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Friday, July 9, 2010 09:26 am

Katy Perry is my arch-nemesis

As a person who has more than a passive interest in pop music, I am always disappointed by the summer. It’s a time when the radio is ruled with trashy throwaway ballads that mostly appeal to people who tweet about lying out by the pool. It’s disposable, usually focused on how much cheap beer you can drink, overly sexual without any winking charm and generally just not much fun to listen to. Which is why human sour-gumball Katy Perry is my arch-nemesis. For the second time in three years, Katy Perry has regrettably ruled the summer. Her song “California Gurls” is every bit as soul crushing as dry heat and the ABC summer television line up. Perry has stated that “California Gurls” was a reaction song to Jay-Z and Alicia Key’s collaboration “Empire State of Mind” an ode to the NYC’s mix of the grit of the streets with the opulence of the city’s ever present flashing lights. With a statement like that, it’s almost impossible not to compare the two tracks, but there are plenty of other odes to cities that can equally satisfy a summer travel streak. “California Gurls” by Katy Perry featuring Snoop Dog Sure, Perry can sing tawdry ballads about bi-curious hookups, but can she mash that with the laid back style of a man who un-ironically refers to himself as “the Dogfather?” The answer is a resounding not really. Snoop Dog sleepwalks through a few bars and provides the introduction and conclusion to the song, but the star here is Katy Perry who bubbles the way through an oppressive techno beat followed by a cotton candy chorus sing-along. The whole song reeks of trashy sex appeal and the music video is a nightmare mash-up of candy and board-game entrapment. At one point, Perry exclaims, “there must be something in the water.” I tend to believe her. “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys Jay-Z is one of the oddest characters in the pop culture landscape based solely on his insistence that he is a member of the old-school Hollywood elite, a gangster with equal chance to shoot you as save you, and a made man who can buy and sell anything. He has tried to balance these different characters over time, and when it works, Jay-Z’s music is transcendent. And it works here. “Empire State of Mind” is a success not just for romanticizing and paying respect to the country’s love affair with New York City, but also the way he gives attention to the little things that make the city special. Jay-Z examines the ever present Yankees hats and corners where he used to sell drugs, as well as the dream of making it in the big city. Even more surprising is the mention of the way the city breaks people with lines like “eight million stories out there and they’re naked / city is a pity, half of y’all won’t make it.” That’s not to mention Alicia Key’s stunning addition to the chorus that helps contribute to the great big dream that the city embodies for so many. “The End” by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals From the under appreciated “Jacksonville City Nights,” alt-country guru Ryan Adams sings about his hometown of Jacksonville, North Carolina. “The End” initially plays as a sort of sad drunken love letter to home with lines like “and in the cotton fields out by the house where I was born the leaves burn like effigies of my kin. / The trains run like snakes through the Penacostal pines filled up with cotton and fine sloe gin,” but the song gets much darker. Adams eventually laments “oh, Jacksonville, how you burn in my soul / how you hold all my dreams captive” before resigning himself to muttering “the end, the end, the end.” Sometimes, it’s not that nice to return home. “We Built This City” by Starship I would rather listen to “California Gurls” all day than hear “We Built This City” once. It’s that awful mix of trying to hard with “sticking it to the man” rah-rah garbage to be anything more than painful schlock. Plus, they don’t even mention an actual city, although one that was built with rock and roll may not have the sturdiest of foundations. So, what city did I miss that might actually be worth listening to? Or, even better, what new summer songs can dull the mind numbing headache that this year’s biggest hits have given me?
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