Every week, Hollywood Prospectus editor and masochistically devoted mainstream-radio listener Emily Yoshida will pick an aging Top 40 hit that she has heard enough times to render the song meaningless, and thus is likely to inspire otherwise inaccessible epiphanies.
There are about four male “rock” singers working right now with any current popular music relevance, and three of them are either Adam Levine or someone who I think or thought at one time was Adam Levine. The arrival of Alex Clare makes five, but even though “Too Close” has cracked the Top 10, I’m not quite holding my breath for a Wiz Khalifa collaboration anytime soon.
The story of “Too Close” is a more boring, cynical version of the story of “Gangnam Style” — a song that came to ubiquity in a non-radio context and eventually elbowed its way to the top of the charts through sheer force of will by some party or another. But where “Gangnam Style” is an off-script phenomenon, buoyed not by PR or A&R or any other combination of letters, but by a genuine mass consensus of approval for Psy’s particular brand of swag, “Too Close” is the result of a single, unavoidable, please-kill-it-now piece of advertising that bored itself into our collective consciousness so deeply that all we can do at this point is throw up our hands and say, “Sure, whatever, this should be a hit song.”
There is nothing inherently wrong with a band getting exposure via TV spots. Feist for iPod? Cute! Phoenix for Cadillac? Exciting! (I am always a fan of pop songs in car commercials, maybe because I associate music so much with driving already.) And while those examples are for relatively chic products that don’t do much damage to whatever illusions we have about the artists’ immortal coolness, I still don’t think I would be too disappointed to hear, say, Purity Ring on a Scrubbing Bubbles commercial. (Maybe in conjunction with an eponymous self-cleaning toilet bowl attachment.)
But there are two reasons why “Too Close” is an exception to my usually charitable attitude toward what many would dismiss as “selling out” (or something equally ill-defined). First of all, we here in the States don’t even know who “Alex Clare” is, really. (British singer/songwriter, ginger, dated Amy Winehouse for a year. There, you’re up to speed.) So it’s not really “selling out” so much as it’s “selling up,” if you will. There’s really no serious résumé for Clare prior to 2011, which makes me think that his more folk-oriented music career was kind of a non-starter for a while there. So he did what any struggling craftsman does in desperate times: He got Diplo to produce his album! Relevance: created. Microsoft licensing deal: signed. Charts: topped.
Yup, that’s right, this is a Diplo/Major Lazer joint. How do you feel about that? Considering that I had been under the assumption that the dubstep beat was commissioned by Microsoft pro bono by some rave-going early-twenties IT drone in Redmond, I feel weird about it. Now I’m wondering if Diplodocus just has a secret flash drive buried in his backyard full of prefab wobbles for whenever the next Fortune 500 company needs to sell some phones/socks/electrolyte-enhanced beverages.
I don’t think I like dubstep songs with actual, non-distorted singers and lyrics. The wub-wubs are the lyrics! You wouldn’t throw a Christina Aguilera vocal track over a Brahms concerto, would you? Maybe you would.
This is a breakup song from the perspective of an unprovoked breaker-upper, which is maybe my least favorite kind of lyrical narrative. Nobody wants to hear you explain to yourself why you’re going to make somebody unhappy. Which makes it a really strange choice as a means of getting people to not instantly delete Internet Explorer off their laptops as soon as they’re out of the box.
You know I’m not one to break promises
I don’t want to hurt you but I need to breathe
At the end of it all, you’re still my best friend
But there’s something inside that I need to release
Is Internet Explorer apologizing to us for the inevitable disappointment when it doesn’t support any of the plugins we’re trying to install? Is the “something inside” that needs releasing all the spyware it will eventually dump onto our hard drives?
I can’t lie no more, I can’t hide no more
Got to be true to myself
Or maybe this is us admitting to ourselves that, despite the tempting prospect of playing desktop Angry Birds and watching the Avengers trailer in October 2012, we’re really more into Chrome/Firefox/Safari/Opera. At any rate, as personal decisions go, it’s about on par with choosing Kashi GoLean Crunch over GoLean Crisp (always Crisp), and certainly isn’t dramatic enough to warrant all that heavy wobbling. When you finally switch up songs in five years, Microsoft, just do us a favor and use “Blitzkreig Bop” like everyone else.