Linda Ronstadt’s career spanned decades and musical styles from country-rock to operetta. Parkinson’s disease has taken away her ability to sing, but she explains that she’s not ready to leave music behind yet. And Herb Alpert became famous by turning the sounds of a Mexican bullfight into mainstream pop. But his career in music far outlasted the Tijuana Brass sound. Also, novelist and jazz musician James McBride explains how he turned John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry into kind of a funny story.
A few weeks ago, “Rude” by the band Magic! managed to unseat Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” as the #1 song in the United States. While most songs of the summer have a honeymoon period before they face mass eye-rolling, “Rude” seems to have skipped right to divorce court. Slate scolded the entire country: “America, we need to talk about our taste in reggae music.” But no criticism has been quite as cutting as Jia Tolentino's. In a screed titled “Why I Have to Be So Rude” on The Hairpin, she wrote:
Rude is a reggae song the way a gas station taquito is a formal expression of Mexican cuisine. It’s a pop object with no content and only as much form as is necessary to deliver brief chemical gratification.
The song’s plotline isn’t doing it any favors: the singer begs his girlfriend’s father for her hand in marriage without ever asking the bride herself. But Tolentino’s biggest problem with “Rude” is its lack of irony. “The great thing about pop music is that it’s not self-serious. It’s conscious of itself as a performance, and it’s fun,” she says. “’Rude’ violates all three of those tenets.” Case in point: the band’s lazy and cliché-ridden music video plucked straight out of the late 90s. In a bad way.
Yet even Tolentino has to admit that “Rude” has a highly infectious melody. Magic!’s frontman, Nasri, has been a one-man, one-name hit factory, writing hugely successful songs for Pitbull, Justin Bieber, Shakira, and others. Tolentino sees that as part of the problem. She suggests that Nasri’s ability to adapt to different pop stars’ styles has left his own songwriting soul hollow. “If the thing that makes you famous isn’t the thing you care about most deeply, there’s nothing behind it.”
Patricia Lockwood, one of poetry’s brightest young stars, combines her funny Twitter persona with serious poetry to create surreal, text message-sized verse. She became internet famous for a poem called “Rape Joke” that managed to be both hilarious and devastating. We hear from Taylor Mac, the avant-drag performer who’s working on a decade-by-decade revue of American popular music, beginning all the way back in the 1770s. Plus, a punk rock teen, pierced to the hilt, discovers something even more hardcore — opera.