Thursday, May 18, 2006

Why I love chicks with mics

I'm not reading much online these days. I can't dig the humor-for-humor's sake and the confessional/observational writing that drive the non-political hemisphere of the blogosphere. Not passing judgement - you have read my writing, yes? But many of my regular reads are friends anyway - I'd rather hear what's going in their lives in person and not read the edited-for-public-consumption version.

I get it, living in New York is at once terrifyingly awesome and awesomely terrifying. So instead of wading through posts that blend into one another, I prefer to limit my daily intake to a couple of articles like Free Darko's denouncement of the media fascination with Anderson Varejao and Status Ain't Hood's defense of politics in modern pop music.

The latter post especially strikes a chord with me. One thing that bothers me as a music and sports nerd is the degree of good-ol'-daysism that afflicts so many fans of both. The instinct is to reject all music created after high school graduation date while bemoaning the cynicism in today's athletes, when in fact, nothing has changed except for the entire paradigm. But really, this is a subject for another, longer and even more boring post.

This is where I normally segue from the intro to my main subject, but caffeine has yet to take residence in my bloodstream.

originally posted to Flickr by wishez

I don't listen to a whole lot of Top 40 music. I haven't regularly listened to commercial radio since 1998, but there are always two or three songs a year that are so good, I have to shed my indie music snobbery.

Last year, those songs were Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone", Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" and Amerie's "1 Thing". This year, I was initially mesmerized by Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" and the past couple of days, Nelly Furtado's "Promiscuous" has been on repeat on iTunes and has me longing for my clubbing days.

"Hips" is this year's "Since U Been Gone", an unabashedly pop pop song, while "Promiscuous" is, like "Hollaback", a triumph of the super-producer reinventing his signature sound, and like "1 Thing", takes an infectious beat and rides the vocals instead of vice versa.

Then I realized the common thread. Besides the beats that -if you can excuse the industry jargon- so good they make you wanna slap your mama, they all feature female artists. Honestly, I can't remember the last time I got down to a top 40 song by a male artist. Was it Snoop? Or "Cry Me A River"?

And then I started looking at my music choices in non-mainstream music. Yeah, the Roots, Bloc Party and Elliott Smith get their share of spins on my hard drive, but overall, the females dominate. Going down the list, I'm seeing Metric, the Cardigans, Jenny Lewis/Rilo Kiley, Nouvelle Vague, YYY (do they still count as non-mainstream?) and Stars. My upcoming must-buy is Asobi Seksu, and the my spring-summer internet love affair is not with Gnarls Barkley, but Lily Allen.

I don't think it's about attraction. Yes, music is always about sex to a degree and there's something inherently sexy about a half decent looking girl who's half decent at something. But Kelly Clarkson is merely adorable, not hot, while the girl from Stars is... let's just say that if she and I were boxers, we'd never face each other.

There's something about a female singer that balances a song's hormones to bring it to the right level of rockness. While I can appreciate the craft of Bright Eyes and the Decemberists, too much masculinity is lost when they create music that critics like to call "haunting", whereas even a Grey's Anatomy-approved coffeeshop chanteuse like Ana Nalick can bring the edge to a guitar strum because she doesn't have to tone down the macho to turn down the volume. Unless you're Jeff Buckley, the bare-all required for a good folk-rock song is going to come at the expense of manliness. For the same reason, Feist adds another layer to "Lover's Spit" that's not in the Broken Social Scene original, while Stars would be too chick-y for me to handle with just Torquil Campbell and no Amy Millan.

Same goes for the pop sound - the kids on the internets are buzzing about Beirut, but I could never enjoy them as much as I do the Swedish estro-pop of Hello Saferide or Saturday Looks Good To Me.

On the other end of the hardness scale, chicks can rock out harder than dudes. I grew up on heavy metal and NWA, which was as hard as you could get as far I was concerned. But looking back, I see that they, and my devotion to them, represent the nature of the adolescent male, to present the appearance of toughness. Not to say I didn't genuinely enjoyed the music - I enjoyed them precisely because their posturing spoke to me at a certain stage of my development.

As an adult, I see boys trying to be men when I see male singers act hard. I can still appreciate, say, Kurt Cobain or Eminem, mostly because of their vulnerability that their aggro brings out. But it's more satisfying to listen to Emily Haines of Metric add a knowing smirk to the driving guitar or Beth Ditto of the Gossip reveal more than mask with her Janice Joplin-channeling singing.

I'm not saying dudes can't rock out or that guys can't do the emotional. I mean, have you heard the Roots' "Don't Feel Right"? You can't create that shit with a female MC (in fact, there is no female MC who is better than tolerable), and there will never be a female Ryan Adams. But generally speaking, girls are just better wired for efficient rocking and strumming.

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