Thursday, April 17, 2008

We can be two rebels, breaking the rules

(This is a long, self-indulgent post; feel free to just skip straight to the two songs at the bottom.)

I've been playing Chris Brown's "Forever" and Jesse McCartney's "How Do You Sleep" back-to-back a lot recently, and I've been wondering: which of these is the better lyric?

'Cause we only got one night
Double your pleasure
Double your fun


Not only does your body bang
But I miss the conversation too

See, you would think Chris's use of the DoubleMint Gum catchphrase was a reference to...y'know, but there's nothing else in the song that goes along with that at all, and he just makes whatever he's talking about sound so cute. Jesse's line, on the other hand, is pure classy poetry, no? I mean, why wouldn't his girl go running back to him if he can dredge up sweet nothings like that?

It's my (snarky) reaction to lines like those and both Chris and Jesse in general that have been giving me so much trouble in figuring out what I want to say about the most recent musical offerings from these two young American singers. Both "Forever" and "How Do You Sleep" are great songs in my eyes, with my current preference of the two being the adorable and surprisingly dance-pop/electropop (though in a sweet semi-ballad way, not a crunchy way) "Forever" from Chris. When I run into trouble, though, is when I start trying to explain my attitudes towards Chris and Jesse or the appeal of them.

Let's start with Chris: he's definitely given us some great songs over the years; though there's lots of (deserving) appreciation of his and Jordin Sparks' duet "No Air" right now, let's not forget his debut single, "Run It," a club-friendly R&B stomper that stepped into the gap Usher's "Yeah!" had vacated. His second single, "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)," was a forgettable ballad, but it was about that time that I started to find I had a rising...comedy interest in Chris. That's not quite the right phrase--but I'll get back to that in a bit. The first thing that got me noticing this? Chris's seeming insistence on mentioning the fact that he was sixteen years old in every. single. single. he released (and yes, "Yo" meets that criteria via the video)--or at least the three singles I ended up hearing from his debut album.

He really cemented my like of him in a bonkers/what on Earth is he doing/brilliantly ridiculous kind of way when he came back with "Wall To Wall." The video was just so over-the-top that I loved it, sort of in a comedy way. It was my favorite kind of 2 AM watch-and-not-be-able-to-stop-laughing viewing. I genuinely liked the song, though (with a little time).

I mean, that opening? "Chris, come to me"? Vampires? FLYING? The bit where the whole song goes all innocent and Chris starts floating heavenwards in a ray of light while he generously sings "if I had to choose y'all know I would take all y'all with me" to the women surrounding him? Plus, it has to be said I'm a sucker for choreographed group dancing, something Chris has never been afraid of using.

It's when I try to put my attitude about Chris into words that I run into trouble. It's not really laughing at him, as there's genuine affection on my part, nor is it liking him ironically or subversively or anything. Humor definitely has something to do with it, though. I guess the closest I can get is to say there's this kind of ridiculousness or craziness around him that I like, though even that doesn't really get at it, as he comes off as just kind of "aww, bless" in some of his videos and songs.

Jesse McCartney, especially in his newly reincarnated form, is bringing out a similar reaction in me, though not an identical one. Though Chris has those kind of bonkers "Wall To Wall" video-moments, Jesse's more at the good songs accompanied by things I laugh at level that characterizes my early relationship with Chris. There's this flirting with total naffness that Jesse's doing (case in point: "Leavin'"), and somehow his doing that but never completely falling over the edge has endeared me to these new songs of his even more (well, sometimes he does end up in complete naffness, as in recently leaked track "Makeup"). Case in point: "Leavin'." I genuinely love it, but there's something about the exaggerated urban-cuteness of the melody matched with "hip" lines and phrases as well as who Jesse actually is that never fails to make me smile in a laughing kind of way. It's not a matter of taking Jesse as a joke, though; I mean, even a casual look at all my "Jesse McCartney"-tagged posts will show that I really enjoy his work and have been documenting most of the news we were getting about this new project way before we'd actually heard any of the music. One of the two big problems I had with Leona becoming SO huge was (in addition to thinking that such care should've been given to the career of everyone who'd won X Factor or any reality TV contest Simon Cowell is in) that I was convinced that if Jesse McCartney (who co-wrote "Bleeding Love") had released a song as good as Leona's version of "Bleeding Love" (NOT if he had released "Bleeding Love," but if he'd released a song as good as Leona's version of it) it would never have been that raved about or accepted by nearly so many people.

I guess the closest I could get to describing it is to say that I really like them while still having a sense of humor about the somewhat ridiculous things they do and actually liking them more for those things. Maybe?

The most important thing is this: both "Forever" and "How Do You Sleep" are great songs.

"Forever" is (based on the singles from him I know) a new direction for Chris. While before he's shown a preference for dance-friendly R&B club-type songs with periodic saccharine if cute in that aforementioned "bless" way ballads with the occasional skittery blurty R&B/hip-hop synth-flavored mid-tempo song ("Kiss Kiss," which I wouldn't say I love but I thought was really interesting and would've loved to read more about in an analysis kind of way), "Forever" finds him taking the cuteness of his previous ballads but working that into a more up-tempo (though not clubby) electropop-influenced track that I can't get enough of at the moment. Who would've guessed electropop was what Chris needed to finally get across that "awww" quality he's always had in an actually great solo song? I adore cutely produced songs and that's exactly what this one is, full of little sound effects and with any potential hard edges polished away. It's got an abundance of adorable lines in it, too; the "dance forev-ev-ever"s are great, but the "all you gotta do is watch me/look what I can do with my feet" always gets me to smile--in a genuine way. It kind of feels like the consolidation of Chris as an actual popstar to me, at least in music terms.

Chris's "Forever" may be better than Jesse's "How Do You Sleep," but that's no insult to "How Do You Sleep" when "Forever" is looking to be one of my favorite songs of the year; I still love "How Do You Sleep." Yes, there are definitely cringeworthy lines in this leaked track from Jesse's upcoming album Departure ("I found the letter you wrote me/it still smells just like you"?!), but I'm willing to forgive it. A little bit boy bandish and with synths and this kind of Jamaican xylophone sound like "Leavin'" but much less sparse, it still has that odd mix of urban/"cool" sounds and that hyper-cuteness I mentioned earlier; it's an odd path to walk because putting those two styles together is by force of juxtaposition going to make the mockable traits of the song even more noticeable, but it ends up resulting in a sound that I find really endearing.

It'll be interesting to to see how American radio reacts to these latest musical offerings from Jesse and Chris--has Chris built up enough popularity with his past R&B hits to branch out into a new sound successfully? Can Jesse's use of producers-of-the-moment like Tricky and The-Dream get him the hit he hasn't really had since "Beautiful Soul"? I really hope both end up successful; the American music scene could very much use some great solo male pop artists, especially ones who do well commercially.

"Forever" will be featured on and a single from the reedition of Chris Brown's second album Exclusive, which will be out at some point in the next few months but is not yet available for preorder; the first edition of the album can be purchased here, though. "How Do You Sleep" will be on Jesse McCartney's upcoming third album, Departure, due out May 20; the album can be preordered here (physical).


Adem With An E said...

Oh it is ALL about the "Not only does your body bang, but I miss the conversation too" line for me. Both ace songs too, which surprised me because I'm no fan of Chris Brown.

Paul said...

I laughed my arse off when i first heard that line, and again when i read of your reaction to it (Jesse). I'm unfamiliar with Chris' material but really like 3 out of the 4 leaked Jesse songs! Which clearly bodes well for his album. And i agree with your thoughts on if JM had released something AS amazing as Bleeding Love - it would be totally brushed off.

Yuяi said...

Olga really likes Chris Brown, which is funny because she's not into pop at all. Or R&B either. "He's so cute," she'll say. Especially the Idol performance with Jordin last week. It sorta looked to me like they were getting ready to make out or something. Which I'm sure happend offstage. Probably during the commercial break too!

I am also glad that "No Air" is getting some respect. I love that song! :)

Poster Girl said...

It's easily the best thing Chris has done, I think! I've never had any interest at an album-level from him, but if he continued in this direction, I just might for his next album. Or maybe I'm just better off continuing to think of him as a singles act.

As I said to Adem, "Forever" is definitely Chris's best solo work--definitely click the link I provided to the song! And yes, the rest of the music world has some way to go if they want to beat Jesse out for the "best line of 2008" award ;)

I know people who have that reaction too! It's almost like he brings out a mothering response in them. I've been catching Idol via YouTube (or similar sites) and didn't see that performance--I'll have to go look it up, though, given that it's that song! :)