While with certain debates, common ground is seemingly unattainable (abortion, Obamacare, the redemptive qualities of mayonnaise), there's still an issue on which I feel we can all unite in 2013: This has been one disturbingly horrific year for mainstream pop music.
Sure, there were glimmers of promise back in January: Justin had emerged from his bro-cave of tone-deaf acting, Beyonce conquered the Super Bowl and appeared to be on the path to her new record (and thus, our eternal salvation) and a small bird specimen from the Jungle of Disney known as "The Cyrus" was cooing ever so loudly about reincarnation. At the top of the year, we also anxiously awaited new decrees from the Council on Drunk-White-Girl-Scream-Alongs: GaGa, Perry and Spears. And of course, like the Hess truck at Christmas, no November would be complete without the requisite, factory-line hodgepodge we call "Yearly Rihanna Music Product™."
But as things turned out, exactly none of these things happened. Each release was either a bloated, masturbatory "meh" (Gaga, Timberlake), a bland retread aimed squarely at third graders (Perry), or a bafflingly mixed bag of roaring promise and faux-controversial poppycock (The fair Cyrus bird). Some albums never even materialized, leaving much of the pop heavy-lifting to newcomers like Lorde, AlunaGeorge, Charli XCX, Ariana Grande and IconaPop, who rose to the occasion and delivered some uniformly excellent records on their first go-arounds.
However, what of our fallen pop titans of yore (c. 2010) and how can they redeem themselves in the new year? That's where I come in. Below are my diagnoses and prescriptions for how some beloved pop veterans can turn the beat around in 2014.
Rihanna: Over the past eight years, Rihanna has rather inexplicably morphed into our most reliable pop star, consistently delivering bangers with multi-format appeal and experimenting with unapologetic (hardy har, I'm sorry, that was cheap) abandon. Rih's issue lies with her pace (seven albums in eight years!), a breakneck release schedule that has rendered her yearly albums into four great singles surrounded by 7 questionable though sometimes fleetingly-fun filler tracks. Even her best LPs (Good Girl Gone Bad, Loud) are a smorgasbord of genres that don't hold together as albums.
Rih's 2014 move is to make a pointed artistic statement. Or just any statement, really. Basically I will accept a record that is ethereally coherent as long as it's not 13 completely random tracks recorded with 16,879 different collaborators. And since Rihanna so openly loves the "D," I'm gonna go ahead and suggest two huge "D"s that could touch her in places she never even knew existed, artistically: Drake and Diplo. Drake would be a great executive producer if Rihanna opts for a moody, emo-futuristic R&B album. Diplo could serve the same function should she want to reconnect with her dancehall and reggae roots. Two "D"s, both exciting prospects. Whatever the case, the one "D" she needs to steer way clear of is David Guetta.
Beyonce: If Bey's fifth album had dropped at the beginning of the year as rumored, I woulda been cool with another exploratory record where she culled from her influences and produced an artful, well-executed set of tracks devoid of a hit single. Let's call it 4 II: Revenge of Blue Ivy. But after a year of delays, Bey needs to dish out so much more than just quality: Bitch needs a fucking hit. Not a "Run The World (Girls)," borderline, "aww, it's cute that you're here, Bey!" trifle. I'm talking a "Crazy In Love," "Single Ladies," culture-conquering, life-affirming, death-defying hit. I want to hear the new Beyonce single and feel certain that God exists.
The good news? I think Bey feels that, like with Blue Ivy in 2012, this is a gift that she is ready to bestow upon the world. Give us this gift, Bey. The gift of a hit. Give us two! All we want for New Years is a pretty box of Beyonce hits. Please. Hits. Big Ones.
Justin Timberlake: I've already said my piece on JT. Maybe it's time to give novel writing a spin?
Katy Perry: For you, Ms. Perry, my prescription is simple: Do anything else. Literally anything at all. Witch-house? Fine. A cover album of classic, medieval bard tunes from the Nordic region? Super! A dubstep / string-quartet hybrid where you appear playing only a distorted, wobbling electric viola for 14 tracks? Well, that'd be just stupendous. All I'm saying is do anything besides another album where an apparently intelligent, 30-year-old divorcee sings the lyrics "I went from zero to my own hero" with a straight face. Cool? Cool.
Chris Brown: Just don't, ever again.
Justin Bieber: You either.
Robin Thicke: You most of all.
Taylor Swift: Well, things have been pretty perfectly peachy for Tay over her entire twee career, haven't they? And frankly, each of her four albums have been pretty great. But #5 cannot be another folksy power-pop, name-that-celebrity break-up, diary porn, slumber party sob-fest. Time to sail the S.S. Tears in My Journal into uncharted waters.
The dubstep experiment went pretty good, right?! Maybe a dance album with Klas Ahlund? Or remember when she rapped "SuperBass'" and everyone was like, "Woah, white girl!?" I'm not saying she should rap (please don't rap) but maybe a little sultry R&B touch here and there wouldn't hurt proceedings, a little sexuality sprinkled on top of all that 7th-grade heartbreak? What about a spare protest album about ending violence in the Middle East? Actually, no, definitely don't do that.
Miley Cyrus: Please just relax. After the last three months, I think we could all use a serious time-out, ya know? We need some space.
Robyn: Not panicking here but, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN GIRL WE'RE DYING A SLOW ARDUOUS DEATH WITHOUT YOU.
Lady GaGa: I have to confess something: I kinda like ARTPOP in spite of itself. Sure, it's not the "reverse-Warholian" mind-fuck GaGa may or may not think it is, but we should be thanking God for that! It's mostly just fun, dumb pop songs with soaring melodies and a lot of GaGa's freakishly bizarre yet compelling personality.
That said, it's not a great album by any means (it contains a "trap" song called "Jewels 'N Drugs," after all) but I think GaGa might really have the potential for greatness. By my count, she needs to drive further towards the '80s arena-rock sound that she began to develop of Born This Way. Her most compelling post-"Bad Romance" tunes have been the Springsteen-ian "Edge of Glory," the Queen-esque (Queeny?) stomp of "You and I" and on her current album, the Bon Jovi-goes-Elton John bar-rattler, "Gypsy." Bottom line: GaGa's a classic rocker pretending to be a disco-queen and I believe her future success lies mostly in the former but with an eye on the fun inherent in the latter. Got it? Fun-spirited, unpretentious, post-Springsteenian arena rock mixed with a touch of nu-disco, sprinkled with club-shaking dance-pop and a big ole wink. See? Easy!
Pink: I gotta be honest, I really don't understand Pink's whole shtick at all but keep swingin' on that ole trapeze, I guess!
Adele: Sing. Just keep doing the singing, it's really marvelous.
Britney Spears: Dear Brit, Don't take this the wrong way, but it's been clear to some of us in the group for a while that your heart's really not in the whole song-and-dance routine anymore. Since I feel like no one's telling you this, I'm taking on the responsibility myself: You don't have to do this anymore! You're free!
Look: You did it, you made it to the top. We're all SOO proud! Now take your millions and Sean and Jaden and Jeremiah and whatever other kids you have stashed in that Malibu McMansion, go back to Louisiana and open up that roadside 'Po-Boy' stand you've always dreamed of! Cop an airboat at Home Depot and cruise around the bayou! Tan just a little bit too much and hunt some alligators. Watch all the football and eat all the Cheetos your precious little heart desires. You deserve it!
And on the note of deserving things, we deserve to never ever hear "Scream & Shout" ever again.
Ke$ha: I dunno man, Ke$ha. You seem smart, and I like some of your songs, but you're also kind of exhausting and I almost forgot to put you on here so I'm just jamming you in at the end. I guess the whole pretending to be a stupid, drunk party girl as a sorta commentary on stupid, drunk party girls has worn thin. Maybe don't do that routine again next time? That's really all I got. No more fake stupid, drunk party girl routine. Thoughts?
Lily Allen: You, my friend, may have saved the whole game with this. Bravo.
So that's that and you're welcome, Beyonce. Also, those of you mentioned above looking for new A&R, I clearly have tons of free time and am brimming with ideas for you! Think of me like a pop music doctor: Let me help you help me help you help humanity through frivolous radio music that basically just makes all of you rich while the rest of us can't afford health insurance. It's the American way! And Britney, please, go live the simple life. I'm saying it cuz I care.