to sound

Speaking of Jakob Dylan, he was at Cantor's on Fairfax in Hollywoood
last night with his band the Wallflowers, playing in the lounge at the
back of the place (you may remember it from such movies as "Swingers").
He was there to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Cantor's (1948-1998!),
where everyone was celebrating all night with 50 cent pastrami
sandwiches (!). Lots of celebrities like Nicolas Cage were there to eat
and party. Darn, how could we miss this, Rohit? Supposedly they'll be
running celebration specials all year, so we'll have to watch for them.

Who would have guessed that Cantor's was born the same year that Israel
became a nation? I wonder if Israel will be celebrating as much as
India celebrated ITS 50th year of independence from the Brits last year.

Back to pop music. So Elton John was replaced at number 1 by Savage
Garden's "Truly Madly Deeply". For those of you who don't know this
band, they're like an Australian knockoff of Roxette, only without the
female lead singer and without the talent. These guys make Aqua sound
good --- Aqua, incidentally, is still in the U.S. top ten both with its
album "Aquarium" and its single "Candyman". For those of you who don't
know Aqua, they make the Spice Girls sound good.

Actually, I want to go on record as stating that I *like* the Spice
Girls' second album, "Spiceworld". It's got a lot of ripoffs of other
genres, but that doesn't detract from the fact that (to a pop
connoisseur such as myself) the songs sound good.

Heck, the songs on the new Metallica album "ReLoad" sound great too,
though you would never know: not a single radio station format in Los
Angeles currently supports the addition of these great Metallica songs
to their playlists. Sometimes the demographics can be your enemy.
Although MTV still seems to do a decent job of cutting across
demographics, and it has far more coverage than any single radio

What the heck is with this postmodern habit of groups giving their songs
to commercials before they're even off the pop charts? The Verve's
"Bittersweet Symphony" (which samples a London orchestra version of a
Rolling Stones song, talk about your postmodern) in a Nike commercial?
Chumbawumba's "Tubtumping" (a veritable commercial for drinking and
pissing the night away itself -- still #8 on the Hot 100 with the album
at #3 on the Billboard Albums chart this week) in a car commercial and
also in the commercial for Home Alone 3?? This is terrible -- I don't
like my media mixed like this! It's like the Seinfeld "candy lineup"
last week -- could they possibly have advertised Twix anymore??? Or the
Bond movie "Tomorrow Never Diets" --- MUST they push the Ericsson
phones, the Visa card, the Avis rental, the BMW, the Smirnoff vodka
(James Bond can tell the difference between vodkas??? I thought there
WAS no difference in vodkas...) down our throats with their constant
references to them?

Then again, I'm not doing much better, in my email/Web post
deconstructing them and thereby perpetuating them through mentions and
samples. I tell you, this postmodern reflexive cycle of mutual linkings
is enough to drive you batty if you think about it too hard. Rohit and
I heard a dance remix version of LeAnn Rimes' version of the Diane
Warren (what has she done lately) "How Do I Live" -- which is NOT the
melancholy Trisha Yearwood version of the same song that was featured in
the movie "Con Air", but rather an angry, defiantly-belting-it-out
precocious fifteen year old's version of how her life was ruined by a
guy she's no longer with (as if!). The song was originally a country
hit, and now after 26 weeks it's still ensconced comfortably on
Billboard's Hot 100 at #5, but this dance remix version REALLY threw me
off as such upbeat backbeats completely skew the meaning of the snog.
Plus, you KNOW that the snog is the work of some KIIS-FM deejay who
never even met LeAnn Rimes -- he just spliced her vocals together with
some rhythm and bass, much in the way Puff Daddy took the vocals to his
song "It's All About the Benjamins", and then brought Nirvana's Dave
Grohl and White Zombie's Rob Zombie into the studio to record some
thrashy grungy heavy metal to overlay the song, and puts that version of
the song as a B-side remix to the single, "Been Around the World" (which
itself is an amalgam of David Bowie's "Let's Dance", Lisa Stansfield's
"Been Around the World", some vocals featuring other non-Puff members of
"The Family" (it's amazing how many members of the family appear on so
many songs on other peoples' records...).

Speaking of LeAnn Rimes and Puffy Daddy, the Billboard album charts (the
one true measure of "pop music" since every genre can have
representation as long as it sells well) are still dominated in the top
10 by country (Garth Brooks, LeAnn Rimes, Shania Twain) and Rap (Puff
Daddy and Mase). Rounding out the top 10 are Celine Dion (at #1 in part
because her "Love Theme from Titanic" is becoming hot, despite her being
nothing more than generic adult contemporary), Chumbawumba (generic
modern rock), Aqua (generic synth/dance), Matchbox 20 (generic
mainstream rock), and Backstreet Boys (generic "New Kids on the Block"

Why the heck isn't Janet Jackson's "Janet" selling better? She's even
got (in the LeAnn Rimes/Puff Daddy tradition mentioned above) a
genre-hopping version of her new single, "Together Again" -- the
original is a hiphop/dance homage to a friend who died of AIDS, the
fresh version is a slow, brooding, melancholy ballad -- is #2 on the
Billboard singles chart! Maybe this is one of those slow albums that is
quietly building buzz, but it's horrifying to me that established acts
currently in creative peaks (among them, Janet Jackson, Metallica, Shawn
Colvin, Sarah Maclachlan, LL Cool J, Green Day) are having problems
competing with these transient, for-the-most-part-ephemeral upstarts for
sales and airplay.

I don't care *IF* Will Smith is "Gettin Jiggy Wit It", I want people out
there listening to the new Paul Simon album -- songs he recorded from
his new Broadway play -- or the new Cornershop album -- how about that
video? -- or Radiohead's great album "OK Computer". And yet, airplay on
those seems minimal at best. And for what it's worth, I *like* Alana
Davis' cover of the Ani DiFranco song "32 Flavors", even though no one
else I've talked to seems to like what she's done to Ani's defiant

Gotta go, MTV is playing the Top 10 Videos featuring Wu-Tang Clan
members, and I have to finish these XML slides for Switzerland...


Maybe I don't want to sit around for the rest of my life explaining
stuff to people that is painfully obvious to me.
-- Good Will Hunting