December always puts me in a pop music state of mind. Maybe it’s the spirit of the month, a time when everyone’s united by different ways of carrying out the same ideal. Maybe it’s the incessant making of year-end lists, with knee-jerks toward the obscure and reactionary moves against said jerks. December says, hey, the year’s almost over. You made it. Pull your head up and enjoy shit. Perhaps this inane Trey Songz track will help.
I watched the AMAs last month and wanted to shoot myself. I heard the words “Lady Gaga” 257 times in a three-hour span, because Lady Gaga likes fashion and awards shows love fashion. I watched as the West Coast feed very weirdly censored out Jennifer Lopez falling on her ass. And I saw Adam Lambert’s contrived cycle of crotch worship and man-kiss, a predictable career lifeboat which everyone kept afloat in discussion the next day.
No one seemed to be talking much about the fact that Lambert’s “song” was the worst-sounding piece of shit ever broadcast on television, and that nearly every other busied performance on the endless parade of unbearable spectacle after unbearable spectacle sounded essentially just like it, with no discernible melody, no hook, and no appeal. In short, no pop music. Just a bunch of drama, beats and high heels.
Then Jay-Z and Alicia Keys came out and took over for five short, wonderful minutes. “Empire State of Mind” was not only surprisingly good—Jay-Z not residing at the top of my list—but warmed me at 1) all those phony assholes in Los Angeles getting schooled and 2) an actual song I could get behind. Plus, enough time since 9/11 means I can handle songs about New York again. Lo and behold, it shot quickly to #1 on the Billboard charts. Today, in fact, I tuned in to NYC’s Hot 97, expecting to hear it within 30 minutes. They played it in 24.
“Empire State of Mind” is not a masterpiece of a song. Jay-Z’s continued claims that he’s the new Sinatra, at least, are offset by Alicia asking people to put their lighters in the air. Take that, iPhones! But it feels good to hear it in December. And feeling good is what pop music does best.