Looks like Demi Lovato and I agree on some things. Last week, she told Teen Vogue that she’s “tired of dubstep” music, calling “trendy” and saying it would be gone in a few months.
And while I certainly love some electro music, I am starting to get exhausted with how prominent it is. Almost every damn song on the radio starts with a soft verse, builds with a rising cascade of beeps or swooshes, and then explodes into a high-energy beat. Meanwhile, the vocalist on the track does some whispery singing until the beat drops, then switches to power notes.
Obviously, this electro trend caught on because it can be amazing when it works. From Katy Perry and Rihanna to anything with Sia or my beloved Ellie Goulding, a lot of artists have released delicious electro singles, and in fifteen years, when someone wants to understand music from the early 2010s, we can start with “Titanium” and “We Found Love.”
But the trend is so powerful that artists from across the musical spectrum are changing their sounds to suit whatever producers like Max Martin and David Guetta and Calvin Harris are turning into gold. You might remember that Usher used to an R&B artist, but for the last two years, he’s been delivering Eurodance tracks like “Without You” (produced by David Guetta), “Scream” (produced by Max Martin), and “Numb” (produced by the omnipresent Swedish House Mafia.)
Usher knows you can’t pay your bills with yesterday’s trends, and he knows that “Yeah!” sounds like the past. That might make some people mad, but he had a top ten hit this year, so what do people know?
And again: I’m not saying these Usher songs are bad. They’re not grounbreaking, but they’re pretty good in the way that all electro hits are pretty good. There’s nothing wrong with a nice beat, a pretty melody, and good singing. But because this music is everywhere, I’m guessing we’ll be sick of it by this time next year. The success of Adele and Fun. and Gotye and Mumford and Sons is already driving a return to “real instruments,” you know? I don’t expect that every song on the radio is suddenly going to sound like “Some Nights,” but it’s possible these acts are leading us to whatever comes next. How long before Usher picks up an acoustic guitar?
But here’s thing: Usher could probably succeed as a sensitive folkie, becuase he’s really got the goods as a singer. To me, the biggest problem with the electro moment is that it’s leading other, less flexible pop stars down a terrible road. And no one makes that clearer than Nicki Minaj.
Less than eighteen months ago, when Minaj dropped her first album, she was clearly straddling the pop/rap line, releasing 400 singles and seeing which ones stuck. Along the way, she made it clear that she’s an incredible rapper. From her verse on Kanye West’s “Monster” to her own songs like “Your Love,” “Moment 4 Life,” and “Super Bass,” she emerged as the first major female rap star in a decade. Sure, she also sang on some of her tracks, but her real gift was her witty, theatrical, and utterly arresting flow.
But then came her second album… and songs like “Starships” and “Pound the Alarm.” These songs might be hits, but can we please be honest? They suck. For one thing, they rely mostly on Minaj’s terrible singing, pushing her rap skills into the background. For another, they have inane lyrics, predictable beats, and the general vapidness of a pure cash grab.
Yet these are the songs that are being pushed to pop radio. This is the Minaj we’re supposed to embrace. Sure, there are amazing rap tracks on her new album (including “Come on a Cone” and “HOV Lane”), but pop radio is so electro right now that it wouldn’t play them for a billion dollars. And since Minaj is on a major label and pop music is a business, it makes sense for her to follow the same trends as everyone else. Therefore, she has to push this mess America.
When America moves on from electro, however, I think we’re going to hear these Nicki Minaj songs the way we hear Ethel Merman’s disco record: As the embarrassing sign of a talented artist chasing trends instead of doing what she does well. And we’ll probably all feel embarrassed. I mean, just compare the artistic energy and vision of a song like “Come on a Cone” with the tired, formulaic nonsense of “Pound the Alarm.”
I just hope that Nicki Minaj can escape the clutches of a genre that doesn’t suit her and get back to making the music she’s so damn good at. Even if fewer people buy it, it’s got to mean something if it’s better than what she’s doing now.
Mark Blankenship has been thinking about Nicki Minaj a lot these days. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship