The 2011 “Listen Up!” Awards: Handing Out The Harleys

So here we are, entering the home stretch of the year 2011. And if you actually believe that whole stupid Mayan apocalypse theory, we’re entering the home stretch of the human race. On that happy note, we’re going to be seeing some year-end lists popping up some time in the next couple of weeks. I figure I might as well submit my own, but just as I did last time I’ll be looking at unconventional categories (read: totally arbitrary distinctions that I made up myself). It’s time for the 2011 Harleys!

Who's a good little award statuette? YOU ARE! Come here and let me scratch you!

The fun begins, as always, after the jump. Bring on the first award!

MOST RIDICULOUS ALBUM COVER

THE HARLEY GOES TO: Lady Gaga, Born This Way

Words cannot possibly express how unbelievably stupid this cover is, so I won’t even try.

RUNNER-UP: 311, Universal Pulse

It was a very, very close battle between this and our winner. Just look at this thing. LOOK AT IT. What the hell is going on here? It’s like Storm Thorgerson took a bunch of his worst ideas for album covers and threw them into a blender because they couldn’t stand on their own. And then someone tried to turn it into a Trapper Keeper from 1992.

RUNNER-UP: Limp Bizkit, Gold Cobra

There are so many things wrong with this cover I’m not even sure where to begin. The giant cobra isn’t even gold, and it still isn’t the worst thing about this picture. What’s with the random guy picking his nose? Is that a pirate ship in the background? And don’t even get me started on those girls’ faces…

RUNNER-UP: The Strokes, Angles

Pitchfork joked about how this cover looks like a secret level of Q-Bert. I’ll take it one step farther. This cover looks like a secret level of Q-Bert as designed by M.C. Escher and constructed on top of a crossword puzzle.

MOST AWESOMELY RIDICULOUS ALBUM COVER

THE HARLEY GOES TO: Sebastian Bach, Kicking & Screaming

I’m not sure how seriously I’m actually supposed to take this cover. All I know is that I can’t stop staring at it. I was about to make a joke about how he’s posing with Sheeva from Mortal Kombat, but she actually has a few too many arms.

RUNNER-UP: Beady Eye, Different Gear, Still Speeding

Why do people keep reporting this girl’s parents to Social Services? Everyone knows only the coolest rock n’ roll moms and dads let their children ride alligators.

BEST SONG TITLE

THE HARLEY GOES TO: Mastodon, “Octopus Has No Friends”

Anyone who’s picked up a copy of Mastodon’s new album The Hunter has probably asked the question: “Why is that song called ‘Octopus Has No Friends’?” Well, allow bassist Troy Sanders to elaborate:

“Octopus Has No Friends,” musically, watching Brent [Hinds, guitarist/vocalist] play that song, it sounds like you’d need eight tentacles to play that guitar riff. After visiting the Georgia Aquarium months ago, Brann [Dailor, drummer] came back and said, “Man, I don’t think the octopus ever has any friends, ‘cause he’s always in the tank alone. There’s a starfish in there, but it’s far away. Does the octopus have friends, or does he enjoy his recluse environment?” These are just questions we have, and we’re not ashamed to put those into songs and let that be known.

BEST ALBUM TITLE

THE HARLEY GOES TO: Weird Wives, Some Motherfuckers Gonna Be Walking ‘Round With A Size 9 Diehard Up Their Ass, ‘Cause Apparently They Ain’t Never Seen A Short AC Man Get Bad Ass On Methadone

Weird Wives is the side project of at least two members of Surfer Blood, and that’s about all I know because I haven’t heard their stuff yet. Well, that and the fact that this album has a crazy title. It almost sounds like a line of dialogue from a hypothetical sequel to Malibu’s Most Wanted set in Atlantic City. And now I’m afraid I may have given Adam Sandler ideas. Adam, if you’re somehow reading this, please don’t ever make that movie. I don’t want to find out if the bottom of the barrel sinks any lower than Bucky Larson and Jack & Jill.

RUNNER-UP: Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto

My hat’s off to Coldplay for christening their follow-up to Viva La Vida with a title that was about as easy to find on Google as it was to pronounce. For the record, I’m pretty sure it’s MY-lo zee-LO-toe.

FUNNIEST SONG OF THE YEAR

THE HARLEY GOES TO: Design The Skyline, “Surrounded By Silence”

There’s a band called Emmure who are the masters of what I like to call “binary code metal.” I call them this because if you look up their guitar tabs you’re probably going to find a lot of zeroes and ones. Their guitars do more chugging than a freshman rushing a frat during Hell Week. Their songs are short but feel like they go on forever because they use way too many breakdowns and their lyrics are bad enough to make Fred Durst cringe. And yet they’re still not the worst band on the Victory Records roster.

Meet Design the Skyline, an experimental deathcore band from Corpus Christi, Texas that exemplifies every “Hot Topic scene kid” cliché in the book. They’ve got screams and synthesizers and indecipherable pig squeals and melodramatic lyrics and AutoTune and lots of breakdowns and chugging for good measure. If you’ve ever wondered what the Dillinger Escape Plan would sound like if they sucked, this is the band for you. Their debut single “Surrounded By Silence” is the stuff of legend for all the wrong reasons. This is the funniest song of the year because there are seven guys in this band and I can’t find two of them who sound like they’re playing the same song. If you can make it past the hilariously messy first minute of this you deserve a medal.

MOST OVERPLAYED SONG OF THE YEAR

THE HARLEY GOES TO: Adele, “Rolling In The Deep”

My opinion of “Rolling In The Deep” in January of 2011: “Hmm, this song is actually pretty good. Isn’t she that one who did ‘Chasing Pavements’? No, ‘Chasing Pavements,’ not ‘Chasing Cars,’ that was Snow Patrol. I wonder whatever happened to those guys. They were a pretty decent band. So where was I? ‘Chasing…’ um, Chasing Amy? No, that was a Kevin Smith movie. Not sure how I got thinking about him. What happened to that guy, anyway? Cop Out was stunningly terrible. What was I thinking about again?”

My opinion of “Rolling In The Deep” in March of 2011: “You know what? This song is one of the best pop singles of the year. It sounds like a slice of classic Motown soul, starting with (but not limited to) Adele’s powerhouse vocals. But why the hell is it being played on the local alternative rock station?”

My opinion of “Rolling In The Deep” in June of 2011: “Jeez, for all the acclaim her new album’s been getting, you’d think she would have released another single by now. This is getting kind of old. Still a good song, but I’m ready for something else. Hey, the NBA Draft is coming on soon…” (turns on ESPN) “Really? They’re playing it here, too?”

My opinion of “Rolling In The Deep” in September of 2011: “Oh God, this song is on again? Doesn’t she have any other songs? I could have sworn she picked another single months ago. Change the station.”

My opinion of “Rolling In The Deep” as of November of 2011: “If I hear that song one more goddamned time, I am going to KILL somebody.”

WORST SONG OF THE YEAR

THE HARLEY GOES TO: Cher Lloyd, “Swagger Jagger”

I didn’t think it was humanly possible, but somebody has out-sucked the god-awful “Run The World (Girls),” which combined all the worst characteristics of Beyonce’s music into one hellish package. Cher Lloyd is an 18-year-old UK X Factor castoff who was given permission by an actual professional record company to pollute British airwaves with this nonsense. Her debut single “Swagger Jagger” combines some of the most annoying trends of the last few years of pop music into one super-irritating singularity of suckitude.

AutoTuned vocals? Check. Obnoxious schoolgirl chants straight out of Gwen Stefani’s unforgivable “Hollaback Girl” and every song where Fergie tries to rap? Check. Ranting about the haters in a song that only justifies their hatred? Check. Chorus ripped off from an older, much better song? Oh hell yes. Get a load of this – you remember that really old song “Oh My Darling Clementine”? The one Huckleberry Hound always used to sing? (Come to think of it, do you even remember Huckleberry Hound?) Well, that’s the chorus melody here. And nobody can sue her for it because that song was written in 1884.

Despite all of these things going against it, “Swagger Jagger” still managed to hit #1 in the UK. I suppose if Crazy Frog can do it, literally anyone can.

BIGGEST POP STAR I’VE STILL NEVER HEARD OF

THE HARLEY GOES TO: One Direction

Who the hell are these guys and why can’t Twitter shut up about them? Well, here’s the answer to one question. One Direction is a boy band from the United Kingdom who came in third on… oh, you’ve got to be kidding… The X Factor. And they were on the same season that blessed us with the talents of Miss “Swagger Jagger” up there. Well, that sounds like a great sign.

I don’t know anything about these guys or their music beyond anything I just wrote up there. I only know about them because every few days there are trending topics started on Twitter about either the group or at least one of its members. Which brings me to that other question – why can’t Twitter shut up about One Direction? Because apparently there are a lot more tweeting 12-year-old girls than I realized. And considering how often they all tweet about Justin Bieber, you’d think I would have realized this about five minutes after I joined Twitter.

WORST COLLABORATION

THE HARLEY GOES TO: Lou Reed and Metallica, Lulu

I’ve already written more in-depth about Lulu, so have a look at my review right here. It’s only been a few weeks since I wrote it, but my opinion still stands. It’s still a terrible album and I still don’t understand why James Hetfield thinks he’s a table.

MOST BAFFLING SUPERGROUP

THE HARLEY GOES TO: SuperHeavy

Mick Jagger is the lead singer of the Rolling Stones. Joss Stone is a 24-year-old soul-pop singer who caught her big break with a gender-swapped cover of the White Stripes’ “Fell In Love With A Girl.” Damian Marley is a reggae artist and the son of the legendary Bob Marley. Dave Stewart is a multi-instrumentalist who is best known for his synthpop work with the Eurythmics. And A.R. Rahman is an Indian composer and singer-songwriter.

These people don’t really sound like they’d have compatible styles at all, do they? Well, apparently they didn’t get a copy of that memo because they started a band called SuperHeavy.

MOST BAFFLING SONGWRITING TREND

THE HARLEY GOES TO: Taking your chorus from the public domain

Toward the end of 2010, Ke$ha scored a hit with “Take It Off,” a song that I only remember because I’ve heard that chorus melody a billion times before. You ever hear that old song about a place in France where all the naked ladies dance? Even if you don’t know those lyrics, you’ve heard that melody before. Hell, I think They Might Be Giants used that melody for a line in “Istanbul (Not Constantinople).” Ke$ha’s allowed to use it because it’s in the public domain, which basically means the source is anywhere from 95-120 years old (depending on when it was first published or created) and copyright laws don’t really apply anymore because the creator is dead, barring a miraculous discovery of either the Fountain of Youth or the Elixir of Life. What a convenient way to avoid the legal hassles of trying to license a sample!

While K-E-dollar sign-ha certainly isn’t the first person to do this, she’s the first I noticed doing this. Lately I’ve noticed a couple of other songs that did this. Theory of a Deadman took “The Cat Came Back,” which was written in 1893, and turned it into “Bitch Came Back” (shown above) for their new album because they think they’re clever. And then there’s the twice-aforementioned Cher Lloyd (why does she keep popping up today?), who turned “Oh My Darling Clementine” into “Swagger Jagger” because she wants us all to suffer.

RUNNER-UP: References to Mick Jagger

Oh look, another stupid miniature trend that we can all blame on Ke$ha.

Over the last few years pop stars have become increasingly obsessed with bragging about their swagger, or “swag” as it’s frequently abbreviated because pronouncing two syllables is apparently too much work for the human mouth to handle. Then in 2009 Ke$ha made the revolutionary discovery that “swagger” rhymes with the surname of the legendary lead singer of the Rolling Stones. Which means that line about “kick[ing guys] to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger” was doing two horrible things at once. It conjured mental images of a girl who looks like she lives in a dumpster doing the nasty with a wrinkly rail-thin geriatric rock star, and it inspired other pop stars to compare themselves to the guy who brought you “Sympathy For The Devil.”

So now we have apl.de.ap from the Black Eyed Peas boasting, “All these girls, they like my swagger/They calling me Mick Jagger.” We have Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera teaming up to promote The Voice – er, I mean write a song called “Moves Like Jagger.” And then – oh, sweet freaking Jesus, NOT AGAIN – we have Cher Lloyd, whose “Swagger Jagger” actually doesn’t even bother making a reference to Mick, which is the whole damn reason this trend exists. If she called it “Jagger Swagger” it might make sense, because the next line of the chorus is “You should get some of your own”; in other words, “be more like Mick Jagger.” Instead she calls it “Swagger Jagger” because WHY AM I STILL TALKING ABOUT THIS?!?!!?!?>@<#$>m/&^%$~!?

MOST BAFFLING MUSIC VIDEO

THE HARLEY GOES TO: Lady Gaga, “Born This Way”

Gaga’s seven-minute cinematic opus is actually a tale of two music videos. Most of it is just your typical “Gaga dancing around in wacky outfits” fare. But it begins with two and a half minutes of thoroughly incomprehensible over-the-top weirdness called “the manifesto of Mother Monster.” Not one second of this makes even a lick of sense, so I won’t bother trying to describe or explain it. What is this, a cult? Is Lady Gaga going to lead a Million Monster March on Washington and have everyone drown themselves in the Potomac River so they may join their fearless leader on a spaceship to Planet X?

MOST BAFFLING OVERUSE OF THE WORD “BAFFLING”

THE HARLEY GOES TO: This blog post

MOST INEXPLICABLE ATTEMPT AT A SINGING CAREER

THE HARLEY GOES TO: Rebecca Black

We get it, people. “Friday” is a terrible song. Every joke that could possibly be made about this song has already been made a billion times by absolutely everyone. It’s just not funny anymore. And now, because too many people love irony too much and downloaded that song on iTunes, Rebecca Black has somehow been allowed to make cameos in Katy Perry videos and release not only a second, but a third single. And those songs are much better than her first, but they’re still not good. It’s like she and her producers and handlers have all completely missed the point of the “Friday” phenomenon. “Friday” is like the Plan 9 From Outer Space of pop music, so laughably incompetent that it becomes enjoyable. If she kept doing songs like that she could have carved out a unique niche as the musical Ed Wood. Now she’s just another face in the crowd.

THE “FREEBIRD” HECKLER AWARD

for the Douchiest Concertgoer

THE HARLEY GOES TO: That guy who threw a shoe at Arctic Monkeys

I don’t understand why people do things like this. Why would you pay money to go to a concert just so you can throw stuff at the performer? At least this guy waited until near the end of the Arctic Monkeys’ show in Atlantic City in October to toss a shoe onstage, and he missed so he didn’t disrupt anything, but what’s the point? I mean, I don’t like Nickelback, but I would never waste the time or money it would take to go to a show and throw stuff at them. I’m not sure whether it makes less sense to do this if you like the band or if you don’t. And if you hit the people on stage, you just screw up the show for everyone who actually wants to be there.

WEIRDEST CONCEPT ALBUM CONCEPT

THE HARLEY GOES TO: Wayne Static, Pighammer

Allow the Static-X frontman to explain his solo debut himself:

The Pighammer concept conjures up bizarre images. It’s about a mad plastic surgeon, with a pig fetish, that likes to convert hot chicks into pigs. It is the total opposite of what a plastic surgeon would do. He has this crazy hammer device made from a pig foot. The images of the surgery in the CD package are only a dark comedic visualization of the real theme of the album, which is my transformation.

Um, okay.

BEST NON-EXISTENT ALBUM

THE HARLEY GOES TO: Radiohead, The King Of Limbs Pt. 2

One of my favorite things about being a Radiohead fan this year was seeing other Radiohead fans inventing theories about when their next album would arrive.

First there was the theory that because Radiohead pushed up the release of The King Of Limbs, they must have had something more planned for the original release date. Nope.

Then there was a theory that something new would be coming with the physical release or the newspaper album. Nope.

There have been all kinds of theories involving the eight arms and 35 fingers displayed on the CD and vinyl disc (seven more EPs and 35 combined songs to be released this year, a new album arriving exactly eight months or 35 weeks after The King Of Limbs, and so on). None of them has been proven correct.

There have been theories involving the seasons and the phases of the moon. Yeah, I’m not really sure how that stuff came about. And none of those was right either.

There was even a theory that Chieftan Mews, a character the band invented to host The Most Gigantic Lying Mouth Of All Time and is a self-proclaimed “compulsive liar,” was counting down to something big on Twitter because of a series of tweets posted around the same time once a week each week and numbered in descending order. Hilariously in retrospect, #2 in this “countdown” read, “Why does everyone assume this is a countdown instead of a quiz?” I say “hilariously” because there was no new album at the end of the countdown. Or the rest of the year, for that matter. There was that remix album, the new songs premiered in their From The Basement performance (“Staircase,” “The Daily Mail”), and the “Supercollider/The Butcher” single, and that was about it.

Although now that I think about it… get out your calculators and let’s add this up. Eight tracks on The King Of Limbs. Nineteen tracks on the remix album, and those had been spread out over seven EP-length releases. Plus another three remixes on an eighth EP (there’s your “eight arms” thing coming into play) that came out after the remix album. Plus the four new Radiohead songs that appeared after The King Of Limbs was released. Let’s see… if my math is right, that should be about 34 songs. So we’re one track away from those theories being right after all, while still kind of being wrong. Does that make any sense? It probably doesn’t.

MOST CONFUSING BACKLASH

THE HARLEY GOES TO: Lana Del Rey

If anyone who caught their big break in 2011 can truly say they’ve had a meteoric rise to fame, it’s… well, actually nobody can say that because meteors fall. So maybe it’s more like a Space Shuttle – a sudden explosion and before you know it you’re blasting upward through the stratosphere.

Lana Del Rey certainly experienced something like that over the last few months, seemingly coming out of nowhere with a viral hit called “Video Games” that earned a Best New Track distinction from Pitchfork and all kinds of hype on countless other music sites, and even a Q Award. I say “seemingly” because she’s actually been around for a few years; about two years ago she released an EP and one under-promoted full-length album under her birth name, Lizzy Grant. So now that she’s adopted a stage name, switched to a different pinup hairdo, and gotten some lip injections (that she really didn’t need), music blogs are all abuzz with debates about her appearance and her authenticity or alleged lack thereof. Last time I checked there wasn’t a rule saying a cute girl with a fake name isn’t allowed to appeal to the Pitchfork crowd; a good song is a good song no matter who or where it comes from or how it’s promoted.

But beyond the obvious increase in marketing and attention she’s received, is she really doing anything all that different from before? That’s one of her old music videos up there. Even back then, she still performed cinematic old-school pop. Still sang with that sex-kitten purr like she’s about to burst out of a giant cake and sing “Happy Birthday” to JFK. Still wore that crown of multicolored flowers. Still made music videos comprised mostly of old-timey stock footage and grainy video clips.

I guess I don’t get why she keeps getting ripped for reasons that have nothing to do with her actual music. Nobody’s saying you have to like Lana Del Rey, but I’d like to think the increased puffiness of her pout should be pretty far down the list when you explain why you don’t.

THE AXL ROSE AWARD

for the Artist Most in Need of a Long Break between Albums

THE HARLEY GOES TO: Rihanna

Rihanna is quite possibly the most omnipresent person in the current pop scene. To think, after “Pon De Replay” first came out all the way back in 2005 and then wasn’t followed up by another big hit, I thought we’d never hear from this girl again. This week marked the release of Talk That Talk, her sixth album in the last seven years. When she isn’t releasing another album, she’s re-releasing “deluxe editions” of her most recent album so she can put out even more singles. And when she isn’t doing that, she’s making guest appearances on other people’s hit singles (coming soon to a Hot 100 near you: Coldplay’s “Princess of China”). And when she isn’t doing that, she’s popping up in music videos for songs that she doesn’t even sing at all.

All of this has helped her maintain a stunningly prolonged cultural ubiquity, one that I grew weary of a long time ago. Can’t she take a break even for a little while? Do we really need a new Rihanna album every year? She’s reached that Britney Spears level of fame where she can go completely insane and stop making music for four years and marry some douchebag (one could argue that she’s already dated one – BURN!) and somehow manage to stay famous enough that she can still pump out hits when she inevitably comes back.

One last award, and then we’re done!

THE KANYE WEST AWARD

for Excellence in the Field of Being Kanye West

THE HARLEY GOES TO: Drake… wait, WHAT?!!?!

Let’s see… a rapper who doubles as an AutoTune-friendly singer, receives critical praise for his introspective lyrics, and even co-produces a few tracks on his new record? I have a feeling I’ve heard that somewhere before.

Well, that just about does it for the 2011 Harleys. Until next time, remember – even if you didn’t win, Harley still loves you. Or at least he will if you give him a nice long belly rub.

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One response

  1. Pingback: The 2012 “Listen Up!” Awards: The Triumphant Return of the Harleys « Listen Up! (with Colin Frattura)

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