Apr 30, 2014

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3 Songs: “Guilty Pleasures I’m Not Really Guilty About” edition

In my last post, I talked about some of the songs I’m legitimately embarrassed to love. This post has no such pretensions of shame; these three songs are just freakin’ fantastic.

Christina Aguilera – Candyman

Christina Aguilera has worn a lot of hats in her time—bubblegum pop princess, sultry vixen, robot, reality show host—but it was extraordinarily refreshing to see her transformation from Dirty to Back to Basics in 2006. The Xtina who humped a water hose during an (ostensibly) pro-woman anthem was gone, replaced by a jazzy, classy lady perfectly suited to wield that belt-happy voice. “Candyman” was a huge hit, and with good reason. I love it because it uses the aesthetics of WWII-era girl-group pop, which is such a rare and refreshing nostalgic throwback. That particular Boogie-Woogie-Bugle-Boy thing always gets points with me, and Aguilera absolutely nailed it at every turn—the Andrews Sisters-style harmonizing, the horn section, the scat-solo vocal bridge, the military cadence backing track, and especially the music video.

Mika – Grace Kelly

Okay, so picture this: you’re at the movies, at the IMAX to be exact, sometime in 2007. After the onslaught of ads and pre-film filler (Guess the actor! It’s always Tom Hanks!), the lights go dark and the screen comes to life with images of a whimsical party, driven by an infectiously energetic piano hook. A young man with tousled brown hair and a supermodel pout steps up to the microphone and begins to sing a catchy pop tune—and then, as the song shifts into its chorus, he opens up his mouth and belts in a falsetto that sounds e-fucking-xactly like Freddie Mercury.

Such was my initial experience of British pop star Mika: the music video for “Grace Kelly”, randomly tossed on the IMAX pre-film reel. I went out and bought the entire album, and it remains in my collection to this day. Listening to Mika’s music feels like being bombarded by a bunch of very excited 10-year-old rainbows; he’s not subtle in the slightest, but he’s also a shameless and earnest embodiment of everything pop music should be. I still listen to “Grace Kelly” because it’s a reminder that, despite what every understated indie folk group would have you think—music is supposed to be joyously, simply, unironically fun.

P!nk – Funhouse

P!nk (fuck it, Pink) has managed to maintain a fairly consistent level of rebelliousness throughout her decade-plus career and still make pretty damn good music. Where Avril Lavigne’s teenage look-at-me-I’m-wearing-a-tie angle got ridiculous as soon as she became old enough to rent a car, Pink has graduated successfully from teenage quasi-punk to your cool Harley-riding aunt, and maintains a sense of humor about herself that allows her to recover more easily from her failures. The title track from her 2008 release, which came after her separation from husband Cory Hart, was full of anger and woman-scorned wrath as only our lady of Missundaztood can do. It’s got energy and bounce while still being emotionally honest, and it’s accompanied by a pitch-perfect music video featuring a piano-playing cameo by No Doubt’s Tony Kanal. Can’t go wrong with a burned-out house crawling with creepy masked weirdos; it’s the very definition of catharsis.

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