Alright, America, I need you to explain something: As a nation, how did we let this happen to Gym Class Heroes?
I mean, sure, they’re popular. They’ve had two top ten singles, including last year’s irresistible hit “Stereo Hearts,” and in 2010, their frontman Travie McCoy delivered the solo smash “Billionaire.”
But they’re not popular enough. As of last week, their most recent album, The Papercut Chronicles II, has sold less than 64,000 copies. 64,000! That’s what Adele sold this morning!
If Gym Class Heroes were some kind of novelty band, then that miniscule total might be appropriate… but you guys! “Stereo Hearts” is the bomb. And that’s not just because of Adam Levine’s sweet-ass hook. McCoy’s lyrics are delightfully clever, using surprising images to explain how much he loves his ladyfriend. “If I was just another dusty record on your shelf, would you blow me off and play me like everybody else?” Brilliant, y’all. Brilliant.
The band sustains this wit over multiple tracks. I don’t like their follow-up single “Ass Back Home” as much as “Stereo Hearts,” but it’s still a hot hit, and I do love their new single “The Fighter,” which features a massive chorus from Ryan Tedder. Check it out:
Like so many recent songs, this one reaches out to bullied kids—these days, you can’t make a pop album without this kind of anthem—but it mixes up the formula with a little tough love. Recalling his own past, McCoy says, “Text book version of a kid going nowhere fast, and now I’m yelling ’kiss my ass.'” Then he adds, “It’s gonna take a couple right hooks, a few left jabs, for you to recognize you really ain’t got it bad.”
In other words: You’re stronger than you think you are. A lot of people have survived hard times, and so can you.
And look… I’m not pretending this is the Gettysburg Address. This song is not going to change the world, but like so many Gym Class Heroes hits, it’s a well-crafted slice of pop that’s incredibly appealing, reasonably uplifting, and great for dancing. It extends Travie McCoy’s image as a thoughtful guy who can slide intelligence into a party rhythm, and it gives a guest vocalist the opportunity to shine.(Most pop-rap songs have featured singers, but “Stereo Hearts,” “The Fighter” and “Billionaire,” which features Bruno Mars, all let the guests do interesting work. They’re not just singing one line over and over. They’re playing around inside whole choruses.)
So what’s up? Gym Class Heroes have delivered three solid hits off their latest album, so why have so few people bought it? If LMFAO can sell almost 900,000 copies of their album, despite being a mindless novelty act, then why can’t an act that’s smart and equally catchy?
Or how about Foster the People? Like Gym Class Heroes, the “Pumped Up Kicks” band mixes sweet indie sounds and intelligent lyrics. If they can sell over 500,000 copies of their record, then where’s the love for Travie and Co.?
I want answers, people. This may be the greatest crisis facing our nation today.
Previously: Demi Lovato should be a major pop star.
Mark Blankenship tweets as @IAmBlankenship. He has written about pop music for NPR and The New York Times.