Weird New Pop, Vol.3

Cover art: Todd Steponick, Nice Looking Designs

Track 11

Pop songs are almost always playing in my mind. It's happening now as I write these words. It happens while I am reading, watching television, taking a shower, even in the middle of conversation. Sometimes the music is quiet, far in the background of my consciousness, while other times it is alarmingly loud, like daytime construction work on a Jersey City street.

Sometimes it's only a single lyric, or even just part of a lyric, on repeat for hours. Often, I don't know the actual words to the song, so I hear simple sounds and melodies accompanied by an occasional lucid phrase: La la lala la laaaaa / La la lala la laaaaa / La la ohhhhhh / It's too late to RuPaulologize! / It's too late!

Other times, my mind switches to DJ mode and I hear a string of choruses from various songs that share a common theme or musical progression: Bruno Mars' "That's What I Like" transitions into Luther Vandross' "Never Too Much" which in turn morphs into Leonard Cohen's "A Thousand Kisses Deep" and back again.

This can be frustrating.

Track 12

In eighth grade, we had a substitute teacher, who, in an effort to hold our attention for more than a minute or two, turned the conversation to music. When a catchy bit of music gets trapped in our minds, he explained, we have "an earworm."

It is perhaps a good thing that I was seated at the front of the class where only the teacher could see the tangle of knots that had replaced my innocent face. I have no idea how the other students responded to this news, but in me it produced a sloshy combination of genuine shock and deepest disgust.

I envisioned the spineless segmented body of a many-legged creature breakdancing across my brain as though my brain were a dirty mattress or sheet of cardboard on the sidewalk, entering through my right ear, exiting through the left, expanding and contracting like an accordion over my head, repeating the process for all eternity. It was striped—yellow and orange, yellow and orange, yellow and orange—like Oscar the Grouch's odd pal, Slimey.

Mostly, though, I was surprised to learn that there was a name for this thing. Up until that moment, I had assumed that everyone had songs constantly coursing through their heads.

In a time long before today's familiar texting acronyms, my young mind hollered: WTF!

Track 13

I don't hate The Eagles' "Hotel California" because I think it's a bad song or because it's an audiophile standard or even because it's generally overplayed. I actually think it's an impressive accomplishment and those who enjoy the song should not be ashamed of their pleasure. I hate "Hotel California" because, once I've heard it, I don't know how to stop hearing it. I'm stuck with it for weeks and weeks.

There—I just did it to myself: a prisoner of my own device.

Our substitute teacher said the way to get rid of an earworm is to deliberately listen to the song that caused it: Engagement.

"Play it on your radio and sing along," he said.

But he must've been teasing. This strategy has never worked for me. Now that I've grown older, I refuse to even try. Instead, I merely replace one earworm with another: Distraction.

Perhaps there is no weirder, no earwormier pop than "Waterloo," especially when wearing little more than a very short, cat-emblazoned shirtdress to show off its surprisingly good legs.

Track 14

Lately, though, it's been SZA.

But I don't mind. Unlike "Hotel California," SZA's presence in my psyche is entirely welcomed. In fact, I would like her to stay a while. "Would you like something to drink," I ask her earworminess.

I'm in love with her strange animal voice, the phrasing, the lyricism, the way she waits and whispers before exploding like pink and purple fireworks above the jet-black Hudson, the way she draws the covers over a series of staccato consonants with a long and perfectly enunciated vowel.

I can't deal with it, this turning words into pleasure and pain. Why?

I don't understand it in the same way that I don't understand sunlight. And why would I want to?

When in "Prom," perhaps the poppiest and most overtly propulsive of all songs on her outstanding debut, CTRL, she sings, "Please don't take it personal," twirling and spreading and pulling on the word "please" as though it's a child's pink putty, I become one—not with the singer or the song but with that silly toy: I bounce and bruise and bounce until finally exhausted, reduced to a puddle, done.

Is it the same for you? Or is it only me?


Track 15

Earworms are most frustrating late at night, when I am trying to fall asleep or some hours after, when they are so loud and insistent that they actually startle me awake. For a time, I worried that I was losing my mind to musical hallucinations, that they would become louder and more real until I could no longer distinguish live music from flawed recollections: the highest of all fidelity.

But there is no doubt that these songs are inside my head—not out. They are either caused by or attempting to relieve some long-held trauma or recent stress. More likely, it's a combination of both. They wake me as they work to comfort and soothe. I'm a child in my bedroom, listening to a boombox, fingers poised above Play and Record, ready to push down fast and hard to capture a song to tape.

I try to get to know her better so that I might understand. Her real name is Solana Imani Rowe.

Solana means?

Sunshine, of course! And she is from Maplewood—a Jersey girl. I should have known that, too.

Weird New Pop, Vol.3

  1. Selena Gomez: "Bad Liar"
  2. Torres: "Skim"
  3. Kinlaw: "Drama in the South"
  4. St. Vincent: "New York"
  5. Talsounds: "I Can't Sleep"
  6. Sóley: "Úa"
  7. Lapalux: "Petty Passion"
  8. Vince Staples: "Rain Come Down"
  9. Big Boi, featuring Killer Mike and Jeezy: "Kill Jill"
  10. Lorde: "Sober"
  11. SZA, featuring Travis Scott: "Love Galore"
  12. Lil Yachty: "Bring It Back"
  13. HAIM: "Little of Your Love"
  14. Laurel Halo: "Moontalk"
  15. Katy Perry, featuring Nicki Minaj: "Swish Swish"
Weird New Pop: The Mega-Mix (Tidal Version)

Over at Tidal, Weird New Pop continues to grow, including everything available from the latest Spotify version along with "Caught Their Eyes," a standout track from Jay Z's new and noteworthy 4:44.

grantray's picture

You heartless bastard. I had to reach all the way down to We Got the Beat to wash that out.

Stephen Mejias's picture

[Said in the voice of Robert Palmer.]

Alex Halberstadt's picture

In my next life, I want be reborn as Benny Andersson's neckerchief.

Stephen Mejias's picture

In my next life, I want be reborn as Benny Andersson's neckerchief.

Don't we all?