The 2012 “Listen Up!” Awards: The Triumphant Return of the Harleys
Time really flies, doesn’t it? It feels like only yesterday that I was writing my year-end Harley Awards post, when in fact it was around 367 days ago. As I write this we have exactly a month left before the end of the Mayan calendar, which everyone has apparently equated with the end of the world. Why doesn’t the human race ever learn that we are incapable of predicting the apocalypse? Every time people have thought doomsday was upon us, absolutely nothing happened and we all carried on with business as usual. So you might not want to quit your job and spend all the money in your savings account on a bomb shelter under the assumption that your life is about to become a Roland Emmerich movie.
Anyway, as 2012 is approaching its conclusion, it’s time once again for me to celebrate achievements in totally arbitrary categories that I made up myself. In other words, it’s just another typical awards show. It’s time to bring on the 2012 Harleys!
As always, the fun begins after the jump.
MOST RIDICULOUS ALBUM COVER
THE HARLEY GOES TO: Django Django, Django Django
I’ll be honest – I have no idea what to say here. I don’t know who this band is, where they’re from, or even what kind of music they play. All I know of Django Django is this album cover. Oh, and that we now have a musical equivalent of Major Major Major Major from Catch-22.
This is the part where I’m supposed to make jokes about this album art, but I don’t even know where to go with this beyond this eternal question posed and sort of answered by Faith No More: “What is it? It’s it.”
RUNNER-UP: Maroon 5, Overexposed
More like Overcrowded. And overly ugly. And because this is a Maroon 5 album, the artist decided to color everything with every possible shade of maroon. How clever.
RUNNER-UP: Two Door Cinema Club, Beacon
Remember that scene from The Money Pit where Tom Hanks falls through the second-story floor and gets stuck in the hole all day with his legs dangling from the ceiling? Apparently the guys in Two Door Cinema Club do. Then they decided the only way to make that scene better would have been for Hanks’s crotch to be inexplicably glowing. Then they realized that nobody would buy an album with Tom Hanks’s glowing crotch on the cover so they hired a sexy model and made her crotch glow instead. Why? Because the album’s called Beacon and a lighthouse would have been too obvious.
RUNNER-UP: Minus The Bear, Infinity Overhead
This kind of reminds me of one of those weird “blipverts” Radiohead made to promote Kid A. There are lots of jagged polygons and floating eyeballs, and it’s unclear what exactly it’s supposed to mean (if anything at all), but it’s so bizarre it can’t help but get your attention.
RUNNER-UP: B.O.B., Strange Clouds
And you thought this was some kind of drug reference. Shame on you! Obviously it’s a strange cloud because it’s indoors!
Silly cloud! What are you doing in Bobby Ray’s house? You’re not supposed to be in there! You should be floating around outside with all the other clouds!
MOST AWESOMELY RIDICULOUS ALBUM COVER
THE HARLEY GOES TO: The Darkness, Hot Cakes
Here’s something I wish they would serve at IHOP – pancakes with a side of beautiful models. Somewhere there are Hooters chefs kicking themselves for not thinking of it first.
RUNNER-UP: Cee-Lo Green, Cee-Lo’s Magic Moment
Coming at you straight out of the Lisa Frank edition of Photoshop and just in time for Christmas, it’s Santa Cee-Lo!
MOST RIDICULOUSLY NSFW ALBUM COVER
THE HARLEY GOES TO: Death Grips, No Love Deep Web
Someone wrote the album title on his erect penis and then took a picture. Need I say more?
I guess you could say this was a pretty ballsy decision. Huh? How ‘bout that? Funny, right?
*avoids thrown tomatoes*
THE HARLEY GOES TO: Andrew Falkous, “HateSong,” The AV Club 11/9/2012
Recently The AV Club started a series called “HateSong” in which they interview musicians about songs they hate. One entry is a chat with Andrew Falkous of Future of the Left, who proceeds to explain why he hates “To Be With You,” the Monster Ballads-approved 1991 hit by Mr. Big. Or as he calls it, a “banal collection of fuck-fluff.” The interview involves stories about leaving parties just because he heard “To Be With You” and an encounter with a Paul Gilbert groupie who mistook his band for Paul Gilbert’s backing band. (Gilbert was the lead guitarist in Mr. Big.) My summary really isn’t doing this justice; Falkous is a pretty funny guy and seems rather amused that a harmless pop song could irritate him so much. Whether you’ve heard of Future of the Left or not, this interview’s worth a read. Then once you’re done, go listen to Future of the Left.
MOST DEPRESSING HIT SONG OF THE YEAR
THE HARLEY GOES TO: Ed Sheeran, “The A-Team”
Are you like me? Did you read the title of that song and irrationally hope it would be some kind of Lonely-Island-esque tribute to that ‘80s TV show about mercenaries who love when plans come together and pity fools? Or did you wonder if maybe it would sample the instantly recognizable theme music from said TV show? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you were probably let down by “The A-Team.”
It’s actually a gentle acoustic ballad, the likes of which you’ve probably heard a billion times at your local coffeehouse during Open Mic night. So maybe you might want to learn it on guitar or something because all the girls think it’s such a beautiful song. It sounds like the kind of song that would typically accompany cutesy lyrics about falling in love at a coffee shop. Then you actually pay attention to the lyrics and learn that this song is about a girl who prostitutes herself to feed her drug addiction. Suddenly everything seems so much bleaker.
Hey, since this song is about Jennifer Connelly’s character in Requiem for a Dream, does that mean Ed Sheeran is the guy from 30 Seconds to Mars? Food for thought. But try to refrain from making “ASS TO ASS” jokes in the comments – that’s my job.
And to help you feel a little better about life, the universe, and everything, here’s another picture of Harley.
FUNNIEST SONG OF THE YEAR
THE HARLEY GOES TO: Train, “Drive By”
Remember, kids – unintentionally funny things are almost always funnier than things that are supposed to be funny.
Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” was the biggest hit of 2010. It was an irritatingly omnipresent ode to dancing to Mr. Mister songs, not shaving your chest hair, and calling yourself “gangsta” and “thug” despite being a dorky white guy who makes bland easy-listening music for supermarkets and waiting rooms. It drove me absolutely bonkers then and still does now. And even though I’d never really had a problem with Train before – well, outside of “Calling All Angels,” which sucks – “Drive By” comes dangerously close to out-stupiding even “Hey, Soul Sister.” Let’s break down the chorus to this one, shall we?
“Oh I swear to you/I’ll be there for you/This is not a drive by”
And thank God for that. Let’s not forget that Pat Monahan is the guy who called himself “so gangsta” and “so thug” in Train’s last big hit. As long as he isn’t driving around with a Tec-9 trying to take mine, I can feel safe when I’m walking the streets. Nobody messes with the guy from Train. He doesn’t care if you’re a Crip, a Blood, a Hells Angel, or a member of MS-13. If you see him rollin’ through your neighborhood, you better run for cover. He will not hesitate to roll down his window and pop a few caps in your ass. And then he’ll finish you off by bashing your skull in with a ukulele.
“Just a shy guy looking for a two-ply”
Oh no. I think I know exactly where this is going. This lyric is going to end with something about toilet paper, isn’t it?
“Hefty bag to hold my love”
That… that may actually have been even worse.
That was not a typo. Nor was it something I made up just to be funny. He honestly sings a lyric about holding all his love in a garbage bag. A garbage bag. A large plastic bag that was manufactured so you could fill it with stuff you have no further use for and want to throw away and never think about again.
It’s an image that would make perfect sense if this was a breakup song, or an “I’m-so-over-you” song, but as the central image of the chorus of a love song? Uh, no. I get what he’s trying to say – Hefty bags are strong and durable and you can fit lots of stuff inside them. But my point still stands. He’s still talking about a bag that was made to be filled with garbage. The stuff in that bag will be unceremoniously chucked into the nearest dumpster and forgotten about for another thousand years, when alien archaeologists stumble across it while rooting through a landfill searching for artifacts of early 21st-century human civilization. It’s an image that conveys the exact opposite meaning of what this song is supposed to be about.
Then again, I’m kind of surprised he already has enough love for this woman to fill that Hefty bag. See, “Drive By” is the romantic tale of a one-night stand that was apparently so amazing that his love for her “went viral.” So… what does that mean? Did it become an Internet meme?
“When you move me/Everything is groovy”
I’m pretty sure the only other person who still describes anything as “groovy” these days is Austin Powers. But Train has also been known to say things like “cut a rug” in their lyrics, and nobody says that anymore either. Hey, maybe in their next single they can call something tubular.
“If they don’t like it, sue me”
Okay, Pat. You’ll be getting served sometime in the next week to appear in court for crimes against music and the English language. You’ll be served again a little while later for violating that girl’s restraining order. (From the first verse: “You moved to west L.A./Or New York or Santa Fe/Or wherever to get away from me.” Yikes!)
“Mmm, the way you do me”
Well, at least she can take solace in the fact that you thought she was a great lay. Not sure she’ll be too keen on making things official with you, what with you sneaking out of her room and taking the ol’ Walk of Shame before she could even wake up. Sing a few more bars about your untrimmed chest hair, Pat. That’ll win her back.
MOST OVERPLAYED SONG OF THE YEAR
THE HARLEY GOES TO: Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”
“Call Me Maybe” is so overplayed that I can’t even bear to post the video here. I’m so sick of this song that I’ve actually walked out of stores just because they started playing it on the radio. Meanwhile everyone else from Lil Wayne to Jimmy Fallon to former Secretary of State and retired four-star Army general Colin Powell was obsessing over this song – covering it, parodying it, praising it as this “perfect pop song,” and I just sat there wondering what the big deal was. It’s a cute song by a cute girl (who’s a lot older than I thought she was – she’s nearly a year older than me and sounds like she’s about 15), and that’s pretty much it. “Call Me Maybe” is bland and easily forgettable – or at least it would be if this song was at all possible to escape.
There was one thing in particular that really bugged me about this song. It’s her constant use of the word maybe. Make up your mind, Carly Rae! Do you want me to call you or not? It’s confusing and frustrating and honestly kind of annoying. You don’t give your number to people you don’t want calling you, but you also don’t say maybe to people you’d like to hear from again. As the great Jedi master Yoda would have said, “Call or do not. There is no maybe.”
So who can we blame for the omnipresence of “Call Me Maybe” mania this year? Carly Rae Jepsen got her start three years ago on Season 5 of Canadian Idol, where she finished third. This year “Call Me Maybe” was originally released as a single on 604 Records, which is owned by Chad Kroeger, whose other job is being the lead constipated-grunter of Nickelback. It was then shared on Twitter by the likes of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, who have a combined 43,420,256 followers as I write this. In short, “Call Me Maybe” is the result of the combined powers of reality television, Nickelback, Bieber fever, and the Disney Channel. So remember who made this possible the next time you read an article where someone uses “Call Me Maybe” as a framework to explain the economic situation in Europe.
I’m not kidding. That actually happened.
WORST SONG OF THE YEAR
THE HARLEY GOES TO: Nicki Minaj, “Stupid Hoe”
Here’s what I tweeted on January 21 after hearing “Stupid Hoe” for the first time:
The new Nicki Minaj single (“Stupid Hoe”) makes me envy the deaf. Good God, that song is awful. America, please don’t let it be a hit.
We’re only three weeks into 2012 and we’ve already got a strong front-runner for worst song of the year. Congratulations, Nicki.
I don’t really have anything to add to that.
“Stupid Hoe” peaked at #59 on the Hot 100 and was soon completely overshadowed by “Starships,” the proper lead single from Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. So I guess I sort of got my wish.
This is one of the most obnoxious and unlistenable songs I’ve ever had the displeasure of forcing myself to sit through. Every time I came across a song that made me angry this year, I would eventually ask myself, “But is it really worse than ‘Stupid Hoe’?” And the answer, inevitably, was always no.
RUNNER-UP: The Offspring, “Cruising California (Bumpin’ In My Trunk)”
Have you ever wondered what would happen if the Offspring tried to write a Katy Perry song? No? Well too damn bad, because now we have an answer and that answer is “Cruising California (Bumpin’ In My Trunk).” It seriously sounds like they wrote a song for Katy Perry and wound up recording it themselves after she rejected it for being too stupid. Do you have any idea how stupid a hypothetical song has to be for Miss I-Wanna-See-Your-Peacock to hypothetically declare it too stupid?
It doesn’t even matter whether “Cruising California” is meant as a parody of what’s currently popular or as a cynical attempt to regain chart prominence by copying what’s currently popular. Either way it fails; the joke isn’t funny (or it’s too similar to what it’s spoofing to even register as satire, take your pick) and it didn’t exactly tear up the charts here in the States. Which reminds me – this was released as an official single. In fact it was the lead single everywhere except the USA, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. The Offspring didn’t just think it was a good idea to promote Days Go By with this song; they wanted it to be the first taste everyone on Earth except in those five countries to get of their new album.
RUNNER-UP: Green Day, “Nightlife”
I’ve actually considered resurrecting my long-dormant “When Bad Songs Happen To Good Bands” feature to dissect this song more thoroughly. But for now, let me just say one thing.
I’ve been a Green Day fan for nearly 20 years. Yes, I’m one of those kids who jumped on the Dookie bandwagon in 1994, along with basically the rest of the world. But I’ve heard nearly everything they’ve released, so I feel pretty qualified to offer the following judgment…
“NIGHTLIFE” IS THE WORST THING GREEN DAY HAS EVER DONE. And nothing else even comes close.
And now, to make you feel a little better after all this awfulness, here’s another picture of Harley.
MOST BAFFLING SONGWRITING TREND
THE HARLEY GOES TO: the unnecessary dubstep breakdown
Okay, first things first. Yes, I am well aware that there is a significant difference between UK dubstep and American dubstep. The poster boy for the latter is Skrillex, whose emphasis on heavy wobbling bass drops now defines the sound of what UK dubstep fans have affectionately dubbed “brostep.” In other words, they consider it dumb dance music for people who just want to mosh. Not that that’s stopped Skrillex from catching on over here. Last year he was nominated for multiple Grammy awards and you can hear his influence all over current pop and even rock music. It doesn’t even matter whether or not the dubstep influences fit the rest of the song.
It’s gotten to the point where people are starting to consider dubstep the new disco. Remember when Kiss and the Rolling Stones tried their hand at disco? Well, as Shirley Bassey once sang, “It’s all just a little bit of history repeating.” Dubstep breakdowns have appeared in songs by everyone from Britney Spears to Korn to Pitbull to Papa Roach to Muse to even Taylor Swift.
And when Taylor Swift decides to go dubstep, that’s how you know A) she should never ever ever ever call herself a country singer again, like ever; B) there will one day be a song about what a terrible influence Skrillex was on that poor sweet vulnerable little angel Taylor (John Mayer can relate, I’m sure); and C) OH MY GOD, DUBSTEP IS OFFICIALLY EVERYWHERE. The Chicago White Sox are probably planning Dubstep Demolition Night as we speak. Either that or they’re planning to change their name to the Wub Dropz.
It won’t last forever, though. It never could. A musical trend that is dependent on constant growth in popularity is—
MOST EASILY MISINTERPRETED SONG TITLE
THE HARLEY GOES TO: Ne-Yo, “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself)”
WHAT NE-YO MEANT: “Hey girl, I know you have self-esteem issues. So if you won’t love yourself, let me love you enough for both of us. Maybe I can help you get over your problems. When you do – not if, when – we’ll both love you.”
WHAT I HEAR: “Let me love you until you learn to love yourself. After that, you’re on your own.”
BIGGEST POP STAR I’VE NEVER HEARD OF
THE HARLEY GOES TO: Kendrick Lamar
This particular award has a rather tainted history, as far as I’m concerned.
I first gave it to Justin Bieber, who I would have sworn was associated with the Disney Channel until I learned that he was discovered through YouTube. Bieber then became a big deal despite somehow still having the voice and charisma of a 10-year-old castrato well into his mid-teens, and said voice has only recently begun to change via the magic of puberty. Now he’s bigger than ever and shows no signs of going away. This is all your fault, Usher. I hope you’re proud of yourself.
Last year I gave this award to One Direction, a boy band assembled by Simon Cowell on the UK edition of The X Factor a few years ago. You might know these guys as the leaders of the new wave of boy bands. It’s a wave that I probably should have seen coming because it’s the start of a new decade and thus we are due for another boy band revival. We had New Edition’s rise to prominence in the early ‘80s, New Kids On The Block and Boyz II Men to kick off the ‘90s, the Backstreet Boys and N’Sync ushering in the Double-0s, and now we have One Direction and… um… that seems to be all for now, unless the Wanted or Mindless Behavior score another hit any time soon. Does Big Time Rush count, or are they Nickelodeon’s answer to 2Ge+her?
This year I decided to give this award to a young rapper I hadn’t heard about until a few weeks ago. But having heard some of his work and seen all the buzz he’s been getting, I decided I’d like to hear more from Kendrick Lamar. Hey, if this award’s going to keep automatically launching people into stardom, I might as well give it to someone good.
WEIRDEST CONCEPT ALBUM CONCEPT
THE HARLEY GOES TO: High On Fire, De Vermis Mysteriis
Remember kids, just because something is weird doesn’t mean it can’t also be cool.
High On Fire’s latest display of sheer badassery features a concept straight out of the pages of cosmic-horror master H.P. Lovecraft. The title, which is Latin for “Mysteries of the Worm,” is borrowed from a fictional magic textbook created by Psycho writer Robert Bloch that was later incorporated into Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. In an interview with Revolver magazine, guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike explained the album’s concept like this:
In the story, Jesus Christ has a twin [named Liao], and his twin died so that Jesus Christ could live. But his twin instantly becomes a time traveler. Now, you can only go forward through time, but he comes across a scroll that was taken from ancient Stygia … Stygia was a land of black magic and witchcraft. The Vanirs, a race of warlords came and killed all the Stygians and burned all the scrolls, but some of the scrolls were smuggled out.
In ancient China, Liao found a scroll that’s about how to make black lotus into a serum, which allows you to travel back through time and look at the past through your ancestor’s eyes. Now, Liao puts his name on the serum and he goes on a quest to find why his brother is this religious icon in the future that’s caused all this destruction and massive war.
Got all that?
THE HARLEY GOES TO: Anything involving Rihanna and Chris Brown, but especially “Nobody’s Business”
“I’m no fan of Rihanna and yet I’m still disappointed that she would stoop this low to drum up publicity for new music when everything she touches turns to Hot 100 gold anyway.”
Do I really need to explain why it’s a terrible idea for a domestic abuse victim to not only continue associating with her abuser, but to also sing songs with him about how great their relationship is? That is seriously what “Nobody’s Business” is about. It’s Rihanna singing a duet with the guy who beat her and bit her and choked her until she passed out, and they’re asking each other if they could “become love’s persona.” Obviously, I think that’s a great message to send all your fans. Remember the lesson of Jurassic Park – just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
By the way, about a month ago Rihanna’s dad said he would love to see his daughter marry Chris Brown someday. This guy sounds like real Father of the Year material. And that’s without even mentioning his own abuse of Rihanna’s mother.
WORST GUEST VERSE
THE HARLEY GOES TO: Wiz Khalifa in Maroon 5’s “Payphone”
I honestly don’t think Wiz understands what this song is supposed to be about.
“Payphone” finds Maroon 5 frontman/The Voice judge/GQ model Adam Levine calling his ex-girlfriend on a payphone (presumably because she’s blocked his home and cell numbers, unfriended him on Facebook, unfollowed him on Twitter, and put his e-mail in the spam filter) trying to gain some closure. His lyrics are filled with pain and disappointment over his failed relationship. They’re also filled with clichés about bridges burning and fairy tales being full of shit and whatnot, but the point is he’s a heartbroken guy who clearly doesn’t want things to end the way they have.
Then Wiz Khalifa gets on the mic and starts yapping about how much better off he is without his ex, including a boast about his button-start car that I swear I’ve heard from him before (most likely in his breakout hit “Black And Yellow”). He doesn’t just miss the point; he delivers the complete opposite point. The only way his verse makes any sense in this context is if “Payphone” is actually about Adam Levine getting dumped by Wiz Khalifa.
That sound you just heard was a bunch of yaoi fangirls squeeing over the amazing new fanfiction idea I just gave them. (Oh, who am I kidding? They probably came up with it already.)
MOST OUT OF LEFT FIELD HIT
THE HARLEY GOES TO: Psy, “Gangnam Style”
Come on. What else could possibly have earned this distinction?
“Gangnam Style,” like Rebecca Black’s “Friday” before it, has become something of an Internet sensation thanks to a wacky music video. Unlike “Friday,” however, it became popular because its lyrics and accompanying video are intentionally funny. This is going to land rather high on the year-end Hot 100 for sure. I’m not even annoyed by this song; I’m just not entirely sure how this came to be. Yes, it is essentially a funnier and much less annoying one-man LMFAO song, but it’s performed in a language that I’m guessing the vast majority of Americans don’t even understand. I can’t remember the last time a foreign-language song became this popular in America. Shakira’s “La Tortura” was pretty popular a few years ago, but I don’t think it conquered the world quite like “Gangnam Style” has. Even “Macarena” was sung mostly in English (or at least the US version was), and other foreign pop exports have scored hits here with English-language versions of their singles. You’d probably have to go all the way back to “99 Luftballons.”
“Gangnam Style” has of course also spawned its own dance craze. Everyone is doing it – well, everyone except me because I am a miserable bastard who hates fun. (No, not the band fun., but… oh, you know what I mean.) And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. Businessmen are doing it. Late-night comedians are doing it. Sports mascots are doing it. Flash mobs are doing it. Politicians are doing it – and yes, that includes the North Korean government. Hell, the UN Secretary-General has declared this “a force for world peace.” I am not making any of this up.
All this craziness over a goofy pop song making fun of people who try to live beyond their means (Gangnam is a wealthy neighborhood in the South Korean capital of Seoul) and a dance craze that reminds me of this.
By the way, in case you’ve ever found yourself not being irritated by “Gangnam Style,” please allow the cast of Glee to fix that for you.
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 marks the release of Unapologetic, her seventh album in the last eight 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. 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.
BEST NON-EXISTENT ALBUM
THE HARLEY GOES TO: Dr. Dre, Detox
Detox is the long-awaited follow-up to 2001, which came out in November of 1999. In the 2011 hit “I Need A Doctor,” Eminem spends two verses practically begging Dr. Dre to get off his ass and finish this album already. Flash forward to November of 2012 and there is still no sign of Detox or even any possibility that it’ll come out any time soon. Come on, Dre. Even Axl Rose eventually finished his would-be magnum opus.
THE KANYE WEST AWARD
for Excellence in the Field of Being Kanye West
THE HARLEY GOES TO: Frank Ocean
(WARNING: Video is NOT SAFE FOR WORK.)
Okay, so Frank Ocean doesn’t actually rap. He does, however, write and co-produce his material. He also gets praised for his ability to combine a wide variety of influences and the ambition of his songwriting. And according to Malay, who also co-wrote and co-produced Ocean’s album Channel Orange, the album was given its final push to completion with the help of some mentorship from none other than Mr. West himself.
That just about wraps things up for the 2012 Harleys. I’ll see you for next year’s edition, no matter what you think the Mayan calendar is telling you. And always remember that even if you didn’t win anything, Harley still loves you.
Almost as much as he loves a warm, soft blanket.