By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
What I learned on my summer vacation:
Okay, so you don't have to spend the greater part of a week in your dad's house surfing late-night cable's sea of pixilated breasts in search of Robot Wars to learn that the United States is rapidly becoming the world's largest open-air titty bar, one foam dance at a time. And you don't have to spend the following weekend chauffeuring friends around North Jersey in a rented Ford Escort with no CD or tape player to learn that Nelly's "Hot in Herre" is Topless America's new national anthem. But such immersion does make one thing clear: Pop music has never aligned itself so deliberately against clothing. Come home, Jim Walsh. All is forgiven.
For those of you just tuning in, the top-doffing went into effect this spring with Tweet's autoerotic "Oops! (Oh My)": a sort of Orientalist "She Bop" on Klonopin in which one girl's clothing mysteriously floats away from her bod. Still, one shouldn't underestimate the flesh-peddling contributions of Shakira's impeccable "Underneath Your Clothes," which implies that regular attendance at Mass entitles you to feel up the son of Argentina's deposed president and to rip off a Bangles melody. (She's right on both counts.)
But the anti-clothing lobby has met its dream spokesman in Nelly. I'm receptive to cavils that teenage girls don't need to be subjected to what's essentially a more rhythmic variant of "Show your tits." But personally, I find Nelly's tone cajoling rather than commanding, and I hope his playground skitter inspires many games of strip double dutch. (Imagine the possibilities!) Nonetheless, I'm bitter. After all, a decade ago, in my desperate, much-unlaid, barhopping prime, women were chanting, "Never gonna get it" along with En Vogue. Now they're cooing, "It's getting so hot, I wanna take my clothes off" even before you shell out for the Jell-O shots. What gives?
The pleasure of "Hot in Herre" comes from hearing R&B consciously dance on the razor's edge of self-parody, a trick no one has pulled off so deftly since you reminded R. Kelly of his car. Of course, R. has now been busted for his own private Girls Gone Wild tapes. One problem with his "Heaven, I Need a Hug" is that the lyrics offer up self-justification on a scale that Michael Jackson would find grandiose. The other problem is that it's called "Heaven, I Need a Hug." And yet Kelly sings it so gently, you want to organize a posse to egg the house of Jim DeRogatis, who turned America's Least Funny Home Video over to the cops. Unless, um, you know, you just watched a video of Kelly pissing on your teenage daughter. Still, I say if the scuz shows up in court with "Hug Life" tattooed across his chest, the court will merely sentence him to cover Jermaine Stewart's "We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off."
It's a strange pop world, as always, and does Eminem's "Without Me" make any contribution to this discussion? Bah. Not only does Em offer to show little more than his ass, he shirks his appointed role as pop's Jay Leno--you know, making second-hand jokes about pop culture so you don't have to consume it yourself. But while "Without Me" is a fun little romp, its targets are scattershot. I mean, if, as Eminem whines, nobody listens to techno, how come I can't escape Dirty Vegas or "Heaven," DJ Sammy's chintz-house Bryan Adams cover. (Yeah, yeah, it's Eurodisco, not techno, and I'm sure that distinction is carefully delineated in, say, suburban Wichita, not to mention in the mind of M. Mathers.)
But really, who is Em gonna lash out at in the bland popscape? John Mayer? Dude's "No Such Thing" sounds so much like Go West's "King of Wishful Thinking," I wondered if Pretty Woman 2 went straight to video while I wasn't looking. Granted, I might think "there's no such thing as a real world" if I were touring with Norah Jones (rrrraow!!) and bedding Jennifer "I'm With the Band" Love Hewitt, now continuing her quest to prove that every generation gets the Winona Ryder it deserves. (Run, Justin! You could be next!) Incidentally, J-Love can now be seen on MTV in her new video, "BareNaked." And, no, of course, she isn't.
Meanwhile, for emo kids who are feeling rebellious and embarrassed that their parents still listen to Elvis Costello, radio offers up what I call Soundtrack Rock. You know, the sort of post-Blink pop-punk bounce so tuneful, disposable, and insistent that, as it fades out, you expect to see Tara Reid packing up stuffed animals and exclaiming, "Can you believe we're finally graduating from college?" The best-selling exemplar, Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle," offers more uplift than a whalebone corset. If lyrics like "Try your best, try everything you can," don't power you through midterms, there's always "Live right now/Just be yourself/It doesn't matter if it's good enough/For someone else." Um, when did yearbook quotes start being used as song lyrics rather than vice versa? Cool kids think Jimmy Eat World have snatched the Promise Ring, but the rest of us know they're just Eve 6 with sideburns.