erasing clouds

Pop Corn: Five Hit Songs You Might Hear on the Radio

Satire by Matthew Webber

Maria Alvarez - "Hot 4 Ur Luv"

Legend has it that exactly one year ago today, the then-17-year-old Maria Alvarez ran away from her double-wide with two pieces of luggage. As if she were anticipating playing a summer camp ice-breaker game, her navy-, sky blue- or aquamarine-colored backpack contained the following seven items which obviously paint the portrait of this artist: 1) a shoplifted pack of Lucky Stripe, Marlboro or Camel cigarettes with one cigarette already smoked; 2) a yellow, orange or Big Bird toothbrush, the bristles frayed from a lifetime of brushing; 3) a tube of Colgate, Crest or Aqua Fresh toothpaste, unopened; 4) a highway map of the state of New Mexico; 5) a whistle to blow in case of attempted rape; 6) the crimson, scarlet or red sweater her now-dead great-abuela had knitted for Maria’s 17th birthday, which happened to fall exactly one year ago yesterday; and 7) a Webster’s Spanish/English pocket dictionary, with words like “hello,” “please” and “bathroom” highlighted in pink. Her guitar case contained her first guitar, a six-string Alvarez that the same great-abuela had bought from a local pawn shop for Maria’s 16th birthday just because of its name, and a notebook filled with Spanish-language lyrics.

Today, as fate has it, Maria has an English-language song in heavy rotation on American Top Forty radio, written by a Swede inspired by a Prince (and who can name with accuracy the planet that exiled him?), enjoyed by Australians and Brits who frequent nightclubs. If Maria plays guitar on this caliente track, she's smothered by the synths, the keyboards and the requisite hip-hop los blipos and bleepos.

What I suspect, however, is that the Alvarez is as missing from this song as it is from the rest of her first-name-eponymous debut and as it will be from the inevitable collaborations with labelmates like MC Brilliant and Skittles - if it were ever in her possession at all, that is. I personally believe that her story is a ruse, designed to trick teenagers into feeling she has talent, because "Hot 4 Ur Luv" offers no proof of this postulate. Like, hitchhiking is illegal in most states nowadays, and Maria doesn't look like she's ever even jaywalked. And, like, had she really hitchhiked across New Mexico, looking so innocent, she's lucky to be unmolested enough to be able to squeak so happily for ur, or anyone's, luv. And, like, she's lucky to have been born so pixie-ish, hispanic and post-Latin pop explosion.

And, like, finally, she's lucky to have been "discovered" by uber-producer Bjorn "Billy" Bjordal either at an open mic night; on an urban streetcorner; or in an Arizona rest stop, sleeping with her guitar case in between her curled back and a wall - depending on which of her top-three-most-visited Web sites you read first. I'm cold for this song like I'm cold for everything else that sounds like this; which is to say, like everything. The Alvarez company should sue her for, like, defamation, or something. Or some other big word that means she's as fake as her breasts.

MC Brilliant - "I'm Brilliant"

And you're also succinct. And arrogant. And a liar. Because your title, in two words, encapsulates what you're not, what you and your clique only dream you really are. Next time, MC Brilliant, try not to cheat by rhyming "yo" with "yo" so often. In fact, don't end a line with "yo" ever again, as you've depleted the "yo" supply for all MCs for years. You're neither "ironic" nor "iconic" (not yet, anyway), and I'd rather not know you're "lactose-intolerant."

Although you claim to be a "gangbanger, yo" and an "Unforgiven, Dirty Harry, Josey Wales, yo," your former protégé, Prestige, claims you couldn't lyrically murder "whack rappers, yo" without his ghostwriting your rhymes; a statement to which his solo debut, when juxtaposed with yours, gives credence. Your production on this track - I mean, DJ Space Kid's production - almost redeems it, especially if I'm listening to the instrumental version on the CD single.

Chain Link - "Shattered Elbow"

What sounds like a reason for a pitcher to go on the disabled list is Chet Barkus', Chain Link's songwriter and lead vocalist, metaphor for being eternally repressed, finally getting sick of it, trying to fight back and quickly, quietly losing. The lyrics are vague enough that the person/thing(/place?) that defeats him can be interpreted, by me, to be your/his parents, your/his boss, the slow pace of rural living, the president of the United States of America or Barry Bonds in the batter's box waiting for you/him to throw the damn ball. ("You want to hurry up and go/Leave the nest, the cubbyhole/Wanting to speed and dreading slow/Wanting the credits, dreading the show/He'll be blue and you'll have a shattered elbow/He'll be bruised and you won't have an ego/He'll be black and you'll have a bloody earhole/He'll be white and he'll drive them all home."

Further compounding a listener's confusion is Barkus' eternal crediting of his alcoholic father, the state of Nebraska, anarchist pamphlets and morning ESPN Sportscenter marathons as the impetuses for writing Chain Link's first and still most popular single, "Nebraskan Minor Leaguer Whacks Son with Bat," to which "Shattered Elbow" is a logical sequel. Too bad it's not as loud, or cathartic, or interesting; which isn't to say it doesn't rock - because it does, inasmuch as a Nebraskan band can rock you, anyway; which isn't exactly like a hurricane but is still somewhat stronger than a breeze. This song at least rocks you like a zephyr, especially the guitar solo which consists of two repeated notes. My feeble words might not make it sound very windy; but trust me, it is. If Barkus were only shorter-winded, I'm not sure you'd be able to harness the power of his rock.

Mandy Posey - "Dancing, Yeah"

Mandy Posey has starred in one $200 million-grossing movie, last summer's Escape Velocity 2, and recorded one multi-platinum CD, Mandy Posey. That she was a replacement for the starlet of the first Escape Velocity, the $10 million-per-picture (hence, too costly; the budget for the sequel was frozen at $90 million) Valetta Paris, and that Mandy once told Hollywood Today reporter, Sarah Davies - and I quote - "I think it's so pathetic when actresses try to sing. I'm content to be an actress and be famous for that." -- unquote - doesn't matter: Mandy is a big enough star now to do whatever the hell she wants, be that hiring a maid, sending back her meal because she changed her mind and now only wants a salad, or recording the remix album that will drop this winter. After all, she was the love interest in Escape Velocity 2, yo!

Try as I might, I can't escape from "Dancing, Yeah," which she's already licensed to two television commercials even though it hasn't yet peaked on the charts. If I weren't so cynical, the beat could make me dance; because, try as might, I can't prevent my hands from slapping the steering wheel in rhythm when I hear it. (And believe me, I've tried everything from velcro to crazy glue.)

It doesn't matter that her voice is too weak to pull itself out of a paper lunch sack; or that all three verses consist of one line, "I'm gonna go dancing, yeah," repeated eight times with identical (or close enough to it) phrasing; or that the chorus is sweeter than whole milk on Frosted Flakes. It's danceable because of how immature is her voice; how redundant are the lyrics; and how saccharine is that big, gloopy hook.

Her lack of musical talent doesn't matter, just as her lack of acting ability is irrelevant - she looks like she'd actually let you kiss her in her music videos, album covers and movie posters; and that she'd actually kiss you back; and you already know she'd be the hottest babe to ever lock lips with yours. That's why she's a star, that's why this song is on the radio, and that's why whoever produced it didn't give it to an opera diva to sing.

As long as Mandy's content with no more than $1 or $2 million to appear in Escape Velocity 3, another hit song is sure to dance its way into her lap. I only hope it will necessitate the same amount of adhesive.

B.O.M. - "Angst"

Bullets Over Milwaukee, or "bomb" to the uninitiated, have never been as honest as they were when they wrote, and named, this song. "Angst" is exactly what it is, four minutes and thirteen seconds of unfiltered angst, to be exact - primal scream therapy, a jab to the solar plexus, a hatred of everything that lives, a hatred of everything that dies. I imagine that the sounds of Greg Kinney's distorted, minor-key power chords and Harry Blalock's nodulated screams resemble what you'd hear if your skull were ever crushed in a vice - or the sounds you'd make while enduring such inhumanity. Danger: These Bullets kill - so pray, say a rosary, confess your sins and purify yourself before your God before pressing play.

And once you are saved, once you and your God are at peace, go read a book, or dig in your garden, or meditate. Or anything. Taking a moment to rediscover religion may save you from this song, a fate far worse than hell - there isn't a pantheon that can protect you from these gunshots. If you subtracted the vocals, the guitars, the drums and the turntables, you'd be left with a pretty cool bassline to groove to. But the sum of these parts is exponential decay - of your eardrums; of your patience; of your being able, wanting and knowing how to smile. Bands like this and Chain Link are neither new nor metal; rather they're as old as the first baby's wail; as metallic as glitter, even when it's silvery.

If Ms. Alvarez can hear this, and if she still has that whistle, may she blow it 'till she's blue like the "he" of "Shattered Elbow." A song like this violates. It's our right, and our responsibility, to say "no."

{Email me your thoughts, questions, etc. at}

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